Before accepting his Intl. Filmmaker of the Year award from Variety at the Mill Valley film fest last fall, director Ang Lee told the crowd, “You become the film you’re making.” To some extent, that’s true of all directors. Variety asked the six helmers of the five films nom-inated in the Oscar foreign-language category how they were transformed by the experience of making their movies.
“A film is above all the result of a change,” says Michael Haneke (“Amour”): “During preparation, you spend a long time confronting the complex themes you are dealing with, and the film’s formal and aesthetic problems, and thereby perhaps experience and learn something.”
Joachim Roenning found himself completely absorbed with “Kon-Tiki” and Thor Heyerdahl, the man who sailed a raft from South America to Polynesia in 1947: “In bringing ‘Kon-Tiki’ to the bigscreen, I destroyed my marriage and my family like Thor destroyed his. I, too, had become willing to sacrifice everything to reach my goal. It took my wife and I a year to get back together. And although we’re not out of the woods yet, she and our two children were with me at the Four Seasons, 5:30 in the morning on the 10th of January when the Academy announcements were read on TV. I was so happy because we were together, the four of us, and we could share this moment together.”
“Kon-Tiki” co-helmer Espen Sandberg also saw a bit of himself in Heyerdahl: “Joachim and I wanted to know why he was willing to risk everything for an idea. As I worked on the movie, I realized that the idea was a vital part of him becoming himself, a promise he made as a child that the man had to fulfill. I realized that this is true for me, too. I always wanted to become a director. It was a promise I had to keep.”
While researching for and making “No,” Pablo Larrain came to fully understand the importance of political awareness: “If you just don’t care, somebody else is making decisions for you, and that is not healthy. When your opinion finally matters, you have to have an opinion. You have to read, you have to be there and you have to vote. To be an active person, you just can’t complain about whatever is happening.”
Spending more than five years getting “A Royal Affair” made, Nikolaj Arcel learned the importance of never giving up on a project: “It nearly destroyed me. There were so many false starts and doors being shut that I thought I’d never get to do this or any other film again. But the finished film is so close to my heart that it was all worth it. I hope it doesn’t get as tough as this anytime soon, but at least now I’d be prepared for it.”
On “War Witch,” Kim Nguyen rediscovered why he became a filmmaker in the first place: “There comes a point when stories become overwritten, constrained and everything gets storyboarded, pre-planned. Sometimes this makes you forget what is the most important: that moment before you, happening while you’re filming. I feel I had lost that spontaneity over the years, trying to finance films. In a way, I found my way back with ‘War Witch.’”