GOTEBORG, Sweden — Swedish writer-director Gabriela Pichler once defined the camera as “a weapon with infinite ammunition, but limited battery.” Still missing energy was not the reason for the six years of silence between her debut and second feature, “Amateurs,” which had its world premiere as the opening film of Sweden’s 41st Goteborg Intl. Film Festival on Jan 26. It will compete for the Dragon Award as Best Nordic Film, before being show at the 47th Rotterdam Intl, Film Festival which is running Jan 24 to Feb 4.
“I wanted time to make something I could really answer for, and to examine something I would do properly,” Pichler explained.
She added: “My feature debut was quite successful, so I have since been allowed to work the way I prefer: It has been a luxury to collaborate with people who have such a confidence in me. As a result the film is exactly how I wanted it.”
Born in Sweden to a Bosnian mother and Austrian father, Pichler lived briefly in Vienna with her family; but they returned to Sweden, where she now has an apartment in Göteborg. She graduated as a director from the local university’s Valand School of Fine Art, where she made “Scratches” in 2008, a graduation short which earned her a national Guldbagge award.
“I was 23, it was the first time I had a camera in my hands, and it was love at first sight. I was totally fascinated and filmed everything in my private life, even my shoes. How do they look in a close-up? I have tried to catch the same feeling – the love of film – in ‘Amateurs.’ I oversaw most parts of the production, also the final editing.”
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Pichler’s feature debut, 2012’s “Eat Sleep Die,” which she also wrote, received four Guldbagge prizes – Best Film (for producer China Åhlander), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress (Nermina Lukac). On the international festival circuit it added 10 top prizes, including the International Critics’ Week and its Audience Award in Venice.
She had read (now) Swedish bestselling author Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s first novel and was enthusiastic about it; he had seen “Eat Sleep Die” and sent a mail to Pichler: Should they work together? So Khemiri and Pichler decided they would write the screenplay for her next film, and they were already in the middle of it when something happened in the village of Bjuv.
Pichler had shot her first film in Bjuv. Now came the news that the largest factory in the village – Findus – would close, and all the employees would be out-of-work. “
“What happens when a symbol of identity – the company where everybody was working – suddenly does not exist anymore? It sort of woke up the social aggression which still lives in my heart,” Pichler said.
“Social aggression, as here, has often been the driving force in my filmmaking – class, sex, cultural background, when I have felt outside in different contexts – but often it is not easy to know who the opposition is,” she added, citing a scene in the film where the two young girls who have started making a film are attacking the cashier in a low-price supermarket. “But I don’t have any influence at all,” he defends himself.
Produced by Anna-Maria Kantarius, for Garagefilm Intl., “Amateurs” is set in the Swedish village of Lafors which needs a new start. A German low-price super-market chain, Super-Billy, is considering setting up a local department, and 500 new jobs would change everything. The municipality decides it will make a promotional film to attract new companies.
Budget is tough, though, so the film becomes a school project, and it goes off the rails when two young girls start filming – they did not want to show blond children running smiling around or happy golfers, but to portray the people who actually live in the village, and what they think about their everyday life.
For Pichler, “Today’s financial society is so complex – the people who really make money are rarely seen, they are faceless, but it is important to get reports from the full spectrum, from the workers-on-the-floor to the economics expert who can see it in a context. We need to understand the system we live under, and probably even profit from, so we can probably change it.”
Pre-production was long: 99% of the actors were amateurs. “Those I wanted do not react to a poster or an advertisement,” Pichler remembered. They are all experts in their areas – the main part, Fredrik, is played by a municipal civil servant, who knows about how official meetings take place. So he helped Pichler with the script. “We also did a lot of improvisation,” Pichler concluded.
“Amateurs” will be released in Sweden by TriArt Film on March 23.