To ask questions that are intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging

INTERVIEW / «My background was from journalism, I had to learn film language», says Benjamin Ree on his The Painter and the Thief.

 What were the biggest challenges in following these often emotionally precarious protagonists Barbora and Karl-Bertil over so many years?
 The biggest challenge was to watch people suffering emotionally and to film that. I think that’s a huge dilemma for a documentary filmmaker. Should you give the person a hug, or should you continue filming? Most of the time I continued filming, before I gave a hug towards the end. The reason I did this was that we had a common understanding that it was important for us – Bertil, Barbora and me – to document the uncensored, rough reality they were facing.

 The film is not only strikingly cinematic but unusually structured. How did you decide on the overall aesthetic?
 I thought a lot about wanting to show Bertil as the complex and intelligent guy that he is. I couldn’t achieve that without seeing the world from his point of view.
– I got the inspiration from a particular therapeutic, practical exercise – where you are challenged to see the world from your own and another person’s perspective. You change this many time during the exercise. This therapy (perceptual perception) has made a huge impression on me. I tried to apply that to the film. The same with the voiceover – they were very inspired by how people talk in psychoanalysis, with the stream of consciousness. I tried to «interview» them in this way and hope they would feel free to speak in an open and introspective way.
– I was also inspired by the silent films Man with a Movie Camera  and The Phantom Carriage – how they dared to find a form and structure that worked well with the theme and story. This they did already in the 1920s.

 Considering how artistic this film is, I was surprised to learn that you actually began your career with the BBC and Reuters.
– Filmmaking for me is to try to ask questions that are intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging in a cinematic way by observing human behavior. Since my background was from journalism, I had to learn film language and relearn what I thought about storytelling. That I could transfer the interviews to a universal, nonverbal cinematic language. I have made films since I was 11 – I have had a huge film interest since I was a child.

 Though your films screen internationally. Do you prefer to tell local stories? Is it just easier to get financing?
– I like to tell stories from Norway. It is here that I know the people and read the news. It’s so much easier to film someone when you live in the same city as them. If something happens you can just go there and shoot. That’s what I did with The Painter and the Thief . Something dramatic happened all the time, and I could just leave my home and run to the place with a camera. That has been helpful, capturing these decisive moments in Barbora and Bertil’s life.

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