One of the more underrated foreign films of this awards season is without question the Danish drama A War. Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, the movie is nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars, and honestly, in another year would probably be the frontrunner to win. Regardless of whether or not the Academy gives the film an award, this is quality cinema, as much a character study as anything else, and deserves a high profile. As such, I was delighted to sit down with Lindholm last week to discuss his movie and his experiences as a filmmaker in general, the best of which can be found below. A War is in theaters now, so be sure to check it out!
On making a largely non-polical war film
Tobias Lindholm – I felt that, when Denmark went into Iraq and Afghanistan right away with the U.S. and the U.K. right after 9/11, it was the first war that we’d fought since the second World War, and the second World War we fought for five hours and then gave up. So, we’re not used to it, and it has defined my generation, more than anything else. What I realized, in that process, just being a spectator and looking at the news, was that we didn’t really talk about what happened down there. We were caught in a situation where we would debate whether we were pro or against the war, and I felt that was sad because all of the nuances got lost, especially the humanity got lost. Not the humanity of war, but the humanity of the humans fighting the war, on both sides. I felt that every time someone has a cheap political point, it’s always that you’re trying to arrange the reality around you fit that point, and I decided to not do that and just be as objective and human and insist that it would be a humanistic thing. Not to go to war, but to portray it, and that thing kind of dictated that anytime we had a chance to be political, we decided not to. It wouldn’t make sense for me to have a political point, because I don’t. I think the world is complex and nuanced and incredibly hard to understand. I’d rather admit that than to try to hang on to some political point that I’m not really a believer of anyway.
If ignoring the political aspect was as struggle, given how social media currently allows us to all voice our opinion as if it were fact
TL – That’s the thing. Exactly. For me, social media is a huge enemy of civilized conversation. We think that we can speak the truth in 140 characters on Twitter, and it’s impossible! Life isn’t simple. I want to accept the complexity of life. If we can do that, then we can have conversations without me proving to you that you’re wrong, but instead me trying to understand you.
I saw the debate on CNN and what interested me was that Hillary ran against Obama but now she’s celebrating him like crazy. If we can change truth like that, to make sure that it fits our world, then there is no truth out there. That is an extreme problem for our culture, that we are slaves of easy communicable ideas, and we get rid of all of the good ideas, because they’re really complex and hard to understand. I guess it’s very human, but nevertheless, it’s limiting our view of the world, and that’s a shame.
Talking about the challenges of shooting a war film on a specific budget that still manages to look impressive
TL – Well, thank you! You know, we make them very cheap. I write to a budget, I was trained in writing TV shows, and I learned how to write for a budget and to constantly be aware of what it cost. Basically, me and my producers sit down with a certain idea and then we aim for a certain amount. They would say that if you do it for this amount, you can keep artistic freedom. If it’s going to be more expensive, we’re going to need to look into it, but if you can do it, in this case we did it for $3 million, A War cost $3 million, and it becomes a sport for me. I love it. I love to do it like that, and luckily the Danish Film Institute and the government is there to help us. With the money from the government, we’re able to elevate the artistic level of the films. When you look at it, it’s remarkable how many Danish films come out, coming out of that small country. They translate internationally! They helped us out, and so we tried to keep it as low budget as possible.
We got the money from the Danish Film Institute and our company needed to invest a little bit itself, and then we sold the rights to Studio Canal right away, and so we had the money. It became really easy. I could never go out and make a $60 million or a $10 million film and expect to have complete artistic freedom, not needing to look at the market. My responsibility is to write to a budget that fits our artistic sensibilities.
Discussing the shoot
TL – We shot it in Turkey. Turkey, towards the Syrian border, it became a bit of a problem when we couldn’t get our guns in. Five days into shooting a war film and I didn’t have any guns or ammunition, which was a challenge! You’d be surprised though how much you can do with a fist full of sand behind a wall! Finally though, we got what we needed and were able to do the war scenes so they’d work. We shot in Turkey and then we shot some small stuff in Jordan, along with Spain, for pickups when we couldn’t go back to Turkey.
We were looking for a Black Hawk helicopter, because they were the ones flying in and saving Danish soldiers, operated by American pilots. I knew I needed a certain color of Black Hawk helicopter to pick up Lasse and fly him out, but it wasn’t until two or three days before I started editing the film that I got the shot. And then, for some fucking reason, it started to snow in Jordan! Then, luckily it melted and we were able to get the shot done and get out.
It was fun to do, and those struggles you need to go through. It’s amazing, I talked to Kathryn Bigelow, and she talked about how they did The Hurt Locker and it was the same thing. They had to get their hands so dirty, and that fascinates me. I think all of us, no matter if you make $200 million film or a $1 million film, you always need another million.
What’s next for him and if Hollywood is calling
TL – A break! (Laughs) Yeah, I’m starting slowly as a writer to work out here and I’m trying to build a bridge. You know, I’m making films with my friends in Denmark and that’s great, so I have to find something really good to do in order to leave that behind. I’m writing right now, I’m writing Thomas Vinterberg’s next film, I have a film I’m doing called The Tunnels for an American audience, and then we’ll see. You have to imagine the journey with this film, from the guys who helped us on the ground who are real soldiers, 20 years old and fighting and dying on the ground in Afghanistan, and now we’re nominated for an Academy Award. That journey is just crazy, so we’re taking some time to celebrate that. Then, we’ll see what happens. You know, my favorite films are American, I have to admit that. Filmmakers like Paul Greengrass, Kathryn Bigelow, and so on, they make films that really really move me, and I can see myself being related to that type, even though they’re not foreign. I also have three kids and a wife, so I don’t have a career, I have a life. For now, I just want to see what happens while I make movies with my friends.
Once again, the Oscar nominated A War is in theaters now. Give it a shot!
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!