Monday 22 November 2010

Yulianna Avdeeva

The pianist Yulianna Avdeeva is the first woman in 45 years, after Martha Argerich, to win the Fryderyk Chopin Competition 2010 in Warsaw, an event organized only every five years. Two weeks after winning the First Prize, the 25-year old Russian gave a breath-taking two-and-half hour performance of an all Chopin programme at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. 
Avdeeva talks with 200% on being the first women in 45 years to win the Competition, Chopin’s genius, how to perceive and understand composers’ intentions, and her total immersion in the music whilst she performs.

200%: There has been a lot of publicity about the fact that you are the first women in 45 years to win the Fryderyk Chopin Competition – does that mean something special to you?
Yulianna Avdeeva: The moment that you’re on stage, you are a musician and a musician, for me, has no gender. Being male or female is not an issue for me. I just feel very honoured to win this Prize and it’s very special to me.

200%: Can you describe how you prepared yourself for the Competition? Did you have a teacher with whom you practiced intensively?
Yulianna Avdeeva: In 2008, I graduated from the Zurich University of the Arts and then I attended the International Piano Academy Lake Como in Italy. Once a month you have different master classes with different musicians. Thus, you don’t have one sole teacher, which is very interesting to me as you have [insight] to many musical styles, many different influences and, therefore, you take what feels that works for you. All this knowledge was, therefore, inside of me that helped me prepare for the Competition.
Of course, I also practiced, every day, intensely and seriously, at the piano: for me, though, as music is also connected with other arts, it is very important to know what’s happening in these other arts. Thus, I visit exhibitions and read, especially literature about the times and history of Chopin. I’m interested to know to where did he travel, which people he admired, etc – which enables me to understand more about Chopin’s view on the world. I try to absorb this knowledge into the music and, in some way, it contributes to my performances. It was also good to be in Warsaw, where the Competition was organised, to see where Chopin had lived, where he has been to in the city and to visit the Chopin museum.

200%: In the same way that an actor learns lines “by heart”, for the Chopin Competition the Repertoire must be played from memory ­– was that difficult to master?
Yulianna Avdeeva: When you play a piece on stage, by heart, you have to be very well prepared and every note has to be understood. When I’m practicing a piece, there comes a moment I know the piece so well, that I don’t need to see the score in front of my eyes – I can play it with my eyes closed. Actually I never think about these things – playing a piece by heart is something I take for granted when I’m performing.

200%: Your success didn’t come overnight – you worked very hard for it. Are there specific examples of sacrifices, which you could describe, that you have made in your career, to be where you are now? What did you gave up?
Yulianna Avdeeva: Well, I wouldn’t say I had to give up things for music. Music is my life and I carry it inside of me, but to be able to play music, you have to understand music and you have to understand the composer’s intentions or his view on the world. Every composer has his global view on the world, which is expressed in his music. To be able to understand the composer’s view you have to possess life experience yourself. You have to understand life, how people think and feel, and what are collective life experiences to which people can relate. To be able to understand this, I dedicate a lot of time, even my life to this.

200%: Could you tell me what you think is Chopin’s genius?
Yulianna Avdeeva: Chopin is a very different composer compared to other composers as he combines so many things. On the one hand his music is very clearly, classically structured, on the other hand his music has an improvisational character that you somehow have to ‘read’ when you perform the pieces. Also, when you play Chopin’s music you have to be very honest and pure as he is a very truthful composer with a lot of integrity.

200%: Because of the improvisational character in Chopin’s music do you believe that’s the reason why his music lives on?
Yulianna Avdeeva: Yes. I have played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 many times, but the interesting aspect is that you’re never tired of it as the music allows you to search for new ideas; and I try to dig deeper into the music to understand what Chopin wanted to express in the music. What is important for me is that I find the time to develop and be deeper inside the music, as I believe that a musician should never think, “I have played this particular piece now a thousand times and now it’s good.”

200%: For the Competition the organisers recommended participants refer to the Urtext of the National Edition of the Works of Fryderyk Chopin by Professor Jan Ekier. Do you consider that these are the closest to how Chopin thought his music should be played, as they are based wholly on Chopin’s hand-written manuscripts?
Yulianna Avdeeva: The first moment I opened Jan Ekier’s Edition of the Works of Chopin it was a real inspiration. For me, this Edition represents a pure and insightful view into Chopin’s work. Whilst I started to learn Chopin’s music by different Editions – as there are so many great musicians who actually did think about Chopin’s music and gave their vision on his work – it was also difficult to find out what were really Chopin’s intentions and what were his real ideas.
After I saw Ekier’s Edition it opened a new world for me because, in my view, it’s very truthful. I know it took Ekier many years to find all of Chopin’s original hand written manuscripts, and, therefore, his Edition contains so many details. In each piece, at each note, you see the remarks made by Chopin. It gave me an incredible new interest in the pieces when I compare it with other Editions, as you understand the essence of what Chopin wanted to convey with his music. I was very excited about it, and it gave me new inspiration to perform his music.

200%: When you play, you totally immerse yourself into the composition. Your body crawls almost into the piano, you throw your head backwards in the sky, the mimic on your face is incredibly expressive, you even sometimes breath heavily. Could you describe what is occurring in your body and what you feel when you play? Do you step out of yourself?
Yulianna Avdeeva: When I play, I wouldn’t say I lose control, but I don’t realize what I’m doing. When you perform music you are so inside of the music you try to express all these feelings, which belong to the piece that you’re performing. When you walk on stage it’s a very special feeling. In a way you are out of this real world when you’re on stage and when you are playing. It feels like you have no body actually: you’re in your mind, a feeling that is hard to describe. What I can say with certainty is that “I step into another world”.

200%: How to touch the keys of the piano – soft, gentle or hard and firm – is that difficult to master in Chopin’s music?
Yulianna Avdeeva: Everything is written down in the Editions. When you start learning the piece your fingers automatically try to follow what is written in this work: what also matters is whether you’re playing in a hall or in a dining room. When you play Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in a dining room it’s very different when you play the piece in a hall with two thousand people. To understand how to touch the keys – it happens automatically in my mind. Also, you have to think about the acoustics: when you’re playing in a big hall I have to envision my sound to the hall’s perspective as if I would be sitting in the public auditorium.

200%: Why is the piano your instrument?
Yulianna Avdeeva: The piano is such a rich instrument as it has so many colours and dynamics. It gives you so many possibilities to play, so many different pieces and different repertoires. I couldn’t imagine playing another instrument, even though I like the violin and the cello. The versatility, the possibilities of the piano, is endless to me.

200%: Where do you think you can grow or improve yourself as a classical musician?
Yulianna Avdeeva: What I really need to do now is to continue my development. I have to concentrate on working on the piano and digging deeper inside of the composers’ intent. It’s important, but also difficult, to understand how the music should be played: this is not only for Chopin music but also for so many other composers. I have to read more about their music, mature as a person, and gain life experiences. I also hope I have the opportunity to work with current musicians in this world from whom I can learn, as they will lead me into new directions.
I hope I will continue to develop – this is my desire.

Picture: Bartek Sadowski

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Nic Clear

Nic Clear is the Course Director of Bartlett School of Architecture. He runs “Unit 15”, a postgraduate design unit, which uses film, animation and motion graphics to generate, develop and represent ‘uncertain’ architectural spaces and narratives. 200% met with Clear during the Alpha-Ville festival – an international festival of Digital Arts and Culture hosted by The Whitechapel Gallery – and discussed with him the danger of the majority of contemporary architects operating in the highest stratum, why he perceives that the future represented by architects is not realistic, whether London is a visionary city, and his belief that a maintenance of property prices is the reason why London made the Olympic bid.

200%: Could you explain what “Unit 15” exactly does?
Nic Clear: One of the main interests of the design unit that I run is to look at the possible futures of architecture and the way people occupy urban cities.
I’m very sceptical of visions presented to people by the architectural profession. They [the architectural profession] give us a series of fully rendered, computer generated images of lovely sleek, slick cities made of these complex doubly curved surfaces filled with people drinking cappuccinos – for me, it doesn’t ring true as it only illustrates one kind of stratum.
I come from a background that also looks at the political and cultural diversity – so with any kind of city that has this ‘polish’ you can usually guarantee that there is an existence of another side.
We [Unit 15} are looking at alternatives, that the future might not be as rose tinted as it is often presented to people; it is this that, in my view, engenders a lot of the interest, on which students pick up.

200%: The English novelist J.G. Ballard has been a big influence in your architectural teaching and on how you think of the future, hasn’t he?
Nic Clear: Yes, he has. It is strange that someone like Ballard, who sets up in some cases extraordinary unlikely scenarios, that they actually ring more true to the kind of propositions and proposals that we read about in the architectural press. There is a strong element of a Ballardian influence in the way in which I think of the future. When we assume the things that can go wrong, and the future isn’t going to be as shining, that doesn’t necessarily present a problem because, actually, one of the enduring aspect of the way in which people occupy space is that they attempt to make the best of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Even though the work that the Unit might present is a seemingly dystopian future, there is actually an incredible level of optimism and joy that lies behind that as well.

200%: Could you give an example of that?
Nic Clear: One of my students [Ben Olszyna-Marzys] did a project called “London after the Rain”. It took Max Ernst’s painting “Europe after the Rain” and it presented London as a fragmented, urban landscape with part ruins, part Arcadian landscape – it was an incredible beautiful piece. In the final shot there is a pen to Canary Wharf that blows up in the future and, personally, I almost prefer any future than the one given to us by Canary Wharf. I think a world dominated by that kind of corporate understanding of the world is something of which I would not want to be part. This, actually, is the kind of vision that is perpetuated by mainstream architecture.

200%: Do you believe what architects represent as the future isn’t realistic?
Nic Clear: It will be very much contained. We’re seeing much more the fragmentation of urban culture into very sort specific ‘tribal’ areas: the rise of gated communities and areas that are massively secured and massively policed, with other areas almost written off as "no-go” areas. This is something incredibly dangerous and it’s in these kind of highest stratum in which, I believe, the majority of contemporary architects are operating – this is something that we, as an architectural profession, need to question, i.e. is our motive only to service a very small portion of society?

200%: You’re passionate about using film in your architectural teaching. Why is that?
Nic Clear: Film is a medium that can communicate ideas to a much wider variety of people. When you show the majority of people a set of architectural drawings they have absolutely no understanding as to what they’re about: whereas with the emersion of cinema and television, people can take on quickly very abstract complex ideas through the moving image. I think, more and more, the architecture profession has to use these new means of representing work.
Another reason why I started using films in my architectural teaching is because I’m such a science fiction fan of how they represent the future i.e. what I think is really effective about sci-fi films is that the future isn’t all clean and shiny; there is grit, there is dirt, there is a kind of sense that people moving past things.

200%: Do you use, for example, “Blade Runner” in your architectural teaching?
Nic Clear: Yes, I show them the making of “Blade Runner”, “Dangerous Days” the three-and-half hour documentary. I show that to all my students as it was the last film that used “in-camera” special effects. When I try to explain to students how to use something like “after effects” and how to do it in-camera, there is a brilliant sequence in the making of [“Dangerous Days”] where they actually show how the matte photography was done and how they used miniatures with false perspectives. I believe that, when you show students how it is done manually, then the moment they move into digital software they understand what it is that they are trying to do. The understanding of doing something in an analogue way helps you to then understand how to use digital tools, to be able to do that without the same kind of laborious processes.

200%: The theme of this year’s Alpha-Ville festival is “Visionary Cities”. Do you think that London is a visionary city?
Nic Clear: I belief it was. I moved to London in 1982 to go to college. At the time, London was really exciting, and in a way, it is still kind of exciting as it is big, and big is exciting. London, though, is too expensive to be really visionary. It is a place where so many people are so pre-occupied with how to pay the rent – when you’re only pre-occupied by that then you can’t take risks. The London art world, since the early ‘90s, I think, has become one of the most banal places to make art because it’s all about the galleries, all about selling, and art as a commodity. The interesting spaces are places where people are making art because it is a kind of interesting idea. They don’t really care whether Charles Saatchi is going to walk through the door and get his check book out.
I remember I went with a friend to a gallery in Berlin and we turned up and it was closed. There was a sign on the door saying: “Key is under the mat”. So we took out the key, let ourselves in and there was an installation with four projectors – I was thinking “no one in London would do this”. In Berlin there is sense where the whole atmosphere is much more laid-back, much more relaxed. I don’t experience that here [in London].

200% Do you think that the London Olympics are going to be an opportunity for the City to present itself to the world as a visionary city?
Nic Clear: I remember when we were bidding for the London Olympics: I said at that time, the only reason we were going for the Olympics was to maintain property prices as there has to be massive infrastructural spend: it would maintain the whole kind of level of property values, which has been kind of borne out. There is some individually kind of interesting bits of architecture, but I don’t consider it particularly visionary. The whole kind of legacy thing is actually bit of a sham to me – it’s just PR.

Picture: Bartlett School of Architecture, Unit 15, Keiichi Matsuda

Sunday 14 November 2010

Christopher Raeburn

200% meets Christopher Raeburn, the designer who makes sustainable fashion – clothes made out of re-appropriated materials like military fabrics, parachutes, and deconstructed military garments that have been completely taken apart and reworked in his collections.

200%: What made you decide to make clothes out of re-appropriated material?
Christopher Raeburn: I’ve always been fascinated by military fabrics particularly as they lend itself to the right type of 'hardware', i.e., being waterproof and windproof, which is the basis for outerwear. Also, I’ve always been fascinated by outerwear. When you put the two elements together it became a truly interesting concept, particularly in re-using original garments to make something new. There is also something quite poignant in the fact that we’re taking old military garments, something that has been in a warehouse for up to 60 years, and giving it a completely new life.

200%: The contacts of how to gain access to the material from the Military – how did that came about?
Christopher Raeburn: I’ve been collecting pieces since I was 12, so I’ve built up a lot of contacts over the years. I’m very fortunate that people often contact me, as lots of people know about what I do – essentially people are looking for things for me, which is really quite fantastic, and also helps to keep the brand very fresh – with the continual search for new fabrics. For our Spring/Summer 2011 collection we have a tyvek Swedish snow camouflage – we haven’t put the holes in the fabric, they are the original camouflage – which became the inspiration for a lot of the rest of the Collection.
For our Autumn/Winter 2011 collection we’re going to work with Victorinox, who make the Swiss army knives. I’m working on a capsule collection with them for A/W 2011 and it's an opportunity to broaden the range of products and opportunity to work with a brand I have always loved.

200%: Does your interest in military have a connection to your family background?
Christopher Raeburn: Not at all. I think it connects to my childhood. We lived in the heart of the country in Kent, South East of England, with the nearest shop being four distant. Thus, in the Summer myself, and my two older brothers, went out exploring: my parents imposed one rule in that, as long we were home by dark, there were no other ‘restrictions’ – this meant we had adventures every day.  I believe I've adapted that ‘view’ to the rest of my career with regard to how things develop (i.e. there is no prescribed structure) as our adventures involved building stuff and making thing, i.e. a natural progression. What I truly like is the process ­– the fact that you’re researching something and then going all the way through to a final product that is, hopefully, commercially viable and also very appealing.

200%: Your clothes are made from recycled material, but you don’t see it in the end product as it looks brand new, elegant and sophisticated.
Christopher Raeburn: Ultimately, whilst being a sustainable designer, your product still has to be sell-able. In order for it to be appealing, taking account of the consumer views (re sustainability) garments still have to look new or considered: certainly my work has always been design-led first, and the fabrics come with it. For me, therefore, it's really important that the design is correct.  Thus, I tend to try to use fabrics that will help to make the garments more special.
With my fabrics it's really a happy accident – I didn’t necessarily set out to be a sustainable or ethical designer, it's just I love the fabrics, and when you put that together, with the [current] combination of manufacturing ethos in London, and the right design, aesthetically it works quite well.

200%: Your career in fashion is going quite fast, isn’t it?
Christopher Raeburn: Yes, this is actually my third season, the second one at London Fashion Week. It is the second time I’ve been here through the NEWGEN scheme and doing the re-appropriated fabric design. I started with that [re-appropriated fabric design] when I was on my Degree course, which was 8 years ago. Also, I undertook more work on this when I studied for my Masters at the Royal College of Art; subsequently, I spent a further two years working for other designers, freelance pattern cutting and designing. During that period I thought about what I wanted to do and here I am now two years later putting that into practice so it is actually a quite a quick process. I’m now the first designer that has won women and menswear NEWGEN in one season.
Christopher Raeburn, Spring/Summer 2011 Menswear Collection, Parachute Parka
Christopher Raeburn, Spring/Summer 2011 Womenswear Collection, Tyvek Parka (displayed at top)

Thursday 4 November 2010

Sadie Coles, Daniel Buchholz and Anna Helwing

Sadie Coles Headquarters
Sadie Coles Headquarters

Buchholz Gallery
Hauser & Wirth

How do gallerists curate their own booth? At Frieze Art Fair, 200% asks the question to Daniel Buchholz, Buchholz gallery, Anna Helwing, Hauser & Wirth and Sadie Coles, Sadie Coles Headquarters – winner of the Best Booth of the Frieze Art Fair 2010.

200%: How do you decide which artist to represent at the Fair, with which work?
Sadie Coles: Initially, it starts with the artists. On a regular basis I ask all of my artists what new work they are making, and what is in their studio: then, often, there will be two or three key works, new works, that have been made by them and these will form the framework for the booth. In this booth, for example, the work “Still Life (Johns Fireplace)” by Ugo Rondinone, we decided that we would like to show this work and that basically helped us decide the stand lay-out, the flooring, the lighting and then, to a large extent, what other works to display with this piece as it is so dominant. When you’re doing a booth design you often have one or two dominant things, which then push the concept in one way or another. Thus, the moment you have this big fireplace in your booth, the walls of the booth then start to feel a little bit like walls of a house, like a big domestic space – so we decided to go a little bit with that.
Daniel Buchholz: We install our booth almost like a curated show. We make a plan and think about what looks good together. We’re using new work to exhibit at our booth, but that depends on the artists’ work that is available, or if there is new work in their studio. Thus, we discuss it with the artists together. We are not following the public, but we just do what the artists want or what we want. That’s the best way to do it because when I think what to display on the basis of “Oh, the English like more that” and the “Americans like more that” I believe that never functions.
Anna Helwing: It depends on many things, including which Art Fair, in which context, in which part of the world. We also think about what is the focus of the Art Fair; is it a contemporary, young Art Fair like Art Brussels with collectors who like to collect younger, less expensive, more experimental artists, or, Art Basel where all the big collectors in the world come. For Frieze Art Fair – which is definitely a fair for contemporary art, younger artists – we bring a selection of our program. Sometimes, though, artists are also busy with other exhibitions, like museum exhibitions, so they can’t always make a new work and, therefore, we have to see who has a good piece. We put together a list of outstanding pieces and we make a plan of how the booth will look and where the pieces will be displayed: in reality, however, it always looks a little bit different. You have to feel it in the booth and sometimes you have to replace a piece because it does not work with other pieces. We also change the works during the Fair. On an opening day you have a different clientele to those whom you have on a weekend. On a weekend we wouldn’t display a piece that is maybe half a million dollars as it wouldn’t make sense, necessarily, to put a piece up on a wall for the weekend clientele as the major collectors attend during the week. In the first days you have the more exclusive works in terms of finances because that is the clientele you have then.

200%: Do the works you display at your stand have to work in a complimentary way?
Sadie Coles: Oh yes, the John Currin work – which is actually a secondary market work from 2003 – obviously looks fantastic with Ugo’s fireplace because it is a still life painting of flowers that sort of feels domestic; the blue colours in the Currin painting picks out the blue of Ugo’s fireplace – it looks incredibly tasteful.
Daniel Buchholz: Yes, but that would be difficult to explain, it’s more intuitive. It’s not historical or chronological, but more like “why are you putting Morgan Fischer next to Cosima van Bonin”? We try that out before the Fair, but when it comes to installation and it’s seen in the flesh we might alter the display.
Anna Helwing: Not necessarily – it can also create a kind of a friction or an attention that they are playing off each other. There doesn’t always have to be harmony.

200%: Do commercial objectives influence which artist and work to display at your stand?
Sadie Coles: They influence it a lot because at the end of the day I’m a shop and this is a professional fair to sell art, it is a trade fair. Thus, it does have an influence: then, you also need to make your booth look interesting and dynamic so there will be some works in here that are, to some people, quite uncommercial. Film and video, for example, is much more difficult to sell, but the work by Hilary Lloyd [a video and film artist] here in this booth really adds something to the program of the gallery and it’s a very beautiful piece, and I’m trying to educate the more conservative collectors about different aspects of my program. Somebody might come to this gallery to look at John Currin but I will end up talking with them about Hilary Lloyd and that will hopefully start a dialogue. Things have to very mixed up and a bit organic.

200%: Do you make a small mock-up of your stand beforehand to see what work is going to hang where at your stand?
Sadie Coles: Yes, we make a model to see how it looks.  Sometimes, though, that can be very misleading as the volume of pieces can feel very different once you are actually placing them together: actually we did change the stand design quite radically in the last few days before installation. Initially, we didn’t have any flooring as we thought it would be better for the sculptures and everything to be on the bare wooden boards, but when we got here and put the works in, the floor was too busy. As everything we exhibit in the booth needs to be quiet, at the last minute we had the vinyl floor laid in to calm it down. Thus, your intention can sometimes be completely different.
Daniel Buchholz: Yes we’re making a mock-up to see which pieces work together – so we have a plan for that.
Anna Helwing: No, not really a model-model, it’s more like a printed plan, not a three dimensional model.

200%: Do you walk around at the Fair and look to see how other galleries have displayed the works of their artists?
Sadie Coles: Yes, absolutely and I can learn a lot from how other people are working. Things change every year; one year you can have a favourite booth and then the next year the same gallery, pretty much with the same program of artists, present a booth that you don’t like at all. There are, though, one or two galleries who are very consistent in terms of the effort they put, for example Cabinet, Gavin Brown and Jeanne Greenberg. They always have a good booth. There are certain people that always have a good booth at which I can look. Through the years, I’ve learned a lot also: when you are a very young gallery you actually are not quite sure of how to put/present your artists best together.
Daniel Buchholz: Yes, I do, because I’m on the selection committee of the Frieze Art Fair, and we, a group consisting of 6 or 7 people, are looking at all the applications from the gallerists. We decide which galleries comes in or have a bigger booth. I’ve been on this committee for four years. During the Fair we’re meeting here at 09.00 and we look at every booth so I will definitively see every booth and see what the colleagues are doing.
Anna Helwing: Maybe – not in terms of how they are installing their booth, but more as to what do they display. It is of interest to stay on top of things, to be informed, what’s in view, to see interesting work, and, if something is really standing out in terms of booth layout or booth configuration, of course it gets noted as well.

200%: What does it mean that you won the 2010 Frieze Art Fair Stand Prize – the best booth of the Fair?
Sadie Coles: We were totally thrilled because the jury who voted for us, the three judges – Jerry Saltz, Beatrix Ruf and Stuart Comer – I really respect and admire them. Thus, for them to pick us means a huge amount. At the end of the day, however, they are really choosing our artists and that’s a really fantastic feeling: they like the artists that we represent.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Thomas Vinterberg

Thomas Vinterberg’s new movie “Submarino” is a dark, grim story about two mentally tormented brothers, haunted by a traumatic childhood. Nick, the older brother, is an ex-con, full of aggression and self-loathing, who tries to reconnect with his younger brother who is a junkie and a single parent. 200% spoke with the Danish director, during the London Film Festival, about his interest to explore human frailty, what he learns from his film characters, how his unsuccessful films affected his confidence as a director, and the place of Dogme 95 in the history of film.

200%: At the introduction of the film you said to the audience: “When everything goes well, you will be totally depressed after two hours.” Could you tell me, as a film maker, what drives you to make people become depressed by watching your movie?
Thomas Vinterberg: I’m a Scandinavian and I have this deeply rooted fascination by the dark side of life. Maybe because I’m surrounded by darkness, in terms of sunshine hours, more than half of the year. For me it’s a masochistic, weird satisfaction to dive in the absolute bottom of life. In the case of “Submarino” I was deeply fascinated by the story because it is also, other than being a dark story, a story about a true hero, Nick, a guy who is constantly trying to help people. He is also failing, but he is trying to help people. I also find that tenderness, love and caring for one another is being well shown in dark surroundings. When I made that remark “you will be totally depressed by watching the movie” at the introduction of the film to the audience, I said that as a joke. But what I meant, if I would have been honest, is that hopefully you have been moved by this movie and hopefully you’re caring as much as I do for these characters when the movie is over.

200%: As the director of “Submarino” could you explain, in terms of creativity, what have been the biggest challenges, or perhaps even struggles, of making this film?
Thomas Vinterberg: First of all, the main character of the movie, Nick, is not necessarily from the starting point of the book “Submarino” – on which the film was based – a very dramatic character. He is mostly sitting in a room looking into a wall. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone and when he does, he ends up knocking them down. As a dramatic character it was very complicated to bring him to life, to work on the screen. In the book its very much about his thoughts. That was a struggle, it took a long time. Secondly, finding a balance all the way through this movie was also a challenge. Not to make it too dark, not to make it possible for the audience to reject it and still make an artistically consequential movie. I wanted to go all the way, I wanted the film to be a smack in your face, but still, obviously, I wanted to communicate. Finding that balance was very difficult.

200%: What made you decide to do this film?
Thomas Vinterberg: The main reason for doing these type of movies, is to explore human frailty. The vulnerability of human beings is what I’m looking for all the time. That is a big challenge, a lot of work in the writing process, and also finding the actors who can convey that. For Nick’s brother, who is a junkie and a single parent, you have to find a guy that you can hopefully forgive even though he is shooting up heroin and leaving his son in front of the television with no food. That’s a constant battle, but it’s also what I like.

200%: Some interviewers conduct interviews as they are interested to know more about themselves. Do you chose the subject of your films also to get to know more about yourself?
Thomas Vinterberg: Interesting question. I’m trying to be observant and trying not to be self-absorbed, which is difficult, because making movies as a director includes being a performer for the press, being a career pilot and, sometimes, it’s a little bit like being a soccer player – you’re as good as your last game. Therefore the camera very slowly turns back at you, but I’m constantly trying to turn it back away from me and facing life instead. What I find there, I guess, is maybe it is stories about yourself. When you look at characters in movies in which you’re interested, or in script writing, you have to write about what you know, and I always end up finding that these are all corners of your own personality. Maybe, then, the answer to the question is yes. It also scares me as, then in a way, it is self-absorbed again.

200%: So when the answer is yes what did you learn about yourself during the making “Submarino”?
Thomas Vinterberg: What I really got fascinated by is that often you make movies about people you want to be like. Obviously, I don’t want the life of any of the characters in “Submarino”, but there is something very heroic in the way Nick rests in himself. There is a certain calmness, gravity and self-sufficiency to this character, which I really adore. He really doesn’t care what people think about him for one second. If it’s a restaurant where you can’t smoke, he smokes if he wants to smoke, not because he wants to provoke – just because he wants to smoke – I was inspired by that. I think I learned to care a little bit less about what other people think of me – to be a little bit more oblivious. Sometimes if I get too nervous about being in a Q&A, or, if I know reviews will come out tomorrow, I think about Nick. He wouldn’t give a shit. [laughs]

200%: As a film maker do you feel the urge to speak clearly and seriously of the lives and times in which we are currently?
Thomas Vinterberg: No I feel an urge to make relevant stories to the times that we’re in. But those stories could be period pieces. That’s the thing that drama can do; it’s universal. It doesn’t have to be a mirror of the environment and the here and now. I don’t have any social responsibility when I’m making a movie, I have artistic ambitions of avoiding careerism, of avoiding making ‘applying for the Hollywood system’, to make something that really matters to me and try to make something – if possible – that only I can do.

200%: Would you like “Festen” to be remembered as the first Dogme 95 film or just as the film itself?
Thomas Vinterberg: Both. I’m proud to have made the first Dogme film, it was a golden time for me. I think Dogme was a fantastic movement. Thus, the symbolic value of having made the first one is great. For me “Festen” takes care of itself. I’m not protective about how it is remembered – it’s remembered and it will never be forgotten. I’m just happy about how it is remembered: a smack in the face that people loved.

200%: Upon reflection, being one of the creators of the “Dogme 95 Manifesto” what do you think will be the place of the movement in the history of film?
Thomas Vinterberg: I think it will be defining the ‘90’s as the time when digital movies arrived, which is ironic as one of the Dogme rules was that films had to be shot using Academy 35mm film. I think it will be remembered as the time when movies were put back into the street and into the hand of ‘reality’ somehow.

200%: After “Festen”, which was a huge success at the box office, your films “It’s All About Love” and “Dear Wendy” were not as successful at the box office ­– did that affect your confidence as a film maker?
Thomas Vinterberg: Yes, it did. The making of “It’s All About Love” and the release of that movie was a very painful experience in many ways. When I did “Festen” it was in a weird way the finalization of something. I felt it was the ultimate movie in that direction. I can’t go further that way, it’s done. We hit bull’s-eye. After “Festen”, therefore, I had to redefine myself, I had to re-start and that always puts you in a very fragile situation. “It’s All About Love” is a film that needs caring all the time. It’s very dysfunctional in many ways. Dramatically speaking I can understand why people can reject it, but it is still the film which I’ve done that I find the richest. It’s the film I love talking about. When I grow old I will, at some point stop, hopefully, being embarrassed about how it went and then I think I will grow very proud of it. “Dear Wendy” was a difficult story to make – it is like my ‘troubled’ child. It behaves very bad socially but I really care for it a lot, maybe even more than any of the others. “Festen” is my rich and famous son who travels the world and sometimes sends some money to his father. To experience that your films are not successful at the box offices was very painful. It’s also about vanity, the addiction of being used to the success – a lot of unhealthy matters actually, but they were washed away entirely and everything fell apart. Looking back at it, it sort of maybe saved me. It put me in the position where I could do “Submarino” – I had to completely restart. It took me back to the point where I was at film school, that kind of purity and closeness in the stories is what I’m about.

200%: You say you had to redefine yourself. Did you also feel you lost your film makers gut instinct?
Thomas Vinterberg: Yes, I lost everything. I lost purity, I lost my innocence and that’s what happens when you become famous. When you succeed with something the struggle disappears. It’s a very dangerous and uncreative situation in which to be; of course you lose your instincts. I lost the whole recipe of what I am about.

200%: Would it be fair to say that “Submarino” is your return to back-to-basics?
Thomas Vinterberg: Entirely! I was left in the shadow and from there I could just do my movie and do it as I like, and how I was meant to do it. Making “Submarino”, with actors making their big screen debuts and a young crew, is a kind of physical manifestation of what I wanted: to change my surroundings and my thoughts back to how it was in the beginning. Working with the first time Director of Photography and first time writer was so vibrant, energetic and so devoted and they were so not full of themselves, but full of the project and that, for me, was what I wanted. 

Picture: Per Arnesen