Far North - The Talk withAsif Kapadia

By now you probably have read my report about the film itself, but are still waiting for the promised juicy bits from behind the scenes, erm - I mean, the insight in making this film and the questions and answers.
But Asif Kapadia answered them in such great detail, and as I didn't had a recording device on hand they were mostly written from memory, so Renate, the webmiss of bean-land.de being a responsible one, first wanted to get his approval to publish them. Asif was kind enough to cross-read them all, and even corrected and added bits and pieces.

So without any further ado (but keep in mind that if there is a chance to embarrass myself, you can bet that I’ll take it):

Set your mind back to Berlin, April 12, 2008, to a movie theatre in the Hack’sche Höfe, where the first German screening of Asif Kapadia’s film “Far North” as part of the Britspotting Film Festival has just ended.






Warning - Spoilers ahead!!!





Here now are questions from members of the audience, and from the moderator:


Question: How did you came up with the idea of casting Michelle Yeoh?




Asif Kapadia: I worked with the casting agent who did Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I wanted Asian faces for the female roles. It was difficult to get hold of her, as she is a jet setter, so she is hardly in one place for more than one day. We finally arranged to meet in Sundance in the house of somebody I don't know, but the house had an indoor basketball court! Her plane was some hours late, so I waited there for hours. I showed her footage that I and my director of photography had filmed during scouting the locations, and told her about the perils of shooting on locations there, with no hotels, and no star treatment. But she was intrigued by the script and so put two big-budget films on hold due to the small time frame we had to shoot in."



Question: Why did you film in Norway?


  Asif Kapadia: Norway is one of the most expensive places in the world, only second to Japan, but I felt in love with the landscapes. Landscapes are important to me, but I don't know why. I was invited to show my first film "The Warrior" at the Tromso Filmfestival in Norway. Tromso is at the Arctic Circle, and instead of watching the other films there, I drove around to see the landscapes. Most of those who made the crew of Far North were in the audience then.

I had met my director of photography Roman Osin, who is half-German, but lives in London, at film school, and then first did a one-minute short film together, and we did all my films together since. He is fascinated by landscapes as much as I am.

On short films it is all very much connected, you are almost like in a cocoon, everyone knows everyone, but it is a lot of stress for the one in charge. So I thought it might be easier once I work on a larger movie. But it isn't. But it is helpful that not only Roman works with me since my first film, but also Dario Marianelli who writes the music. He has won an Oscar for "Atonement", so I think we can no longer afford him now.

We filmed parts in polar bear country, so we had guards to watch out for them.

Another problem was the cold. We from the crew were wrapped in many layers, but the actors had to move, so they couldn't stay that warm. And due to that there was always the danger of dehydration, so one of our actresses and a camera man fainted out there. Fortunately no one fell into the glacier's huge crevasses.

There is the scene of the seal hunt. Originally I had written it to be filmed on an iceberg. But when we were in Norway, the others convinced me that it was too dangerous, and so we filmed it on land.

Question: How close did you stick to Sarah Maitland's story?


  Asif Kapadia: I read this 5-page story, and was fascinated to get it on film, but also worried how it could be done. We added the flash-backs but kept her three persons in a tent part almost untouched.

Question: Why was one of member of the herder's family Indian?


  Asif Kapadia: We wanted indigenous people for these roles, but in this part of Norway most people are Sami, blonde and blue eyed. So we run out of people for the parts. Also tax laws in England changed, and we didn't had enough English cast and crew members to qualify for these benefits. So I called someone I knew if he could fly in at short notice. And he resembles the looks of the others

Question: Why were the bad guys Russians?


  Asif Kapadia: In terms of the look of the film, we based the women characters on the Nenet's of Russia, they live in the area of Russia that is close to Norway (although Norway wasn't mentioned in the film) they used that kind of things, like the sledges and tools we had in our film.

When we researched the story, we found many stories of indigenous herders had been attacked and killed by Russian prisoners as the USSR expanded and wanted to get hold of the natural resources of the neighbouring lands. So I followed the reports of these excursions, and based the soldiers on them.


Question: The film doesn't look like it is set in a particular time. Was that done on purpose?


  Asif Kapadia: It has old mines, futuristic spheres, weapons from the early 20th century, but also very ancient ones, fairly modern boats and old hunting techniques. I liked the sound the transistor radio makes when it is winded up, that's why I used it. I like its sound. The film could be set in a long gone past, or just now, or some called it futuristic, set after some catastrophes. I wanted it universally.

The moderator thanked Asif and the audience, and asked us to give him a huge round of applause.

Audience leaves theatre, all except us. I was pushing forward to get a word with Asif, and asked him:

Evi: "We came to Berlin just to see the film, and it was definitely worth the trip. So thank you for it. But - How did you manage to get Sean Bean run on the ice naked?



Asif Kapadia: It was his first ever scene, so I asked him if it was ok with him to do it. He considered it for a moment, and said, yes. We had planned to do another scene else with Sean but it snowed the night before he starting shooting, so we had to change our plans and shoot the end of the film. Just in case it didn't snow again. So Sean had to run barefoot over spiky ice crystals. The first take was perfect, but you never know if there is a problem with the camera so I asked him to do it again. And he did!


Evi: Did Sean really run over the ice in the Arctic (or was that a studio shot)?


  Asif Kapadia: Yes it he did it for real.

Evi: Do you know whether the film already has a German distributor?


Asif Kapadia: "Well, I don't know of any yet. But I think KurtMedia are releasing it on DVD."

Asif asked the moderator of the Q&A: "Do you know anything?"

Mod: "None so far, that's why we got permission to screen the film here as kind of a platform."

By then Asif had realized that we are fans of Sean: "Oh, you are Bean fans!"

Evi: Yes, I had met him a few times

Asif with broad smile: "Oh, you are groupies then."

Evi:- (blush)


Then we were asked to leave the theatre as the next film was about to start. So we wished us good luck and good bye.

But .... At the bottom of the stairs we realized Asif wasn't about to leave but instead the moderator invited him to stay for a drink (lemonade it turned out to be) on the house. We also had considered to invite him for a drink but so just followed his invitation to join him for a chat and lots more questions.

Asif, a quiet friend of him, two guys (one of them an acquaintance of his co-writer Tim Miller), four fans of Sean - us, and another woman sat down in the back of the lobby.

From then on, questions, answers and banters flew across, so I can't recall most of the original wordings of the questions and answers, or who said what and when, because as previously mentioned I didn't had a recording device with me. Hence from now on it has some reported speech.



Question: How did you come to Sean Bean?


  Asif: I was advised to watch Patriot Games, and I liked him. He has that tough rugged look that meets the part.

One of the men asked: : How could you convince such two stars to be in the film? And what was the budget?


  Asif: The budget was about 4 mio £, but most was spent on filming, not on pampering. So far away from everything, there is only one hotel, and one restaurant. So you can't bargain on the prices. At one point some of the crew threatened to leave the ship as it was such a tough shoot. So Michelle Yeoh called her partner Jean Todt [then head of Ferrari's Formula 1 Racing Team], to help us. He sent us parcels with Italian ham and cheese!

Such stars don't do auditions; you meet them over a cup of tea and talk about the script. Sean was the last one on board; I had him on the phone when he was in New Mexico doing a remake of "The Hitcher", when he agreed to do it. The actors first met on the set, because they were so busy.
Asif wondered, if he brought the character of the older woman to life and made it understandable what she is doing, and even bring some sympathy for her actions.  

We women assured him that we understand her in a way and that she did what a woman does. She kills her younger rival, not the man. That's what men don't understand.

Asif wondered if he brought that female point of view across, as this was point of discussion with Sarah Maitland.

We assured him that he certainly did.

A lively discussion about the viewpoints of men versus women followed.

Evi: In the story the woman is naked when they make out in bed, and the body of a twenty-year old woman is definitely different from a woman in her forties. So why doesn't he notice the difference the second time?"  
  Tim Miller's acquaintance: "He came back from hunting!" Round of agreement from the men.
One of us women asked, if Saiva's necklace has a special meaning to the film, because the first thing she does when she finds the wounded man, is searching his neck for one.  
  Asif explained that she searches for a similar dog tag as the Russian soldiers of her youth had. If he would wear one, she would have let him lay there. Her necklace was given to her by her lover.
  When asked about the Shaman and the prophecy that Saiva will bring harm to everyone who is foolish enough to get close to her, Asif explained that the Shaman, although appearing being female in the film, in real life is a very famous man, an award winning Norwegian scientist, who lectures all over the world, like Harvard, but has this skin disease that makes him look awkward. So he enjoyed seeing himself on screen as this other person. About the prophecy: We don't know whether it is self-fulfilling or not.

They had different versions of script, some more happy, but decided in the end to do it in the harsh way as it was written in Maitland's short story.

Evi: "Harsh landscapes demand harsh actions." Round of agreement.

Asif had wanted Sean for the role, because he is an actor who brings that uncertainty to the character, one doesn't really know, can one trust him? Can the young woman really trust him? Will she be safe with him? In his first film "The Warrior" which is set in India, he had cast an actor as the killer because he liked the expression in his eyes. Tired, yet piercing.

That's what he liked in Sean Bean, this rough and rugged appearance.

He hadn't seen him in a while.

We told him that Sean is in India, filming a new Sharpe episode.
Asif remarked that Sean who is such a great star who plays in really big films, like in LOTR or in James Bond is in fact completely unpretending, very professional, and just doing his work, he is a regular Yorkshire bloke.

Question: How long was the filming? Where they all the time on this ship?  
  Asif: Filming was about nine weeks. For a third when we were filming on the remote island of Svalbard we lived on the ship that moved to the next location over night, so every morning you never knew what you would see from your window. A third was filming in Norway, but we had to move southwards each day as to win a bit more daylight as we were heading into the dark season. And a third of the scenes, the ones in the tent were filmed in Twickenham Studios. These tents are too small so we had to build it. But it was all very small so I had to crouch all the time, smelly reindeer skins all over, and I still find reindeer hair in my clothes. Sticky and spiky, hollow and so it breaks easily.
  Asif told us that he arrived that day; he was supposed to arrive the day before but couldn't as he was filming.

He apparently vividly remembers meeting other fans of Sean after previous screenings, and he gave us the impression that he had read all their reports of these meetings.

He looked like he was about to leave so we asked the last question:

Question: What will be your next project?  
  Asif:: I'm currently working on another story by Sarah Maitland, but I don't know how it will come about.
With these final words we wished each other good night, wished Asif luck, and parted ways as Sylvia and Julia had to catch their last train home, and my unnamed friend and I went out to have dinner (in the middle of the night) and discuss the film - and Sean - in real depth.

Saiva - Shaivism - traditions of Hinduism focus on the deity Shiva

Anja - Apart from the Russian form of Anna which means ‘graceful’, it is also the Sanskrit word meaning ‘inexhaustible’

Loki - He is a god or giant in Norse mythology, but a villain in the Icelandic Eddic

And wondered why the question about the names chosen for the main characters in the film version (they are nameless in Sarah Maitland's story) wasn't asked.

Next morning we were heading back South, tired and exhausted, but happy!

  In case catching the film proves to be difficult for, you can see at least the trailer here: http://www.vitalprague.com/director/asif-kapadia?video=43
A clip from the film, used as a trailer for the 51st BFI film festival in London: http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/lff/node/2285/trailer

Latest thing I've learned is that the film will be presented at the upcoming 2008 Cannes Film Market, to potential buyers from all over the world. So fingers crossed for a wide German release on the big screens – remember: The bigger, the better!

Evi, 07. Mai 2008

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