Q&A with the filmmakers Åsa Ekman, Oscar Hedin and Anders Teigen
- Oscar, what made you want to make a film like My life my lesson?
- And how did you get in contact with Felicia, and why did you choose her for the film?
- Åsa, could you tell us of your first meeting with Felicia and perhaps why you decided she should be in the film?
- For how long have you all been working on the film?
- Åsa, it is an intimate documentary and a tough subject, tell us what has been the most difficult when working with the film?
- Anders, how did you approach the material before starting the editing process?
- Oscar, quite a few foundations and NGOs support the film, how important is this?
- And how will you meet the audience with this film?
- How do you address the concerns attached to filming a family and children in such an exposed situation?
- So what would be the next step?
I was actually carrying out research for another film, well at least I though I was. But then I met this girl - Isabell - who told me about her experience of growing up in violence. She didn’t actually talk a lot, it was more Isabell's anger and the reflection in her eyes that made it impossible for me to forget her story. It brought me back to a memory from my own childhood. I grew up hearing my neighbour beating his wife in the apartment next door. Often when I was trying to sleep I could hear her screaming, only a cement wall separated me from her. I was never exposed to violence in my own family, but I could get, perhaps, get some kind of notion of how it is to grow up in violence. I decided I needed to learn more. I understood that there was an area within research focusing on children living in violence – children who hear, see and is confronted with domestic violence. I realised that it was a political issue and felt that this was something I wanted to delve deeper in, and I wanted to tell a story to raise the issue and work towards change.
It was an extensive job. We carried out a casting that resulted in contact with half a dozen people. The person who carried out this great labour was Karin Tideström, and she has a solid experience as an investigative journalist. I myself have worked as a journalist, among other things with TV programmes such as Uppdrag granskning (SVT) and Kalla fakta (TV4). Me and Karin agreed on a method where we asked to go through a handful of documents from a number of authorities where we knew we would find young people who had experience of living in violence. We also advertised and made some hundred calls to find young people with these experiences. We narrowed it down to geography and age and in the end we had around six young people who all had lived in or witnessed domestic violence – and who all wanted to participate in a documentary film. Åsa was assigned to start filming Isabell and some others, and one of them was Felicia.
Åsa, could you tell us of your first meeting with Felicia and perhaps why you decided she should be in the film?
When I met Felicia the first time it became clear to me that where she was in life at that time would make it possible to create a powerful film. She was aware of her problems but hadn’t yet worked them out. Felicia was also able to clearly express why she wanted to be in the film. From the start we could talk about why we were doing the film and the nature of filming.
For three years. We filmed for two years and editing and post production has been carried out during one year. (Åsa)
I started developing the idea and carrying out research about a year before Åsa entered the project. (Oscar)
I got involved in the project at the end of the summer 2012, about a year before we started to edit. I got to see some selections of the material and we started developing the drama, story and form. At the same time I started looking for Norwegian co-producers and Norwegian partners for post production. (Anders)
Åsa, it is an intimate documentary and a tough subject, tell us what has been the most difficult when working with the film?
The most difficult thing has been organising the filming. There have been periods where Felicia hasn’t been feeling very well and not been able to participate in filming and we’ve had to cancel filming with a moments notice. However this whole thing was made easier by the fact that we early on found a way to communicate where we could set a clear framework for our work. That created a sense of security and safety for everyone, both the people in front and behind the camera. There have been moments when it has been painful to share Felicia and her family’s difficulties. It has then been helpful knowing that we all want the same thing, and then for me to stick to my primary task, create a great film that we all can be proud of.
Åsa brought me material that had come incredibly close to the subjects. At the same time it was shot with respect - it didn't invade the situations, or provoke to get reactions from the people in front of the camera. The presence of the camera is hardly noticeable. I couldn't put the credibility to question, because I felt it was absolute. The result was a bare and very strong documentation it's hard to put up the usual emotional defenses to. At times it's been quite emotional in the editing room - even if it sometimes were only me present. Our ambition was to stay true to the qualities of the footage in selecting and distilling the raw material in editing. Our main character is an introvert girl in psychological crisis. It can be hard to represent this in a way that the viewer will understand and relate to. I think seemingly quiet situations documented in the film hold a kind of raw intensity. We've tried to unveil and make this visible rather than to use explanations, constructed drama and effects.
It is of great importance. They all bring their own specific knowledge and expertise to the project. We are very grateful for their support and the outreach opportunity their respective channels bring. I also believe that there are plenty of children out there who appreciate their efforts. An often referred to number is that one in ten children have lived in and witnessed domestic violence.
We will work hard to get this film out there to raise the issue of children living in and growing up in violence. We want to shed light on their situation. Our work will be untraditional and long-term. However the film will premiere at the cinemas and have a TV run, the traditional way, but we will also work hard to find alternative ways to screen the film, reaching out to partners and activists but also through our own arrangements. All activities regarding distribution will have their hub on our film site mylifemylesson.org and we work in-house with outreach.
How do you address the concerns attached to filming a family and children in such an exposed situation?
It demands clarity and respectfulness. We have from the start been very clear with what we want and not been afraid of talking about the violence. I have gone to great length to stay responsive to the participants ways of communication, for example if they don’t want to be filmed at a certain time. Sometimes children, and grown-ups for that matter, don’t tell you what they want or do not want – I know this. I agreed with Felicia that she would take of her microphone and place it where I could see it and then I knew it was time to stop filming. I believe that children that have a hard time in life, children’s stories that involve difficult things, are stories many find important but later don’t want to see cause one believe that it will hurt the children. It is harmful for children to be made invisible and I believe that children should be as free as an adult to make the decision of whether they want to participate in a film. I believe that there is a relief in sharing difficult things and in our case we have found it to be a good experience. (Åsa)
An important and difficult question. There are no given answers. I myself have publicised several projects where I have let exposed young adults raise their voices and talk of difficult things such as FMG and honour culture. I have seen how this, as Åsa so greatly put it, can strengthen children and vulnerable people – having the opportunity to tell their story. How you carry this out is of course of great importance. Our way in working often gets lumped together with general publications, which tells of a pretty superficial analysis. Our work is very different from for example news media, not only when talking about the time and resources that goes into each project. Through this work we’ve had incredibly good support from professionals. We have had the opportunity to raise concerns and discuss the project with intelligent and experienced professionals from Ersta Diakoni, The Gålö Foundation, The Erica Foundation, Save the Children Sweden, The Swedish Psychological Association, Sofia Congregation and Victim Support Sweden. Åsa and I have also kept a dialogue with the family throughout the process. (Oscar)
Our main focus is on My life my lesson at the moment. But Isabell, the first girl I met during the research, turned out to be a really fascinating character. While My life my lesson focuses on the child's relation to the perpetrator, the father, Isabell's story addresses the child's relation to the victim of domestic violence, her mother. A year ago, we decided to produce a documentary diptych In Violence, where Isabell's story will be the second film and has the working title Say Something. Both work individually, but together the impact is more interesting as our aim to raise the issue of children witnessing violence increases in dimension with these two different stories next to each other.