Social Buttons

Monday, June 24, 2013

BAMcinemaFest 2013: Q&A with Nick Bentgen & Lisa Kjerulff

by Allison Kadin

The crunch of snow, the fast-paced breathing of a runner on a winter’s night, the slow buzz of a snowmobile racing across the white expanse—these are the sounds and images that give Northern Light its impact. Without voiceovers or interviews, the film does all the talking. The annual snowmobile marathon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula frames a moving portrait of middle-class America, where the quotidian is at once exciting and pointless. 

From the Sunshine State to the frigid landscape of a Midwest winter, producer Lisa Kjerulff had to make some big adjustments while making Northern Light, including purchasing her inaugural pair of snow pants. She and first-time director, Nick Bentgen, remained true to the vérité documentary style despite frozen temps and close to frozen bank accounts. With the help of a successful Kickstarter, the film came to fruition and recently received the Most Innovative Feature at Visions du Réel Festival. Check out their Q&A below where they expound on the process of making a documentary without an initially defined plotline.

1. When and how did you come to know you wanted to make movies?

Nick Bentgen: I saw T2 and became obsessed.

Lisa Kjerulff: When I was growing up, my dad was a steadicam operator before he started his own video production company and my mom was always behind the VHS camcorder directing my brother and sisters and me, narrating everything we did. So making movies has always been a part of my life, nothing else ever made as much sense.

2. What would you be doing if you weren't a filmmaker?

Nick Bentgen: I'd love to learn more about carpentry. I'm fascinated by what little I know of it.

Lisa Kjerulff: I honestly don't know.  If you had asked me that in high school, I would have said biologist or architect.

3. What are some of the challenges you faced while making your film, both artistic and logistical?

Nick Bentgen: Making a vérité documentary is by turns enthralling and devastating. Lisa and I were the only two people filming Northern Light, and we often found the story of this film as we went along. There were many times when we didn't know if what we were shooting would pay off, narratively. We would film for days and days without much of a compass. But then finally a great moment would happen with one of the families we filmed. And it was worth getting lost because we managed to capture hidden moments in the lives of a very small community.

But maybe the biggest challenge was that we put a lot of this movie on our credit cards.

Lisa Kjerulff: Making this documentary has been a very long and exciting process of discovery. We shot the film with one camera and made a very conscious choice to not be characters in the film, not use interviews to tell the story, and to make a vérité film. So in the edit, one of our biggest challenges was figuring out how to get across the story that we knew we had in the 300 or so hours of footage because we had experienced it while filming and still adhering to the rules we had set out for ourselves. Of course we couldn't have done it without our two extremely talented editors Yoonha Park and Saela Davis. Logistically, dealing with the cold was definitely a challenge for me, because I grew up in Florida and had never owned a pair of snow pants until we started filming.

4. Talk about your favorite movie of the past two or three years.

Nick Bentgen:
Steve McQueen's Hunger is incredible. Its visual storytelling is amazing, and Michael Fassbender gives one of the best performances I've ever seen. I also recently saw The Act of Killing, a documentary about the massacres that haunt Indonesia. It's an astounding work, and so ambitious.  Joshua Oppenheimer takes on such intimidating, emotional, horrifying subject matter, and he does it boldly. It was an incredibly powerful experience to watch and goes to so many places I didn't expect.

Lisa Kjerulff: Tree of Life is a beautiful film. I really love that kind of poetic storytelling.

5. Are you working on a new project now?

Nick Bentgen:
I'm writing a narrative feature that I can't wait to talk about once it's ready.

Lisa Kjerulff: I haven't started anything new yet, but I can't wait to jump into another project.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.