An interview with the creative directors of Nordic Trips
by Caitlin Quinlan
A new collaborative work sees renowned British artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard delving into the rich storytelling history of the Nordic region with Nordic Trips, a series of commissioned short films by distinct pairings of filmmakers and musicians from across each region. Working alongside Anna Hildur, the former programme director of Nordic Music Export and a production partner with Forsyth and Pollard and their co-founded company Tattarrattat, the pair will work to create an anthology film comprised of the commissioned projects. What was exciting about the idea for them, they say, was the opportunity to “frame a set of projects,” each one distinct yet closely linked under a banner of fresh, inventive storytelling.
The Nordic Trips project asks a simple question for the team: “can we identify musicians and filmmakers, artists, directors that we're excited by and approach them and ask them to collaborate?” This then became an intriguing, yet challenging prospect, Pollard admits, faulting the gap that exists between “the methodology, the thinking, and the ambition of the makers” and the “conventional funding structures which are trailing so far behind.” “What we have found,” she adds, “is that in general, it's filmmakers who are capable of raising money to make what is essentially short film, and then you're back into a kind of relationship where the musician is kind of serving something more narrative.
Our push has always been to try and find those ways to work with each team and to try and inspire them with moments in other people's films and in our work where it's neither short story, it's neither short film, it's not music video. It's something else.
The coming together of Nordic Trips with Anna Hildur ultimately was a culmination of these harboured ideas and sentiments, finding a home in the dark nights and storytelling traditions of the Nordic countries. “Clearly they're all very different countries,” Forsyth says, “and they have their own traditions and cultures, but as an outsider looking in one thing that seems to join the dots between many of them is this huge history of myths and sagas, and storytelling being part of the culture.” “The long dark nights appeal to us,” Pollard echoes, “maybe the initial drive to tell stories comes from that need to entertain yourself, but also something of the flavour or the substance of the stories feels like it's of the dark as well.”
In their approach to the task and its allure, the team suggest changes in the landscape of media consumption and production were a key influence. “Maybe it was the death of the music video in a way that led us to thinking about what comes next,” Pollard notes. “Music videos are feeling kind of tremendously redundant now. They don't seem to be useful tools for record labels anymore, nobody wants to put any money into them.” This observation raised questions in their own minds about how to build from this loss.
Our work has always been hugely connected to the potential of music to transform people and experience. So what's going to happen to this media, how do visual storytellers or filmmakers, how can they work with musicians in a way that isn't locked down to any of the old now feeling quite extinct formats?
“It felt like there should be something positive rather than negative that comes out of that disappearing,” Forsyth adds. “Filmmaking and music making have a lot of overlaps and connections and there's a lot of mutual interest on both sides.
It felt if we could do something to open up that space and encourage those relationships to continue, that would have a positive effect on the world.
Within that space exists Nordic Trips. The commissioned works will eventually come together under the team’s creative eye to form a wider film project, or visual essay, that will extend its roots across styles and ideas. Forsyth and Pollard issued a set of guiding principles to each filmmaker and musician pairing, the result of a two day workshop in Copenhagen with almost all of the teams to discuss their ambitions and aims. The principles were not a complete roadmap, Forsyth explains, but a sort of “signpost that hints at where we're trying to go together.” “In the space of a feature you will encounter seven or eight different kinds of ideas and projects, and it'll be then sort of woven into a bigger narrative,” Pollard says. A further challenge lies in that weaving - what does that space ultimately look like when combined? Pollard sees this as the “space behind the screen”.
I want you to feel like you, as an audience, have somehow gone out of the back door of each of these short films, and there's a space that connects them at the back.
“It probably is like the inside of an empty studio, and it has mirrors, and it has screens with projections. It kind of plays tricks. And I think that's our space, I think that we sort of know what visually, what it's going to be like.”
Forsyth and Pollard express a keen interest in breaking down the hierarchical structures and conventions that have often promoted unnecessary distinctions between medium, and finding an ideal ground within Nordic Trips to explore this merging of artistry. In film and in music video, regardless of length, there remains a certain binary - how does music serve image and vice versa? Pollard notes that work on changing these traditions “started in our video work, our artwork, our installations, and then really advanced when we made 20,000 Days on Earth,” the partnership’s 2014 hybrid documentary drama following a day in the life of musician and artist Nick Cave.
We were working out a language between when music doesn't serve image and image doesn't just serve music. There needs to be a more equal or potent partnership between those two elements.
she adds. “We've been pushing that further in subsequent projects, with the Neil Gaiman short stories that we did for Sky with Jarvis Cocker scoring. There were points where we handed the storytelling to him, and by handing it to someone like Jarvis, a great storyteller in his own right, you're also giving him the potential to carry on telling the story in lyric.”
Within this mode of directing a project, the pair utilise the philosophy of the art to create an effectual working practice. “It is an interesting dynamic in terms of the way we're used to working, in that you're having to deliberately hold yourself back in a way that is not natural,” Forsyth explains. “It's not a natural way of thinking because normally you want to try and advance things and move things on.
We're trying quite hard to pause in the right places and to allow these films to be made, for us to be able to see them and take time to reflect on their content.
For Pollard, it’s the “discipline or willingness of a director to back off at those points, and not try and hold on to the reins by still having moments of dialogue,” that she finds “incredibly inspiring.”
This approach to a delegation of work, of trust and commitment in the skill and craft of their collaborators, they hope will spark a new energy into how others begin their own projects.
“As a musician it is quite hard to be trusted with a film score,” Forsyth acknowledges. “The first time you get a complete score it's quite a hard door to open, partly because filmmakers already tend to have their own favourite musicians, people they want to work with.” But this as a practise, Pollard adds, is slowly easing away. “I think times are changing, I mean we've always been real advocates and practitioners of commissioning scores really early and so we take on our composer at exactly the same time as our cinematographer or our production designer. I can't understand why everyone doesn't work like that.
Musicians are hugely sophisticated in articulating ways of seeing, and ways of feeling, and why wouldn't you use that, why wouldn't you make that part of the palette you're working with from the very start.
A key ambition of the project from the start has been to promote and expose the work of interesting artists to new audiences, to allow the talent of the Nordic regions to extend beyond the boundaries of their native homelands. This broadening of minds and ideas, they hope, will be an industry-wide shift in “the way that sound and music are able to contribute much more actively” to works from the earliest stages. The final anthology film promises to be a bold example of the kinds of “fruitful, productive collaborations” that can be achieved when artists and craftspeople are allowed to explore the realms of their abilities, and “when that communication works and it works early, without already being pinned down or anchored by one element being fixed in some way.” It is an exciting prospect, both to see how the individual works will exist in solitude as well as together in this shared landscape of creativity.
Nordic Trips is supported by: