Can you tell me about the original idea for making The Face of Time?
The original idea was very simple. I wanted to do something very short, maybe only three or four minutes long, with the human face and the aging process. But the idea was too abstract and for a long time I didnít do anything more with it. Then I applied for funds for script development, which I received, but I still thought the idea was too abstract. I still wanted to do something about the aging process and I thought a lot about what environment would suit this idea, because I wanted nothing other than the human body and the human face. It took me a couple of months and then suddenly I realized that a public bath was the best place because there you can find all ages, all kinds of people, at the same place and at the same time. And itís also very natural, it's not something you have to construct. Other alternatives seemed artificial in comparison. So I developed the idea of a bathing house by concentrating on the human face and thought that this might be suitable for a slightly longer film.
Did you know from the start that it was womanís face and body you wanted to work with in connection with the aging process?
Yes. Maybe itís because women think more about the aging process and the way they look than men do. But Iím not sure. Maybe that was an unconscious reason for making that choice.
What about the title? Was that something you had in mind early in the process?
Yes, that was the title from the very beginning. It refers both to the cycle of aging and the human face. There are a lot of close-ups in the film.
Itís a very interesting kind of storytelling that youíve chosen to do. As you mentioned in an earlier conversation, it involves a documentary look and yet is actually a fiction in the sense that you decided what each of the people was going to do in front of the camera. Did you know from the start that you were going to use that combination?
My background is actually painting. And the earlier shorts I had made were very visual and not based so much on dialogue. That was my starting point. I wanted to make a film with no dialogue and to concentrate on the images. I donít think I really thought so much about the style of storytelling because it came naturally. I thought a lot about the transitions between the scenes or the images and the rhythm, but I didnít really think in terms of making a semi-documentary.
You storyboarded the entire film before the shooting began?
Yes, the film was shot in five days. Most of the crew was from Stockholm and the film was shot here in Gothenburg. I had only met the cinematographer twice before the shooting. And there were a lot of difficulties with the location because there were a lot of people involved, and a lot of practical problems with electricity and water, also with respect to safety. I had to plan everything carefully. The film was shot in a small area within a large bathing house. There were normally very few people in that area, and there are almost no windows there. Itís very dark and very small. I went there a few times with a video camera and with a girl who functioned as a model, so I could see what was possible to do technically, and how many people could be in one scene or another. The cinematographer and I had to do a lot of planning. Since there is almost no natural light, all of the scenes had to be lit.
The film could run no more than eight or maximum nine minutes with credits, because Swedish Television was a co-producer and the film had to fit into a ten-minute slot. That meant I also had to decide ahead of time approximately how long each image would last and how many shots there would be. There are a lot of people moving in and out all the time, and to be able to cut in a way that looked right and with transitions that would work was an interesting challenge. And of course you come up with better solutions during the shooting, but I tried to be well prepared because there were so many people involved. And some people had to wait around a whole day just to be in the background of a shot for a few seconds.
I assume that the people in your film arenít actors. And you told each of them what to do. Maybe we could take one or two examples. Thereís a very striking shot with two young girls facing each other and speaking some Slavic language.
Do you remember what kind of instructions you gave them?
I told them to speak about anything other than the shooting or what we were doing on the location. That was the only thing they were not supposed to do, because if somebody who understands Polish heard them talk about the filming, that wouldnít be good. I just asked them to talk about something they do in school. Nothing more specific than that. The main thing I wanted there was the symmetrical image. Sometimes you can feel that the shots are not documentary because they are clearly arranged. And sometimes I wanted the film to have the look of fiction, but without being too much arranged.
Thereís also a close-up of an older woman who rubs her finger along her teeth and smoothes her eyebrows down. In all these cases, you simply told each woman what you wanted her to do?
Yes, but I tried to think: is it possible that this woman would do these things. Is it going to look artificial if she does this? But actually it was in the storyboard that she should do this (laughter). I thought it was something that this type of woman might actually do if she were alone.
It certainly looked very natural and very convincing to me.
You think so? Some of the short shots required a lot of takes. For one shot, there was a young girl who puts on swimming goggles. She looks natural in the take we chose, but she was so stiff in the others. Itís difficult because there was a crew of twelve people watching. But most of the people were very good, considering they were amateurs. They did a great job in a very difficult environment and the whole crew was very impressed by how seriously everyone took the work. Itís very difficult just to be and not do much. It looks simple but sometimes itís more difficult than speaking a line of dialogue. A few of the extras had been in walk-on roles in other productions as well. Everyone was very good.
I donít know anything about your background. Did you go to film school or are you a self-taught filmmaker?
I went to something called the Film Academy in Gothenburg, but itís not a very long education. Then I took some short courses and did some scriptwriting workshops. Thatís my film education. I also have a painterís education but thatís another matter. Sometimes I look at myself as a painter making films. (Laughter.)
That would certainly explain to some degree the great attention one can sense that you have given to the visual quality of your film. Thereís a tremendous richness in the visual experience of The Face of Time. Are your paintings a little bit like the films that you make?
Not really. They are moreÖ free.
Are there other short films that have inspired you?
You mean to make this film or in general?
Well there are a lot of shortsÖ Many people, when they start to make films, have a goal of making a feature film sometime in the future Ė what they would see as a "real" film. But for me, a short film is like poetry. Unfortunately itís sometimes hard to find good distribution for shorts, which is why people donít value this form as much as it deserves. I think itís quite difficult to make short films that say something. Because itís short, that doesnít make it simple. You have to put a lot of work into it, just as when you make a longer film. There are fewer days of shooting but that also makes it difficult because you have to be 100 percent concentrated during those few days of shooting so its very intense and requires a lot of planning. Some years ago, I was also thinking I wanted to make a feature film at some point, but now I donít knowÖ I really think the short is a wonderful form.
I couldnít agree with you more. You may have already begun answering my final question but Iíll ask it anyway. Is there any advice you would give to student filmmakers about to make their own first short films?
To not be afraid of simplicity. Itís very tempting to try to put too much into an idea when you make a short. I think itís important to dare to simplify. And also to let an idea mature. Even if an idea seems undeveloped, you have to be patient and give it time and not just throw it in the garbage can (laughter) because you havenít yet solved some problem in the idea. Itís very easy to dismiss an idea and say: this is nothing, itís too simple.
June 6, 2001
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