An interview with scriptwriter Karin Arrhenius on Staircase

Richard Raskin

This film is a perfect example of wordless storytelling. Could I ask you to comment on what you see as the special challenges and rewards of telling a story without the use of dialogue?

It's the essence of film really, telling a story in pictures. I like to take the dialogue away whenever I can. Show, don't tell. And if the film works well, I think film free from dialogue can create a different experience for the viewer. It's more of your own experience when no one is telling you in words what's happening, what to feel, what to interpret. I think that can create a very genuine experience - your own experience. (It has to get inside you. It doesn't stay on the surface.). Of course it's also challenging - you have to be very clear about the story you tell if you don't have dialogue to lead you through the actions. It's harder to both write and read a script without dialogue. It's easier to follow the actions with the use of dialogue.

Could I ask you to fill me in on the development of this project? How did it begin? How did it unfold?

I had a script in my head about this old, maybe senile, woman in a geriatric clinic remembering a passionate love affair from her youth. One morning my neighbour, an old lady, was carried out of her apartment on a bier. I walked behind them down the stairs and I wondered what she would have been thinking if she had still been alive. Then we got this task from DI, our school, to make a five-minute film that somehow took place in a staircase. And there it was, it all fit together. Hanna Andersson and I had not worked together before, but I'm really happy we did on this one. Hanna liked the idea straight away and I think we knew all along what we wanted. We had some resistance from people around us and I'm glad we didn't listen to them. And I'm impressed how Hanna kept the film so pure.

May I ask about the choices made in casting?

I had worked with Ingrid Luterkort in a film a few years back and remembered her well. She's fantastic. Hanna had met Pernilla Göst before.

I can tell from "Fem trappor/Staircase" that you see the short film as an art form in its own right. Could I ask for your comments on that issue? And also whether there is any advice you might give to student filmmakers about to make their own first short films?

Yes, it is an art form in its own right. When making a short film you should really take advantage of the freedom it gives you, not having to tell "it all". You can choose to tell a feeling, or just a fragment of something. Don't try to cover everything, it can be just an appetizer for the viewer's mind. In "The Staircase" we actually filmed a kind of epilogue, showing the interior of the old woman's apartment, with photographs of her family. The idea was to tell a bit more about who she was and how she had lived. To explain things I guess. But especially in the short film you are not obliged to explain. And obviously we didn't want to use it - it's not necessary to know any more about this woman than what we saw in the staircase. Which hopefully is not the same as saying you don't get curious and wonder more about her. But that doesn't belong in this film. Keep it short. Less is more.

22 December 2005

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