Festival de Cannes
54e Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2022
Happy New Year, Jim
29 avril 2022
It’s New Year’s Eve. Jim and Morten are playing videogames all night long, like every day. But Morten tonight is uncomfortable.
Hello Andrea, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening, have you been able to remain positive and creative at least?
If we talk about the world in general, everything is very scary: hyperinflation, war, the pandemic and above all the incoming climate crisis. For all of the above, there is the same consequence: the poor always pays for the privilege of the rich. I happen to be in the lucky part of the world, but I ask myself anyway who’s paying for my privilege and that’s a moral dilemma that sooner or later we’ll have to confront with. I don’t think that the West will escape the destiny of every civilisation which is to end in ruins. It’s just a matter of when, which I do not know. I try to work and live to make my contribution to avoid it being during my lifetime.
This doesn’t impact my creativity that much though, I’m a pretty feel-good person. My job is to make films, so I feel like I just have to go on like everybody else on earth goes on with their jobs. I don’t think that creative work needs inspiration or whatever. Creative work needs just work like all works.
What was the experience for you being selected to participate with Werner Herzog on Accelerator, what where some of the most valuable lessons you took from this experience?
When you spend two weeks with an 80-years-old that never says “I’m old”, walks more than you and never complains, you are given a lesson. The biggest thing I learned from Werner is: you don’t spend your energy crying, you spend all your energy working and enjoying life. The rest is narcissism and it will destroy your life.
How did this experience help lead you to create Letters to Herzog?
We were in the peak of the pandemic so our workshop was postponed. Werner asked us to write each other letters dealing with isolation, the awakening of our neighbourhood and water. It was a good chance to play a little with some ideas that I had and never put into practise. At that time I was moving to my first house alone so it was a very intense time to document. My letter pal never answered me in time so in the end I sent the letters to Herzog himself so that they could have a recipient. Did he ever see them? I don’t know, I didn’t ask but maybe he didn’t. It was also the moment when I started filming in videogames again after a very long time. I felt very free doing those videos and it made something click inside me. Like… Could I make an entire short film just like this? With no production, nothing?
Congratulations on having your World Premiere of Happy New Year, Jim at the Quinzaine des réalisateurs, what does it mean to you to have your film in the festival?
It means the world to me! It tells me - and also other people - that you can make a film in your bedroom, all alone, and you can go to Cannes! This is amazing!
How important are platforms like Quinzaine des réalisateurs for championing independent filmmakers and the short film format?
Being a festival programmer, I always had the feeling that the short film format always had every innovation in cinema five years before you see it in feature films. There is a higher degree of freedom in shorts, so often artists end up playing a lot and that can make them amazing. Feature films often miss this feeling of being an artist’s playground because there are too big commitments in play. It’s also very difficult to fit an extreme aesthetic into a longer format, because you end up having to keep it entertaining for more than an hour and this, with a film like 'Happy New Year, Jim', would have been very very hard. If we think about films like we think about bodies, a short film is like a child’s body. You have to take very good care of it, and stimulate the fantasy, playfulness and curiosity of it until he can grow by itself and be something of its own. It’s funny. I don’t think I’ll ever stop making shorts even after my first feature.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Happy New Year, Jim vie came about?
It was August and I was in Rome alone. People cannot imagine the outskirts of Rome in August. There is nobody. And it’s hot. Half of the world was up in flames. All my friends were in their hometowns or abroad, my girlfriend was on vacation, even my neighbours left. It was me with their cat, their garden and their jacuzzi to take care of. I was alone in a beautiful silence and I had these news of fires like it was the end of the world. Suddenly I felt a very rare feeling: the absence of any kind of pressure. I got to work and the film was done in three days. I would film in the morning, have a bath in the jacuzzi, then start again, then take a walk in Pietralata at sundown. I had a very good time, a hermit retreat. I’m looking forward to it to happen again.
When writing and directing a film like Happy New Year, Jim how close do you prefer to stick to your screenplay, do you allow yourself much flexibility?
It was just me doing everything, writing, acting and so on, so it was more like painting than cinema. I think there is a sort of automatic flexibility to that but to be honest I tend to write and then to stick to the writing. I didn’t change much from the first time I wrote the film and also I forgot how I made the two voices in the beginning so I couldn’t change them, you could feel it was different. We tried rewriting with one of the producers but I couldn’t record the voices well again, the magic was lost, it was September and people were back. It was like it was. I was lucky because if I managed to redo the voices maybe I could have ruined the film by overdoing and overthinking, while sometimes the best thing to do is stick to the first idea and let it go.
What where the biggest challenges you faced making short films?
I think the biggest challenge you have into making short films is make a living of it. Pay screening fees!
What does your work say about you?
I think it gives you the feeling of how I actually talk and how I open myself to others. My cinema is always a little bit melancholic, sweet, intimate and somehow political in a bitter way. That’s basically me in a nutshell. It also contains my nerd part which is like 93.7% of me.
Where did you passion for filmmaking come from?
I think it came from the fact that when I was very little my father used to take home videos all the time and he made me sing in front of the camera. But that’s just a guess. I don’t know. I clearly remember taking the decision of being into films after The Lord of The Rings 3 at the cinema. It was 2004 and I was 10. When you answer these questions you always feel weird, like “hey it was my destiny” while I think it was just random. Who cares anyway.
Since you founded Il Varco how has your approach to your projects chance?
I don’t know, because Il Varco has always existed since I was 17, so I had never a period of my professional life without it.
Do you think that through Il Varco, and the amazing success that you have had so far, you are on your way to creating a creative hub that will champion new creators?
I wish! But we just lost a call for funding for a director residency to make cinema inside video games in Rome for 10 people in 10 days. It was an amazing project but it got turned down. We made it so that the directors didn’t have to pay for stay, food or trip, so that we could involve people from low income countries. Of course it was turned down because it didn’t have a good financial plan, but they had no problem in giving a hundred thousand dollars for World War II archive footage stuff. Say something to them! We produced 21 films in 7 years and went to Cannes, Venice, Rotterdam, Rome, Camerimage and many many others but we’re still being rejected by public funding. There must be something I don’t understand in the process. We have to try harder.
"This is a big limit for me, I really don’t like how films are done… I feel most comfortable in my office, making a script analysis, working on the development or in post-production."
How important is it for you to push the boundaries of the projects and stories you want to tell?
For me it’s important that a short film forces me to learn something new. It must challenge me in some way. With the same format of “Happy New Year, Jim” I could make many other successful films because this idea is still new. But I will not do it because it would be an easy trick. My next short film will probably be my first animation project, so that I can start from scratch again.
As well as directing and writing you have also credited as a cinematographer, producer, and editor, on a film set where do you feel most comfortable?
I don’t actually feel comfortable on movie sets and that’s why I quit being a cinematographer for other people. The last films I was involved with as a producer I never went on set, I get impatient very soon, I don’t like how most films are done, with people waiting thirty minutes between shots to fix an ND filter or to make a light one stop darker. It makes me nervous. This is a big limit for me, I really don’t like how films are done… I feel most comfortable in my office, making a script analysis, working on the development or in post-production. And I feel very comfortable when I’m shooting myself. I shot all of my films myself except for 'Blue Matter' which was shot by Lorenzo Scudiero. He did a great job but the set was very stressful and slow for me, it’s not my style. I love directing and shooting myself, but there must be few people around. For me being smart with light and camera is better than being perfect.
For anyone wanting to get into filmmaking do you have any tips or advice you could offer?
I think that the key to this job is finding a comfortable and funny way to do it so that you go to sleep at night wanting to keep going and you do. Inspiration does not exist! What exists is the your working condition. What is the best condition for you? Is your table crooked? Is there too much noise in your room? Do you need some money aside to feel comfortable? Is your envious friend stealing all your energy? You have to understand under which condition you work best and take care of it. There’s a reason if every job has its workplace. You make your workplace if you are a filmmaker. Second thing is that you don’t get to decide when it’s your time to shine, only when it’s your time to work. Sooner or later someone will push a button and get you into festivals. Until then you just have to keep going. The rest is narcissism and it will kill you and your job.
And finally, what would you hope audiences will take away from watching Happy New Year, Jim?
We live in the hyper-digital age, and nobody seems to notice what's happening in front of our eyes. It's the end of reality all over the place and there is people in low income countries that are desperately trying to rush in the metaverse to make a buck playing play-to-earn games. Can't you see the sadness and desperation of all this? I think that this film really gives you the feeling of what the metaverse is. A place of reckless loneliness. It’s shining shell is just a trap.