58th Semaine de la Critique | 2019
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During a trip to the Philippines, middle-aged Norwegian Lars has met the Filipina he wants to share his life with, but to his surprise she turns him down. Lars now has to face his own prejudices and deal with this uncomfortable situation.


Hi Johanna, it's great to talk to you again, how's everything going?

Very well, I’m actually writing an episode for a Norwegian drama series so I have to concentrate and write long hours while being so happy with all the congratulations and cheers from people.

What does it mean to be at the Semaine de la Critique 2019 with The Manila Lover?

Semaine de la Critique is my dream premiere, I’m so happy and honoured to be in the competition program. It's the biggest thing that could happen to this short film and me right now. Semaine de la Critique always have had such a good selection of films and to be included in their selection is unbelievable. I’m truly honoured. I love that they focus not only on the short, but they do also have the feature film lab Next Step for the ones selected, which is perfect right now for me. 


Aside from writing for drama series, I have been developing my own longer length projects - being four features and a drama series. I’m really happy I get to develop one of these projects even more during the featured lab. Being in Cannes with a film also gets me the possibility to talk about these projects, but most of all I’m looking forward to screening The Manila Lover and getting the reactions from the audience.

Does this add any extra pressure on you? 

Right now, I just see possibilities. 

Can you tell me a little bit about The Manila Lover, how did this film come about?

I had an idea I presented to a very dedicated producer, Nina M. Barbosa Blad (from the production company Barbosa Film in Norway), who loved the project from the start and we started to apply for funding together. 

This was two years ago and shortly after we got production funding from The Norwegian Film Institute and The Art Council in Norway. After that, we could move on and start to plan the production. At the same time, we started working together with our fantastic Co-Producer Bianca Balbuena-Liew (Epicmedia in the Philippines) and Barbosa Film got Lotte Sandbu in as my second Norwegian producer. I loved the co-production between the countries and the shoot in the Philippines was awesome. I got such a huge, professional crew in the Philippines and things went very fast and smoothly. 

"Involve people in your crew that you admire for being strong artists in a way different than yours."

What was the inspiration behind this film?

Several years ago I met a Filipina, who told me about how white, Nordic men approached her, being sexist and who had prejudiced assumptions about her. I don’t want to to tell too much about her, but I remember her persona very well and the Filipina in the film is inspired by her. 

Also, I grew up partly in a working-class family and surroundings. Therefore I have seen a lot of these white Nordic men who travel aboard to find love in the East-Asian countries. These men have a lot of emotional depth and complexity that I've never seen in a film and that was something I wanted to show. That inspired me to tell the story about Norwegian Lars in a meeting with a Filipina, and both of them surprising each other and the audience. 

What was the most challenging part of bringing The Manila Lover to life? 

It took a lot of time to finance and plan this film, so for me, as an artistic leader, the trickiest part was to stick with my own vision and remember what I wanted to do during the development.


When there is a lot of feedback, you always find people who don’t agree with your intuition and the trickiest part for me was to find the energy to figure out what I wanted to do with the story. But I’m happy I worked a lot with always being true to my intuition and therefore I ended up shooting what I really wanted to explore. 

What was the most valuable lesson you've taken from making this film?

Aside from not doubting my own intuition, it’s to include people I feel really are strong artistically in a way different from my own, like my cinematographer Torbjørn Sundal Holen and my co-editors Brwa Vahabpour and Margrete Vinnem
They really contributed to the result and I love working with them and their ideas.

Has filmmaking always been a passion for you? 

Since I saw ’Riget' (Lars von Trier's The Kingdom’) on TV as a ten-year-old, I've been really curious about the film. 'Riget' was so explosive and playful, so I started to go to the library and see a lot of films. I thought about editing, the work and movement of the camera and the expressions of the actor, but I waited until I was 23 years old with doing my own films. I think that was because I lacked female role models behind the camera. Now I understand the women behind the camera have been there all along, but they are constantly omitted. Like during my studies at different film schools, they mostly mentioned male filmmakers and forgot to mention all the women.

I’m so happy I saw this system early and got to see the works of Claire Denis, Lynne Ramsay and Agnès Varda for example, they’ve inspired me a lot.

How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut film?

It’s easy to do your first short. You do it just for you. When you learn more, you get more inner blocks and it is difficult to do something pure and honest. 

Is there any advice you've been given that's stuck with you?

If you are an artistic leader (a director, or showrunner, working with your own projects) I find you should encourage your own intuition and work only with those who dare to go on a journey with that intuition of yours, then you can make art.

Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

Involve people in your crew that you admire for being strong artists in a way different than yours. But make sure that these people are willing to give and contribute to your project. Then you have a winning team. 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Manila Lover?

That they reflect and feel emotionally with both sides of the ”white western man and East Asian-woman” relationship. Also, I hope the audience think about what is happening with society nowadays. There are new things happening with the world, but at the same time some things are stuck in their patterns, and I hope the films opens up the mind and fantasy of the audience around these questions.