17th ÉCU
The European Independent Film Festival 2022 

8th - 10th April 2022 
Interview

Rolf Heldal:
Norwegian nature, suburbia and the Creatures living there 
Section: Experimental Film 
ecufilmfestival.com

Somewhere in Norway nature awakens. A seemingly human-like Creature emerges from the deep forest. With every footstep it draws nearer, towards suburbia and the unsuspecting people living there. "Norwegian nature, suburbia and the Creatures living there" is a big screen sensory experience and an allegory where the true beauty lies in the soundtrack.

Hey Rolf, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?


Hi, and thanks for reaching out! I’m good, thanks. At the start of the pandemic the challenge was adapting to a new equilibrium as my day-to-day routines changed. I’m one of those people who is most productive following a set schedule, so getting into the groove of new working habits took a while. It certainly has been a time of change.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?


For sure. For one, the amount of foley in the short wasn’t intended to be so expansive. With the pandemic allowing for extra time, we ended up creating more and more, expanding the sound and textures of the universe; footsteps, rustling of clothes, door knobs, birds chirping, you name it. Being shown the secret world of foley by sound supervisor Rune van Deurs was one of the great unexpected gifts of the pandemic, something I’m very grateful for. To create a short film with this amount of foley is not something I will have the opportunity to do again I think.

Congratulations on having Norwegian Nature, Suburbia and the Creatures Living There part of the 17th ÉCU Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be screening your film in Paris?


The fact that someone has seen the film, connected with it and decided to program it is very important to me. It shows that not only do they understand the film, but they believe it’s a good match for their audience as well. Film festivals are so much about getting the right film to the right audience, so I’m curious to see how it resonates. ECU certainly feels like a good fit for the film.  

You are graduate of the London Film School and your Graduate Film Rift screened at multiple film festivals, what was your time like at LFF and how much did this prepare you for your filmmaking journey?


Looking back, I can best describe my film school experience as a whirlwind. We constantly worked on projects, never enough time, never enough resources, never enough sleep. The challenge is to keep your head above water, hopefully learn something and then move on to the next one. I wouldn’t say I made any masterpieces at LFF, quite the contrary, but the experiences helped me develop perseverance and thick skin, which is helpful in the day-to-day hustle of film making.

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Can you tell me how Norwegian Nature, Suburbia and the Creatures Living There came about, what was the inspiration behind your film?


It was several elements coming together. The first image that landed in my head was of a ragged, ancient creature, a mysterious force moving through suburbia. Once I had that, I was interested in using sound design to convey the weird ambience I felt growing up there. I clearly remember the presence of nature around me, the wilderness encroaching as if it threatened to reclaim lost territory.


But, of course, there are more mundane reasons as well, like the several missed calls from my producer. I know it’s not the poetic answer, but sometimes outside pressure can help crystallise a project.

Though you are the creator of Norwegian Nature, Suburbia and the Creatures Living There once you watched the completed film for the first time, what did it make you feel? Where you able to be reflective?


That's a great question. It touches upon this two-fold process of creation and consumption. Sometimes I do fail to realise that the beautiful baby I envisioned has ended up as some Frankensteinian monster. It’s tricky. I try to step back and get some perspective. Hopefully I’m able to see the creation for what it is and not for what I want it to be.

When working on an experimental film how close are you able to keep to your shooting plan once you start filming, did you allow yourself much flexibility?


To be honest, I never thought of the film as “experimental”, that’s just how it turned out in the end. By that I mean that the experimental aspect never influenced the making of it, the shoot was similar to what I usually do; rigorous prep and a strict shooting plan. However, we did have time to go off on a tangent if we saw a lucky opportunity. It's a bit of both I guess; flexibility nested inside a strict plan.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced bringing Norwegian nature, suburbia and the Creatures living there to life and looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?


The biggest challenge was how to allow the sound design to influence the edit. Making films is a linear process and sound design tends to be an afterthought really. On this film I experienced how a new sound would influence the logic of the edit, so I ended up going back and forth between the editor and sound designer with changes. Most likely driving them nuts in the process. For the next project, segueing from a linear to a more parallel workflow is something I’m really interested in.  

Where did your passion for film-making come from?


To be honest I’m still figuring this one out. What I do know is that watching sound and images float by in the darkness of a theatre fills me with tremendous joy. If I had to intellectualise it, I would say something along the lines of films being able to expand on reality itself, opening a window that allows me to glimpse something mysterious or sacred. At least for me, watching films is as close to a religious experience as I get.
 

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?


That depends on what is meant by “push the boundaries”. Each idea surfaces with its own form and logic. It’s my job to discover this logic, to help the idea express itself and to unlock its potential. If “pushing the boundaries” is a natural bi-product of this process, or if it makes for a richer audience experience, then I’m all for it. There is nothing wrong with pushing boundaries, but, for me at least, the push needs to be motivated by the idea itself.

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"The short film is open and allegorical by design, so hopefully it will serve as a challenging and interesting framework for an audience to engage with."

For anyone out there thinking about getting into film-making or going to film school do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?


The first thing I would say is “go”. Film school gave me a solid foundation and a good understanding of film, so definitely go. However, do your due diligence. Film schools have different strengths and weaknesses, so be sure to use this to your advantage. The next thing I would say is to spend your time wisely and create the most ambitious films you can. Really stretch yourself. And fail. Fail spectacularly. Go down in flames. What you learn is directly proportional to the height of those flames I think. Lastly I would urge you to be gentle and constructive when it comes to critiquing your colleagues' works. I met some great people at film school that I know will be with me through my entire career simply because we took care of each other's fragile egos during those formative years.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Norwegian Nature, Suburbia and the Creatures Living There?


The short film is open and allegorical by design, so hopefully it will serve as a challenging and interesting framework for an audience to engage with. If the film could be a catalyst for thoughts, associations and reflections that would make me very happy. I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that.