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Welcome Home: An Interview with Amanda Nordpoll

Please tell us about the projects you worked on before making ‘Welcome Home’. How did you start, and how did you learn to make films?

My journey into filmmaking unfolded somewhat unexpectedly, yet in hindsight, it feels like it was meant to be. Haha, Cliche I know! I initially ventured into the realm of artistry through music, focusing primarily on rhythmic singing, particularly in jazz. Looking back, it's amusing to see how rhythm and musicality often sneak into my short films, from the early stages of scripting to the final edits.

Later on, I stumbled into theater, sparking a growing curiosity for acting and stage direction. Despite lacking any background in film, I decided to pursue my newfound passion for storytelling and enrolled in a public Bachelor's program in film in Bergen, Norway.

During my time there, I had the chance to explore various aspects of filmmaking, from sound and cinematography to editing, producing, screenwriting, and directing. Today, I find myself especially grateful for this broad skill set, particularly when engaging in conversations with different department heads on film sets. While studying, I discovered my love for filmmaking, although at the time, I wasn't certain that directing was my calling. As a result, my early film projects were student endeavors where I took on various roles such as cinematographer, screenwriter, director, and creative producer.

In my final year, I specialized as a creative producer, but it wasn't until our graduation film that I realized directing was my true passion. I initially feared that this realization had come too late, feeling a twinge of regret. However, I resolved to pursue this newfound passion wholeheartedly before considering any other paths. Subsequently, I relocated to Oslo after landing a job as a director's assistant at our state television channel while simultaneously working on personal projects. In the fall of 2022, I stumbled upon an advertisement in Oslo for a talent program for young filmmakers. Without hesitation, I reached out to my collaborator and screenwriter, Kamilla Fausa.

A month later, we received the thrilling news that we had been selected to participate. "Welcome Home" thus became my first directorial venture outside of film school. It was a passion project fueled by the fiery enthusiasm of young minds like mine, all sharing a burning love for cinema. What mattered most to me was ensuring that everyone involved felt a sense of ownership over the story I wanted to tell.

Tell us about ‘Welcome HOME’. How do you describe it?

"Welcome Home" is a short film about returning to something that never quite feels like "home." It explores the prejudices ingrained in us, whether inherited or perpetuated within families and society. The film delves into everyday racism, often the hardest to confront, hidden in seemingly harmless compliments that soften the blow of discrimination. It's a satire intended to leave a lingering resonance in the room, perhaps even eliciting laughter alongside the characters. For me, laughter is a gateway to deeper emotions, which I hope the film will also touch upon."

Please tell us about your favorite filmmakers and also the Norway cinema today.

I always find this question a bit tricky. I tend to see myself as someone who collects favorite 'scenes' or 'moments' from films, and perhaps individual films, more so than isolating filmmakers. Some of my favorite films include Nomadland, Apolonia Apolonia, Minari, Lilja 4-ever, Sister; What grows where land is sick?, Movern Callar, and Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.

Off the top of my head, Chloé Zhao is a significant inspiration. Her ability to portray universes at the intersection of fiction and documentary is captivating, and I find her films to have a unique presence that I'm inspired by. Agnes Varda and Céline Sciamma are also two role models I can't help but mention. Over the past couple of years, I've developed an increasing interest in satire, and Ruben Östlund is a Scandinavian master in this field.

In Norway, I find there's a lot of exciting things happening on the big screen these days. It has historically been, and still partly is, incredibly challenging to make anything more than one feature film in Norway with financial support. However, in recent years, several young voices have emerged, either making films without support or with partial support. My most profound cinema experience in Norway was watching “Sister, What grows where land is sick?” by Franciska Eliassen, a feature film debut she made while attending film school in Nordland. I draw great inspiration from seeing works created by young voices, as they are the ones who will shape society and our attitudes to the greatest extent in the years to come.

There have also been incredibly many good documentary films this spring, such as 'Ibelin' and 'Unknown Landscape,' both of which received awards at Sundance, and 'The Miracle in Gullspång' was also incredibly powerful! I look forward to seeing 'Sex' in cinemas, which has received good reviews regarding its subtle Norwegian dialogue!

If you were given a good budget, what would be your ideal project?

Hmm, this is a tough one. For me, projects often come to me when I least expect them, so what I consider an ideal project tends to shift depending on when you catch me. Right now, I would really love the opportunity to travel out of Norway and film a feature film where I use the local villagers as the main characters. I want to explore the boundary between documentary and fiction, something Chloe Zhao excels at, as mentioned earlier. Even if I had a lot of money, I would still prefer to work with a small team, where we get to know each other well and function as a family during the film production. For me, filmmaking (besides what you see on screen) is about everything else that surrounds it. To endure in the industry, I must focus on finding values that revolve around the collective journey toward a common goal. Magic happens when random people are brought together by a desire to create the same dream you hold.

My mother is from Turkey, from the part bordering Syria, and I dream of being able to visit her hometown with my Turkish grandfather. Perhaps that's what I would do with the money. To realize the dream project, something only he and I know what is so far.

Describe how you would ensure that production is on schedule. What steps would you take?

For this, I have only one piece of advice: Make sure you have a producer who is both your creative sounding board, biggest cheerleader, project manager, and employer! A good collaboration with your producer is truly essential. Perhaps I see the importance of this because of my specialization from filmschool in Bergen as a producer, but it really makes all the difference. It's equally important that this person sees you as both an individual and a filmmaker, as art is so personal. The producer should be the guardian of the project's premise and will always be there to remind you of your own vision throughout.

On a personal note, I'm also a bit of a control freak myself, and I find producing to be incredibly fun! I am not sure if it is an advise but I am fond of sharing information. I share as much as I can of my plans, visions, breakdowns, and even relevant inspiration documents with as many departments as possible. The creative and production realms blend into each other, and to ensure staying on schedule, it's crucial that everyone knows what film they're making at any given time.

What was the hardest part of making ‘welcome HOME’.

The toughest part of "Welcome Home" was dealing with certain premises set by the talent program. Particularly, two of the premises proved to be exceptionally challenging. Firstly, we were given a budget of 30,000 NOK with no opportunity to secure additional funding. This meant that my producer and I had to find creative solutions to finance the film. We also had to pitch the project convincingly, so I reached out to professional actors and crew members who were willing to work on the project without pay. Surprisingly, many professionals were eager to be part of the project once they heard the idea and the story I wanted to tell.

The most challenging premise was that filming had to be completed within a maximum of 2 shooting days, each lasting 10 hours. At this point, we had a 17-page script that we decided to film in its entirety. That meant shooting over 8 pages of script per day. Planning became crucial! I focused on holding several rehearsals with the actors beforehand to minimize the time spent on set getting into character and understanding the story. The cinematographer and I also worked closely beforehand, with me ensuring he understood the story's dramatic arc and key moments, just as much as the composition of the shots. We opted for a very "documentary" style, with long but few takes. By collaborating closely in pre-production, the cinematographer could simply capture shots around the set, trusting that he knew where it was important to focus.

It's worth mentioning that with few and long takes, editing was also challenging. Finding the film's unique rhythm and flow was something we worked extensively on, including what we could afford to understate. We went through about 20 different versions of the edit, bringing in various test audiences for feedback. We ended up removing several scenes to work more deeply on certain subtle layers. Today, the editor and I are very proud of the final cut, where the film still maintains the same tone and visual language as it had in pre production.

If possible, tell us about your next work. What plans do you have for your future work?

I like to keep my projects close to my chest, not because I'm secretive, but mostly to allow myself to keep development possibilities open for as long as possible. When ideas get too concrete too soon, they tend to lose themselves along the way.

But I can tell you that I'm currently studying directing at the Norwegian Film School, which is the most renowned film school we have in the country. It's a three-year program where you go through several audition rounds to get in, and we have 6 directors per year group. What's a bit fun is that "Welcome Home" was actually the film I applied with in the first round. Anyway, my next "major" film project will therefore be my graduation film. At film school, we focus a lot on creative collaboration, and I simply can't share much about the ideas we've discussed here. But we're aiming for a festival afterlife!

In addition to the graduation film, I'm currently developing a short film with a producer and screenwriter who graduated from the same Film School a year ago. The producer reached out to me after seeing "Welcome Home" in cinemas here in Norway and pitched their project to me. I can reveal that it's a new satire, but this time with a female lead. The theme explores processes of grief and how easily we tend to claim ownership over others' right to mourn. It's a proper summer film, so it's the opposite of the cozy Christmas vibe in "Welcome Home"! Although it's something different, a little political commentary will still likely find its place, which often serves as a starting point for my films.


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