My name is Jan Vardøen and as well as directing I am a musician (under the name Ian Senior) and author of many books, fiction and non-fiction. I am also a chef and my formal training is as a wooden boat builder. Although Norwegian, I spent many years in Brixton, stoking the anarchist fires and squatting. This varied background turns out to be the perfect school for directing: problem solving and multi-tasking at Olympic level combined with chronically low budgets is great discipline for the independent moviemaker.
I have long been interested in filmmaking and took the plunge four years ago, making the short “Working Stiff” which was well received at the festivals. In 2014 I made my first feature “Heart of Lightness” about a bunch of English actors who are lured to Arctic Circle of Norway by a broke and incompetent director to film the Ibsen play “Lady From the Sea” in the never ending light of the midnight sun. A Meta film, in Cinemascope, brilliantly acted and with glorious nature as a backdrop, it has been invited to many festivals and had good reviews, but I still haven’t seen any revenue, of course…
Undeterred, I went straight ahead and made “Autumn Fall” (“Høst”) in 2015. A chamber piece in Norwegian, with our very best actors, it got great reviews and is my homage to the city of Oslo, which I feel gets shafted regularly on the screen. The recent penchant for the Scandi Noir look has turned my home city into a dark and dingy place and my intention with Autumn Fall was to show our capital at its most beautiful, redolent of Paris in the early seventies. I think I made it.
In 2016 I have just finished filming a political satire called “House of Norway” about what happens when a refugee from the Middle East comes to glorious, rich, social democratic Norway and has to learn our customs and social mores. Light-hearted and humorous on the surface, it still has some pretty sharp jabs lurking under the waves. I have been quite heavily involved with the refugee situation here in Norway and this gives me the chance to share some of that knowledge and hopefully stimulate some positive thinking about the challenges we face.
I have a bunch of films in production and pre-production; the next one is an English language drama/comedy about how men talk and act when they’re totally alone with each other and the fifth is a Norwegian language caper called “Malecón” about a social misfit from Oslo who has an all encompassing obsession with things Cuban.
I am on a mission to show that it is possible to make low budget films with high production values and top quality. I receive absolutely no support from our Film Institute, which has pretty much stopped funding serious film in Norway and is currently investing in children’s films and event projects.
Which is why I have just started the film centre OSLO16, which will husband independent filmmakers through the production process and our very ambitious plan is to bring 12 features to the world every year.
I have deep faith in knowledge sharing. Everything I do and everything OSLO16 learns is open source and we will share with filmmakers all over the world. By helping each other we will all get better. We will spend a lot of time and energy looking at new channels for distribution and also will start a few creative film festivals in Oslo. A 48-hour festival and a slam film festival are in the works, as well as exchange programmes with other international festivals.
The Norwegian film scene is pretty staid these days and we need to stir the pot if progress is to be made. We have great crew and filmmakers here (especially documentaries) and the best equipment going, but if we are going to make our mark internationally, I think we need to start making films with edge and nerve. Maybe we have it too good here? Things definitely need shaking up. Little Iceland with a population of only 300,000 is churning out great films these days and Ireland just had 6 Oscar noms from a country with the same number of citizens as us.
By operating outside of the state system we hope to sharpen our senses and heighten the urgency of good filmmaking. Hopefully this will be the start of a Norwegian New Wave.
Skål! As we say here.