Right Turn for Danish Independent Film

- Interview with David Noel Bourke

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A few months ago the so far best film from the Danish independent film scene was released – directed by an Irishman in Denmark. No Right Turn is the second feature film by director David Noel Bourke and features a wide range of Danish peripheral actors in the various leading roles. The film is a remarkable film with a broad interest in both a creative visual style and pulp fictional narratives. Kulturkapellet has discussed the Danish nascent independent scene with Bourke with attention to both the overall interest in indie film and his recent film No Right Turn in particular.

You’re a Danish-based film director, but of Irish origin. How did you end up in Denmark – professional or personal reasons, or both?

That’s easy – my wife is Danish, we met in Australia and decided to move to Denmark initially just for a while. It has ended being up a very long while as now we’re married with two kids and well settled!

You spent – as you say – some time in Australia as well. How can you – if you do – use your cultural, international background in your work in film?

I suppose it broadens your mind in some context. Truthfully, I have learned that there is not much difference between people no matter where they are from. Generally, of course, there are local culture and habits, but we all have the same fears, desires etc. People are pretty much more similar than different and you learn to enjoy people more after experiencing the world.

Do you see any benefits or drawbacks being an independent film director – in general and in particular in Denmark?

There is a little of both. I have a more international feel, but of course I love and appreciate the local culture as well. So it’s a good balance to have. The Danish Film Institute has not been very supportive, I’m afraid. I really don’t understand that organization and its function towards grass roots indie filmmakers who are trying to get films made in Denmark. The last meeting I had with them, they basically told me that – since my parents were not Danish – I would not get any support! I said: “What? You’re joking – that’s kind of racist, no?” They just smiled and said: “That’s the way it is”. I remember walking home totally angry and frustrated and saying to myself, I need to survive as a filmmaker no matter what, and thankfully there were plenty of open minded Danish filmmakers out there willing to give a helping hand.

There seems to be a growing interest in both directing and distributing independent films in Denmark. What is your reaction to the nascent underground film milieu in Denmark?

For me, it’s all good and I hope it develops even more. There is so much raw talent on the scene. It’s inspiring… and it’s very healthy for filmmakers to experiment. It’s even more important that there seems to be a niche audience for this thing, which is cool.

How would you map out various internal connections in Danish independent film?

I don’t know too much about the Århus productions, as I am based in Copenhagen. In most of the indie scene in Copenhagen – the actors, the producers, etc. – we try to keep each other in touch about our productions and give a helping hand when we can. It could be anything from help supplying contacts to ringing up actors or suggesting a good distributer. To make an indie movie we all understand that it’s a major struggle at the best of times. So we support each other when possible and that’s just great.

Do you see any other reasons for the growing interest in smaller Danish based productions at the moment?

With the smaller movies, you know, you usually can get something different, some new ground and something off mainstream. So this has an attraction to someone who is tired of the same old Danish stories. The smaller productions also usually introduce fresh new faces which has appeal. You would be surprised the amount of folk that are a little tired of seeing the same production formula, year in and year out.

Turning to your own films, you seem to have moved yourself from your first somewhat minimalistic horror flick Last Exit to your latest, a bit more ambitious feature No Right Turn. What are, at first, your motivations for taking a dive into more complex story telling?

It’s a learning process. I want to make my films better and better, to improve and make progress as an artist and a storyteller in all areas of cinema as I go along. It’s a strong motivation for me to be the best at what I do. Love them or hate them, I try to get the films made. There is nothing like the highs and lows of going out there and making your own film and fighting hard in the trenches to develop as a filmmaker – it’s a satisfying challenge to keep pushing yourself.

Your film seems to draw heavily on various pulp genres (crime, sex, humoresque, etc.), but simultaneously it has a scent or a hint of an art house concern: The film intentionally lacks clear explanations for everything that happens and draws heavily on visual symbolism. What are your underlying intentions behind this mixture?

Well, I love the melodrama of the pulp genre in itself. It’s just fun genre to work with and you can do a lot with actors, production design, cinematography and story plot. Regarding clear explanations, in this modern day and age where the plot of a movie is often revealed on the net its fun to leave the audience guessing. For No Right Turn, we had a lot of fun with the story – especially the final scenes and how they all tied in with the rest of the film. It’s creative fun, maybe not every ones cup of tea, but still fun for those who want to try figure it out. One audience member came up to me after our screening at CPH:PIX and said its “like a jigsaw puzzle whereby you are given several pieces during the course of the film and at the end you have to figure out how they all come together”. I thought, “wow, what a cool analogy and very true”.

The reception of cult films seems generally acknowledge precisely this cross between art house and pulp as a general identifying mark for potential cult films. Have the possibility of cult attraction come to mind during the development of No Right Turn?

Not really, I just wanted to make another movie, something a little more ambitious in scope and push myself a little with characters and story. Whatever happens in the end with the film is up to the gods!

As previously said, the story develops clearly in a more complex way. What are your narrative motivations behind No Right Turn?

I wanted to give all the four characters an equal “say” for the duration of the movie. So there is a lot more storytelling required to give them background and drive – and that becomes complex weaving the stories together. Now to say, whether I would like to do the same in my next film, probably not. But it was fun to play with for sure.

No Right Turn has also paid a somewhat closer attention to the aesthetic side of the film. It is visually very interesting. What are you visual reflections behind the film?

I wanted the movie to have an immediately identifiable look, so we chose retro browns, bright neon, and stark whites depending on which characters turned up on screen. Each character has a certain “look” – again, experimentation and having fun with the medium. Usually when you see a few frames from good movies you can tell what movies they are from – that’s good cinematography. I was delighted and lucky to work with a great German/Danish cinematographer Eric Witzgall. We worked hard throughout pre-production to plan the unique look and style of the film…with very little resources to try pull it off.

It is no surprise that film production – even though it has become a lot cheaper – still costs money. Can you say a few things about the composite financing process of No Right Turn?

For pre-production and production, I managed to secure some private bank loans pretending I was buying a car. I also got some funds from some private investors, not much, but enough to get started. Zentropa were kind to lend out us out some of their basic equipment after I had a meeting with Peter Aalbæk Jensen. I explained to him we were very hungry to go out to make a movie but we had no proper equipment – just like in the days when Lars von Trier was trying to get his movies made. I ended up sending him a box of cigars to say thanks, because we used a lot of their equipment! In post production Supersonic & Fridthjof came on board when they had seen a “rough cut” and liked it. They were really cool and contributed with a professional sound design and colour grading which helped to give the film a nice final polish.

The film is now in wide DVD-distribution in Scandinavia. Can you tell us a bit about how the film has been received in the various countries?

It’s still early stages, but the response has been generally positive so far. The movie is doing well, but not going through the roof. It got 4 stars in Berlingske Tidende, which is unusual for this type of low budget film. We must have caught them on a good day! Recently it has been launched in Sweden where it is a bestseller at some shops – the Swedes love their cult movies. Hopefully it will develop more of a steady following as more folk hear about the movie and want to check it out for themselves.

No Right Turn has also been sold to the US. Was this a part of your plan from the beginning, being a film with spoken English? And what are your first impressions from this release?

It wasn’t planned, but I knew it would have potential on the US market. When it got sold eventually for the US it was great and all, but at the end I was a little disappointed with their lack of marketing. It’s very hard to get these types of movies noticed if no one knows about them. It’s a little frustrating, but they made a wonderful DVD package, though they could have done much more with it.

Last Exit Production – judging from upcoming releases – seems busy. What are the future plans for the production company?

I have two full scripts written and ready to go, but I have decided to retreat and write a new script. It will be in Danish (first for me) and is based in Copenhagen. It’s a very cool thriller, very different to what’s out there, more mainstream than what I done before but still edgy. I’m very excited about it. If there is some folk out there willing to invest and make a great Danish thriller… please get in touch! :) I have many projects, some big, some small but all of them are ambitious. I won’t shoot another project unless I know it will be a significant improvement over the last one. So planning to stay creative, have fun and just keep making movies.

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