Behind the Lens: Jonas Risvig
“Film as dream, film as music,” Ingmar Bergman famously wrote. “No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”
For as long as we can remember, film has served as a powerful mode of transportation – not only outwards, to distant lands and lives, but inwards, delving deep into the murky waters of our greatest fears and most fervent desires. For Jonas Risvig, the intention to create introspective narratives is more pronounced, ingrained in the rhythms of his artistic process: “most of my projects start with fear, which later becomes fascination. It could be death, but it can also be the sea. I am uncontrollably afraid of things that lie beneath the waters and cannot be seen.”
In Behind the Lens, we host candid conversations with image-makers near and far about their history, craft and purpose. Today, we share the thoughts of Copenhagen-based award-winning director Jonas Risvig. “Sometimes you end up in a strange place different from the one you bought a ticket for. Well, then you better fucking get yourself a city map and explore all corners of the city. Maybe you will find that this is exactly the place you need to be.”
Occupation: Film director
Visual style: Raw, nostalgic, cavernous, moody, vivid
The perfect image: Contains a moment or a feeling that you forgot you had inside you
Introduction Chynna Lao
Images Jonas Risvig
How did your love for art begin?
I started working with my art form to escape from reality. That was really the thing for me in the start. The most beautiful thing about life is that it is so indefinable and ironic. We only live once and should travel around the world all our lives to love, experience and explore. Instead, we seek to belong to the crowds and routines to feel safe.
What drew you to directing? What drives you now?
My grandfather was very interested in film and cameras. He died too early and unfortunately, he didn't leave any footage behind. I still feel that he is the person who would be able to answer some of the questions that I sometimes ask myself.
Death and fear of losing have been part of my life in recent years and have now become the force that constantly keeps me going forward. I am surrounded by close friends who all lost family and loved ones at a very early age. It has left a significant mark in the way I think and feel. I have little time for holidays and fun weekends but I make time to drop everything immediately to take care of friends when the world collapses around them.
How is the digital age changing filmmaking?
I think the most important part of the evolution of the internet is the way we share things without being afraid of the response. It has changed over some years now and when I see young people around the world promoting their art, they are really believing in it because we now have a platform for everything.
Do you draw from certain themes or ideas when composing photographs or films?
Most of my projects start with fear, which later becomes fascination. It could be death, but it can also be the sea. I am uncontrollably afraid of things that lie beneath the waters and cannot be seen. A shipwreck, a rope that disappears into the depths or the idea of touching the bottom with my feet. I have worked with this strange fear and turned it into a fascination instead by exploring, diving and taking lots of swims, every time I am at the sea. I also started off by being scared, when I portrayed the hip-hop group Suspekt, who had a completely different background from mine. Slowly, it became a fascination that specifically allowed me to dive into their universe and investigate further.
In developing a project, what is important to you?
A new project based on a sensitive moment, a thought or a hope, needs attention and presence, and it will not do to pack ourselves away behind professionalism. I don't care for skills, once we are in the process of creating something together. It is required and demanded that everyone around the table give something of themselves. Making art is damn hard and a sensitive process but that is how you get people to feel something. Life is a journey. Sometimes you end up in a strange place different from the one, you bought a ticket for. Well, then you better fucking get yourself a city map and explore all corners of the city. Maybe you will find that this is exactly the place you needed to be.
John Berger says that “all photographs are there to remind us of what we forget.” It is an act of immortalising a past otherwise forgotten, shedding light to a certain complexity, a grit that our mind naturally smooths over. Is this true for you? Do you feel like your artistic practice is about finding what’s imperfect or interesting?
Yes, sometimes. But mostly it’s all about telling the stories about the ones who are not able to speak out loud. I don’t want to do intelligent films for the clever guys from my home city. I want to create films for the whole family.