Feature Q&A

Next Wave Q&A: SXSW winning short film director Kristian Håskjold

Danish editor and director Kristian Håskjold is fast earning a reputation as a filmmaker on the rise. His 2017 short Forever Now won the Grand Jury Prize for best narrative short at the SXSW Film Festival and earned multiple nominations at the Palm Springs International Shortfest this year. Previous works include the his 2013 short Reception, which earned two nominations at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in 2014. His next short Velkommen til Paradis earned two nominations in 2016 at the Ekko Shortlist Awards. He was also recently nominated for an Adobe Nordic Creative Talent Award. Forever Now has a busy screening calendar ahead , with official selection at the Athens Film Festival, Adelaide Film Festival and Edinburgh Short Film Festival. Kristian has been making film since the age of 14 and currently works as an editor in addition to developing his own films.

Forever Now tells the story of the breakup of William and Cecilie, who decide to take the drug MDMA together as a final act. This results in an emotional rollercoaster ride, for better or worse, over a whole weekend as the couple isolate themselves in their apartment.

New Machine Magazine spoke to Kristian as part of its Next Wave Q&A series.

Kristian Håskjold
Kristian Håskjold

How did you get into film as a profession?

I grew up in the Denmark countryside without any involvement or proximity to the film industry. It wasn’t until I bought a DV camera that I started making films and used that as an activity to express myself, feelings and thoughts on the world. Today that hasn’t changed, filmmaking is my way of expressing myself and channeling my thoughts on the world and what it’s like being a human being. All my films grow out of my personal experiences and people I’ve met through my life.

Does your work have a themes?

My first film Reception was about not being able to confront people, my second film Welcome to Paradise was about my view on religion and my latest film Forever Now was an attempt to portray the feeling of going through a neutral breakup.

Filmmaking is not an easy path. What drives you? What keeps you persistent, focused?

At different steps through my career, I’ve been lucky to bump into a lot of different film industry people, who in some way or the other took me under their wings and helped me further in my career. When I just moved to Copenhagen, I very randomly met some different producers and film professionals, who I guess just liked me, and offered me some jobs as an editor, even though I hadn’t really had done any professional work before.

I really think it’s hard to do films, because it’s a fusion of so many different mediums. This constant challenge and the need to tell stories is definitely what drives me.

Tell us about why you made Forever Now?

The film is based on my own personal experience. My ex girlfriend and I broke up two years ago. We were living together at the time and two hours later, she spontaneously asked if we should do MDMA to treat the situation with love. It’s a really weird thing to do, but we did it. And the interesting thing, was that it made us able to talk about all the things we’d never been able to tell each other before. All the things about your experience of the relationship, you maybe only would tell your friends, since the honesty would be too painful for the other person. It was very therapeutical and gave us more closure.

It was such an fascinating experience, so I wanted to portray it in the hope of telling a universal story about a neutral break up. I feel like there’s a tendency for the most relationships to end poorly with people not being able to talk to each other. I think it’s very natural for a couple leaving each other and needing not to stay in touch, but I think it’s important to try to end your relationships in a good manner. I don’t recall any other films, which have tried to tell the story of a neutral breakup – even though a lot of people in the world have had the experience.

How has winning awards on the film festival circuit been beneficial so far?

Winning at SXSW earlier this year has been beneficial in the way that I’ve been contacted by a lot of different interesting people from the American film industry. A lot of other festivals have contacted me to see the film as well, so they could have it their programs. People from different high end production companies have contacted me just to talk and get a feeling of who I am and hear about future projects.

All in all, it’s not something that changes my everyday life, but I have feeling that it makes a lot of things easier, when I have to do my next films, since some more people know my name and have seen some of my work. So that’s all very nice.

What is your philosophy about getting work as a filmmaker today. Do you create your own opportunities?

7 years ago I started out directing some small commercials, music videos, but pretty fast figured out that as a young up and coming director, I needed to focus my writing and directing energy on my own projects, since I could very easily be stamped as a commercial director. In Denmark it can be hard to get rid of such a stamp, if you don’t do your own work first. So to make money, I decided to start editing other director’s work instead. In that way, I was both able to earn money and learn a lot from working with established directors, who had been in the business for ages.

I don’t know if I’ll ever stop editing for other people, but my plan is to eventually get paid work directing features. If I’m going to direct commercials, then that is probably after I have established myself in narrative filmmaking.

Tell us about a hard moment during the production. What did you do to keep moving forward?

Making Forever Now was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I’m used to working with subjects that are very close to home, so I’m okay with that. What made it so difficult was making a film, which also was very personal for another person – my ex girl friend. We had talked a lot about the film and made the agreement that it was an important film to do, but still it was an emotional ride for us both. I was close to just throwing the film into the garbage many times, but in the end I kept on going because, fundamentally, I believed so much in it and because people close to me were very moved by the footage they saw.

Who are your influences as filmmaker?

My biggest influences are my own personal experiences and the people I meet in my life. More or less all stories I do are in some way grounded on something I want to express about myself or my thoughts on the world I live in.

Lately I’ve really gotten into naturalistic acting, where I find big inspiration in Danish director Kaspar Munk and Danish new comer like Niels Holstein Kaa. I am also really fond of Steven Soderbergh – especially his work on The Knick.

Can you describe your directing and/or visual style?

I honestly, think it’s hard to say, since I feel like my voice as a director is constantly in development. Since I did Forever Now it has gotten very clear to me how important the authenticity of the characters is. It’s an authenticity, which is developed through heavy improvisation. Besides that, I feel like every short film I’ve done has it’s own expression, which is developed from the foundation of the story I’m telling. I will most likely keep on working like that.

What’s next for you?

A guy from Sundance’s Screenwriter’s Lab saw Forever Now at SXSW, and asked me to submit a script for the fall. So right now, I’m working on that. Acting wise I’m going to develop it the same way, as I did in Forever Now. Story wise it’s going to be about religion and what’s it like to be a young Christian in 2017. Essentially a film about identity.

We’ve also just started storyboarding the TV show pilot for the animation show Simon & Marius. It’s a show for young adults and something I’ve been developing with screenwriter Sonny Lahey over the last 3 years. Besides that, I was just one of the six lucky directors accepted to the prestigious Danish film school Super16, which is an evening school, where you make a short each year for three years.

So a lot of exciting things I can’t wait to share!