In the lead up to Colchester Film Festival 2015 this October, we caught up with last year’s Best Film winner.
Danish filmmaker Jesper Quistgaard submitted his 16 minute film Heavyweight (available to view here) with no expectations, and came away awarded with Best Film. “It’s a great interest to us that the film is screened out in the world. I want people to see it. My feelings are that, except maybe at Colchester, most film festivals around the world very much try to take in films that are more artsy and intellectually stimulating, rather than emotionally stimulating. Colchester is the first film award I have received so it means a lot!”
Heavyweight follows one parking attendant as he faces the constant hardships of his job. Inspired by his 6 year old son who believes he is a police officer, he turns vigilante against one particular group of individuals who wronged him the previous day. “There’s justification for drama in everyday life and we, as an audience, quickly understand how he must feel. The reason we made a sympathetic lead character is because I want the audience to feel with him. In general the audience is indifferent to what they see on screen, we have to really give them a reason to cheer for a guy. We felt we accomplished that, and for that I’m proud.”
“The writer and I wanted to do parking attendants justice, so we were out a few days ourselves with the real attendants. I got shouted at and it was really quite horrific. Even Rudi [Köhnke], our lead actor, went out one day with an attendant in Copenhagen.”
“We faced many challenges making the film, as it is when working for free on something that has a tiny budget.” One of Quistgaard and his team’s biggest challenges was the tight time limit they had for development and pre-production; “The deadlines in the film school we made the film through were pretty harsh. In effect, that meant we had to write and produce it at the same time. So while writing it, we had to pin ourselves to some things such as how many characters there would be and who they were. We had to cast Rudi and the boy William in particular while writing, thus making us unable to change that later in the writing process. That was hard.”
“I became interested in filmmaking after seeing the scene where Boromir dies in The Lord of the Rings aged 11. That scene holds almost everything I think is epic and wish to accomplish as a filmmaker, but it was a short film called Kinderspiel by German director Lars Kornhoff that pulled the blanket from under me. I guess it taught me what a short film could tell. It made the whole audience cry including me. From then on I was hooked.”
Colchester Film Festival has a dedicated Foreign Drama category as well as a varied mix of foreign films integrated in its other categories; comedy and romance, animation, comedy, and sci-fi and horror. “It’s always difficult making great drama in Denmark because it’s such a small, cosy society. The truly amazing and horrifying thing at international film festivals is that there is so much wild talent out there. It makes me feel small but also forces me to push harder.”
“Film festivals are a huge part of why we even make films. If I could make a living off of short films, I would do that. But right now we need film festival’s recognition to impress the established business to allow us to make feature films.” Not even a year on Quistgaard has already felt the benefits of winning Best Film; “Suddenly I am more eligible to receive funding and support for future endeavours, but personally it’s given me self-esteem and more backbone. I was actually on Danish TV for winning, so yeah, it’s a big deal.”
Unfortunately Quistgaard was unable to pick up his award in person due to commitments for his next film Ødeland [translated: Wasteland). “It’s practically the same team as before with a new producer called Cathrine Odgaard, who is also my editor. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s about a father who finds out his daughter is suicidal and they have to travel to “the mainland” to find antibiotics for her self-inflicted wounds. There they find a boy with medicine and decide to bring him back to their little island. The question is whether they can trust him or not, since they are unsure if he belongs to a cannibalistic gang. I guarantee plenty of drama and action with another great performance by Rudi Køhnke.”
“My experience at Colchester Film Festival has led me to think that I’m on the right track and that I did some right things. I will definitely be sending in “Ødeland” as well.”
When asked what advice he had for aspiring filmmakers, Quistgaard replied “Consider how little the world needs new film makers. Supply and demand is not in our favour. So the only way you can ever get to make films is to prove that you do something better or more unique. Also, don’t be a know-it-all. Listen every time someone says anything, especially when it comes to getting critique. It’s always easier to see what’s wrong with someone else’s work than your own. So listen when people give you their opinion – they see clearly and you don’t.”
Last year Colchester Film Festival received more than 5,000 short films from over 60 countries worldwide. For many of the 36 selected, it was their UK premiere.
Short and feature film entries for this year’s festival are now open. Submissions are free until 1st June (www.colchesterfilmfestival.com/submissions)
By Cara Weatherley