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Benjamin Langeland • Director of Once Aurora

"I’m too impatient a person to work with fiction"

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- Cineuropa met with Norwegian director Benjamin Langeland on the occasion of the international Oslo Pix festival, where he was presenting his title Once Aurora in the Documentary section competition

Benjamin Langeland • Director of Once Aurora
(© Stian Servoss)

In a bar just one door down from Saga - one of the cinemas hosting this year’s Oslo Pix festival - Cineuropa met with Norwegian director Benjamin Langeland, whose film Once Aurora [+see also:
interview: Benjamin Langeland
film profile
]
is competing in the Documentary section. This picture, directed in tandem with Stian Servoss and produced by Thorvald Nilsen, is already the focus of much acclaim, having been honoured just a few weeks ago at the Gullrutren Awards and again at the Krakow Film Festival, where it was handed the Golden Heynal for the Director of the Best Film in the International DocFilmMusic Competition.

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Cineuropa: Your film allows us to get to know Aurora, the famous Norwegian singer-songwriter.
Benjamin Langeland:
I’ve known Aurora Aksnes for a long time. She’s a childhood friend of mine. We come from the same village close to Bergen. But I have to credit Stian Servoss for the idea of making this documentary; he loves Aurora’s music and the world she creates. He would even play her songs to his daughter as he rocked her to sleep. I was reticent to begin with, but eventually I relented because I’d worked with Stian before. We organised a meeting with Geir Luedy, Aurora’s agent. We also spoke with her family and, very quickly, it was agreed that we could follow her pretty much everywhere. We’re very grateful to Aurora for letting us get so close to her. She was very open and was willing to show us the other side of a world that we only knew from the outside. She’s generous, but she’s also cautious.

How did the project develop?
Initially, we were mostly driven by curiosity and the fascination that a star inspires. Then we chose to focus on her journey, her human life. Stian and I worked very closely together, from the beginning to the end of the project. Stian is a little older than me, but I often play the role of the grumpy, big brother. He’s always in a good mood. We had a lot of fun – we’re like a pair of kids – and we had this wonderful synergy that comes across in the film, I think. We became true friends. Some days we even put the camera down and just enjoyed being part of Aurora’s team, which included her artistic director Magnus Skylstad, her management, her musicians… It was a relaxed atmosphere, down-to-earth and friendly. Working with Aurora involved a lot of travelling: the US, Brazil, touring through Europe… The ultimate dream. When you’re caught up in the euphoria of it all, you quickly forget that it can’t last. It’s strangely difficult when the tour comes to an end - you find yourself having to manage a painful sensation of emptiness with a very long editing process ahead of you… and deadlines to meet.

Do you film a lot of material? Did you take care of the editing yourself?
There were hundreds of hours’ worth of raw material after eighty days spent filming. It took three times longer to edit than it would a regular documentary, owing to many of the sequences’ very rapid pace. Re-creating the intensity and the fever of certain moments can require real surgical precision. For a few weeks, right at the very beginning, we hired an editor. But then we decided to muddle through on our own and to let the developing film dictate its final form.

What about the music?
Olav Øyehaug is the soundtrack composer, and Yngve Sætre, the responsible for the sound design. But obviously, given that the driving force of the film is Aurora, she’s the one whom we hear and see singing in different contexts. Her story isn’t dark and sad, as some people believe it to be. She’s a warm and rational person with a great sense of responsibility. She’s adept at protecting herself, at dealing with stress and the tensions and frustrations that come with the world of entertainment. But she wants to be in control of her own life, so we followed her lead.

Why did you choose the documentary form as a means of expression?
I’m too impatient a person to work with fiction. It’s the documentary world that I really feel at home in. What I like to do is to work on truth-based material, on something concrete; not on some creation that’s a product of my imagination. Events which take place before my very eyes are what interest me. It’s exciting to be able to tell a story that you’re actually living through yourself - sometimes very intensely - and to try to crack certain codes… Reporting facts, but also sharing emotions felt at the time of filming... this type of communication is truly fascinating.

(Translated from French)

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