Interview: Alexandra-Therese Keining

Film director Alexandra-Therese Keining made a flying visit to London this March for BFI Flare screenings of ‘Girls Lost’ which she wrote and directed.  The movie was adapted from the award winning novel ‘Pojkarna’ (The Boys), written by Swedish writer, Jessica Schiefauer and explores gender fluidity, constructs and norms. It was Alexandra’s second time at Flare, following the success of her first film, ‘Kiss Me’.  I was fortunate to be invited over to The Peccadillo Pictures offices to interview her about this spectacular new movie, which will be in cinemas in Autumn 2016.

Interview by Amie Taylor (@AmieAmieTay)

AT: Hi Alexandra, thanks so much for meeting with LGBTQ Arts today.  I’m really excited about your new movie, ‘Girls Lost’, could you start by telling us a little about how you came to work on this?

AK: One of the producers at the production company bought the rights for the book and he called me and said ‘I watched your previous film and I think you would make an excellent version on this novel’. And when I read it I was blown away because it was such an amazing story, it’s got all of the elements in it that I’m really inspired by: magical realism, sexual identity and gender fluidity.

AT: It really does pack it in.  Perhaps you could tell our audience briefly what to expect, without giving too many spoilers away…

AK: Yes, it’s about three teenage girls, who are bullied in school, but they have a very strong sisterhood between them.  They find a magical plant and when they drink the sap of it, they turn in to boys.  One of the girls is seduced by the life as a boy, though the two other girls decide that they don’t really find the boy-life that interesting, so it becomes a bit of a clash within the friendship.  It’s very life altering for the main character, Kim, when she finds that she can’t continue being a girl, and doesn’t want to, because really she is a boy.

AT: I found that the film makes some really interesting comments on gender, gender identity and the construct of gender in society.  So having adapted it, did you manage to stay quite true to the original book?

AK: I did actually.  I was trying to bring all of the elements from the book that I really responded to, I was very inspired by the love story, for me that was the strongest part. I emphasised that as much as I could.

AT:  I think that really comes through.  And there’s something very romantic about the cinematography of it all, it’s incredibly beautiful, especially scenes shot in the greenhouse where the girls keep the plant.  Where was it all shot?

AK:  It was shot in the outskirts of Gothenburg; we chose a garden and built the greenhouse from scratch. I don’t want to tell you the ending, but a lot of things happen to the greenhouse, so we needed it in a place where we could work with it.  The cinematographer is Ragna Jorming, who also shot ‘Kiss Me’ [Keining’s other film].  I think the film has a life of its own, at the start it’s light, warm and fuzzy – you just want to be there, but then it becomes colder and darker.

AT:  I agree, it’s very alluring at the start.  I started watching it late at night and kept thinking ‘I’ll just watch a few more minutes, and then go to bed’, but I was so captivated by the story and the beauty of it, that I just kept watching.  And I think a lot of that is to do with the characters, I could really identify with them, having been a teenager once myself; that feeling of being an outsider, which I imagine a lot of people can associate with.  The girls are absolutely brilliant in it, how were they to work with?

AK: Oh they were fantastic.  We auditioned a lot of young people, we saw about six or seven hundred, but then we found these three, and I tested the dynamic between them, and it was almost set from the very first. We didn’t have very much preparation time, so we found them and were then shooting a couple of weeks after.

AT: Wow. And how long was your shooting time?

AK: About seven weeks. And none of the girls or boys had ever performed in the theatre before, or in front of a camera –

AT:  So it was all new for them?

AK:  Yes.

AT: Wow, because they are phenomenal in the film, I wouldn’t have known –

AK: They had such a great intensity, and energy that they came in with every day and bought to the set, and with each other, and they had such curiosity, that really impressed me.

AT: What really struck me was the likeness of the boys to their girl counterparts, you can tell straight away who’s who- how difficult was that to cast?  I presume you cast the girls first?

AK: Yes, we did.  It was very hard to cast the boys. I wasn’t necessarily looking for identical twins or siblings or someone who was physically so much alike, I was looking for their expression in their eyes, or the structure in their face. But when I eventually found them, they blended together quite naturally [with their girl counterpart]. We had a couple of extra sessions where they’d try mimicking each other, but I wanted to keep them separate as much as possible.

AT: And did you meet any challenges while making the film?

AK: So many.  We were often shooting during the nights, which comes with its own challenges.  Then there were a lot of technical aspects, with a lot of special effects and animation.  The transformation scenes [where the girls transform to boys], was very hard and took a lot of time to plan, because it’s never been done before that way.

AT:  Ah, how was it different?

AK: Well often you have a fixed camera that’s not moving, but this camera was moving, so the kids had to stand completely still for many hours.

AT:  Those transformation scenes really are quite amazing, they’re so subtle –

AK:  That was an important decision that I made very early on, that I wanted all of the transformations and special effects to be very subtle, almost blink and you miss it.

AT:  Which has totally been achieved, I was watching one of the transformations last night and it was so subtle, it took me ages to work out if it was actually happening or not. And what were the highlights of making this movie?

AK: Working with the material, because it’s so rich.  But also working with the kids and that energy and being able to make a story that is entertaining, but so very, very important.

AT: It really is, as I was watching I found myself wishing I’d had a film like that when I was a teenager.  Have you had any response from teenage audiences that have seen the film?

AK: Absolutely, it’s been screened in schools a lot, and seems to be very popular, and young people seem to identify with the characters.  Some grown-ups have problems with it as it doesn’t offer any solutions or answers as they feel movies are supposed to do, but the teenagers don’t seem to care so much.

AT: I work with teenagers quite often, and I’ve noticed this amazing shift in London over the last five years where I see teenagers are much more open minded than the previous generation, not always, but often, and they are so open, especially to LGBT and gender issues.  Is it the same in Sweden?

AK:  I have to agree with you that I think there’s an openness in young people, that I haven’t discovered before and I also think once they’ve seen the film, some of the young people may be more careful knowing for sure what it’s like to be a girl or a boy.

AT:  So after Flare are there any plans for future screenings?

AK: Yes, it’s going to be in cinemas in the Fall.

AT:  That’s amazing news, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for it then  Thank you so much for speaking with us today Alexandra.

ATK 1

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