Inspired by Dante’s divine comedy and featuring a cast of actors with a difference, Man Without Direction is a Swedish short film written by Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, Pelle Öhlund and Nina Jemth in which a character called Mr D enters a world of immense strangeness. We met Stjärne Nilsson to discuss it.
First of all, can you tell us a little about how the film came together?
I had collaborated with Pelle and Nina for many years having them as actors in my films, not least the short film Hotel Rienne from 2002 where Pelle played the lead. Pelle and Nina have a long career of writing and directing for stage but have never made a film. We’d talked for many years about a deeper collaboration, as we feel that we share a common universe and an interest for certain existential themes. A stage play that Pelle and Nina had directed the year before was heading out on an international tour and suddenly got cancelled. A gap in their calendar and that of Moomsteatern opened up the possibility of making a film based on that stage play.
Can you tell us about Moomsteatern and what they do?
Moomsteatern is perhaps the only theatre company in the world with a full-time employed cast of actors with learning disabilities. The theatre was established in 1987 with the aim of working towards artistic objectives, not therapeutic and social aims. Moomsteatern has been celebrated for its courage and artistic integrity in productions such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Stephen King’s Misery.
Man Without Direction has been described as a “dark, humoristic and surrealistic” film. What attracts you to these themes and this type of art?
In many ways it is comical to be a human being. We’re thrown into life unprepared for a world that in itself is totally surrealistic and unpredictable. The three directors share a common interest for that connection between comedy and darkness, and the fine lines in between those themes that in many ways defines our lives. We are deeply fascinated by what it means to be a human being and how we handle fundamental human mechanisms like fear, control, shame and joy.
With the manic characters like lethal waitresses and talk show hosts that decapitate their guests, was it a fun film to make?
Yes, we had lots of fun during the production. It was made with a warm and very creative spirit. It was of course an immense challenge for the cast, the team and the directors. Working with disability requires lots of patience and flexibility, but in return you are constantly gifted with genius material that one couldn’t possibly come up with oneself.
Finally, anything you’d like to say to potential attendees before they see the film?
As a film-maker I’ve always been a little envious of the world of theatre where you seem to have more freedom to stretch out in time, be mysterious, non-logical and free to break up linear structures. With this project we expressed an ambition to combine the world of cinema with that of theatre and use the best of the two art forms.