BIFF 2018 Interview: Tommy Næss – mulm

Bergen International Film Festival 2018

Music and film have always been connected, even before the dawn of the commercial sound-films in the 1920s. Whether it is orchestral accompaniments or original scores, music is as intrinsic to film as any other element. You may not always notice it, but then there are times when it makes itself seen; like Hans Zimmer’s ticking-of-the-clock score in Dunkirk or Edgar Wright’s curated playlist in Baby Driver. There are also those films that forgo music altogether, which can help set a tone or mood that a piece of music might otherwise detract from. Music is an important part of the cinematic language, and it can be used in countless ways. Like any language, it is in a constant flux; an endless evolution.

This year the Bergen International Film Festival has placed a spotlight on the synergy of the two mediums, with a small selection of special screenings that will feature live musical performances that are specifically orchestrated for the images being projected on the screen. One of these films is mulm (read about the rest here) by director Tommy Næss. Næss and the Bergen-based post-rock band Línt have collaborated on a 30-minute short film that will be screened live as a backdrop to the band’s performance this Friday (September 28th). We spoke to Næss about what this film actually is, how it came to be and what the mediums of film and sound mean to one another.


Nopress: First of all, what is mulm? 

Tommy Næss: In short mulm is about the force inherent in nature, and the place we as humans have within this force. It’s about the effect we have on the planet, and the effect it has on us. It starts in space with the creation — the big bang — before it moves into the earth where we see it flourish and grow greener and greener until we show up and start to destroy it. It’s a different type of climate film that tells a story about our relationship to our planet through images and music alone.

The film initially started out as an exploration of silence. In today’s society, we are so connected, whether it is to our phones or to Facebook or whatever. We are always on. We struggle to find a quiet place to just sit with our own thoughts. This is where the forest in the film came from, and the empty streets of Tokyo. These places of absolute quiet.

It is a very peculiar moment when you are roaming the streets of a city like Tokyo at 4:30 in the morning and there’s not a soul to be seen, while only hours before it was buzzing with life, light, and noise. This is what we initially wanted to explore, but I think as we bridged it with observations on climate, the film attained a bigger whole.

NP: This isn’t a traditional short film, nor can you really call it a music video. How did the collaboration between you and Línt come about and how did you work together? 

TN: Well, Línt approached me after they had been in talks with BIFF about doing a project together for the festival. We then sat down and looked at some pictures and video I had shot in Kanadaskogen here in Bergen, which they really liked. The idea at first was much more simple than the final result, as it was initially planned to be a collection of nature shots where the camera moved slowly through forests and mountains etc. that the band then would make music for. But we quickly formed an outline for a “story” with certain keywords for themes and topics; the universe, the desert, an island. From there we got to “open spaces” and this is where the empty streets of a major city came to us, as well as the vast barren landscapes of Iceland. From these ideas, I did some test footage, which Línt, in turn, started to compose music for. There was a back-and-forth of ideas, and we worked together to create the final piece.

I look at the final product as a complete work. Sure, one could split the different sections into more traditional music videos, like the Tokyo-section or the underwater-section, but in the end, it’s like a classical musical piece. A 30-minute experience. I personally call it audiovisual film poetry, as the two forms of media influence and shape one another in an equal manner.


NP: There’s an interesting question you pose in the press material for the film, where you ask “Is equality between the two expressions of art even possible?” How do you feel this has influenced how you work as a filmmaker?

TN: I think it’s something we have succeeded at. When I was cutting this film together I imagined myself and the visual medium as another instrument in the music. For instance, when there’s the sound of a trumpet on the score I see a line in my head; it’s a single uninterrupted sound. This is accompanied by images of straight and desolate roads from above. When we play waterfalls and rivers in reverse it’s to complement the soaring synths. There are cuts that happen in line with the music as well. As the percussions of a cymbal come across the soundscape you can feel the shifts on the screen as well. It’s a process where both mediums have informed the other. It’s also a process that is extremely freeing creatively, as we can work off of each other and try new and exciting things.

NP: The film seems to be shot all over the world. Can you talk a bit about where you shot and how this process went about? 

TN: I’ve shot in Japan, on Iceland, in Bergen and Voss. There is some footage from Canada as well. A lot of the nature scenes in the mountains and fjords are shot in and around Gudvangen between Bergen and Voss. I’ve shot most of it myself, but there are around ten clips that I’ve gotten from other places. Like archive footage of certain natural disasters or images from NASA. It was important to me that these images would fit within the production as a whole. As for the underwater images, these were all shot in Øygarden by underwater photographer, Espen Rekdal. He’s shot underwater sequences for National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, and many other places. For some of these clips I searched his archive and found pieces that I felt worked for our film, and that’s because we had a time and budget limit to consider, but he’s incredible and I think it works perfectly with Línt’s music.

NP: How do you think people will respond to the film when they get to see it with live music this week?

TN: I’m very excited to see how people perceive the film. When you see it in a theatre like I’ve done you only focus on the sound and the images, but I think the public event will be a very different experience. The band is doing a live performance of the music where the film will be projected above and behind them, and I think that will have a major impact on how the audience sees and reacts to it. It will be interesting to see what draws the audience’s attention here. I imagine they’ll look at the film, but since the band is bringing their own energy to the performance it will undoubtedly shape how it is perceived.

I really think it’s a cool project, and I really appreciate BIFF for trying new things like this. I think it’s good that a film festival can offer the audience these different experiences, and I hope people like it.

NP: So what’s next for you?

TN: I want to make a feature film soon, but my next project is another short film that we will hopefully shoot this November. There are still certain elements up in the air, but we’ll see. It’s about a mother and father who visits their fifteen-year-old daughter who’s in prison for murder. The daughter wants nothing to do with her mom, and it’s the mom the film is focused on. I’m very interested in pure dramas, and that’s what I like to explore. I want to give the audience a way to connect to different stories and experiences, and that’s what I hope to do with this new short as well. The concept of having a daughter in jail might not be something everyone can relate to, but I believe a lot of people can relate to the idea of not being able to connect with your child.

As for a feature film, I feel like I’m ready and mature enough now to take that step. When that will be we will have to wait and see.



Per Morten Mjolkeraaen

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