Jonas Selberg Augustsén is a Swedish screenwriter and director. His short film Höstmannen (Autumn Man) premiered at Göteborg, Locarno and Warsaw, where it won a Special Mention for Best Short. His feature film debut The Garbage Helicopter participated in the Torino Film Lab and went on to premiere at BFI London, Rotterdam, Minneapolis and Torino.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Jonas Selberg Augustsén discusses Swedish urbanization, minimalism, Greta Garbo and his next project.
FILMATIQUE: The Garbage Helicopterchronicles three twenty-something siblings on a road-trip through rural Sweden to return their grandmother a clock. How did you settle on this story for your first feature? What was your inspiration?
JONAS SELBERG AUGUSTSÉN: The main inspiration is the road they travel: the 1,000 km-long European route E4 from northern Sweden to the south. It has become a central road for Swedish urbanization, and has also become the path that unites my roots with my present life.
Another inspiration is my grandmother's old wall clock. It has always had a central place in her home and has been passed down several generations. The clock has always been important to her. There is an almost human relation to that type of old wall clock.
FLMTQ: All three siblings have a dry, almost monotone way of relating to each other and the events that unfold around them, which marbles the narrative with both a feeling of ennui and of humor. Is this state of being something you consider to be quintessentially Swedish, Scandinavian, or just a symptom of youth?
JSA: I have often been asked whether this attitude is something typically Scandinavian. If that's the case, I do not know. To me, it's mainly a matter of cinematic taste. I like monotone and minimalist expression because it leaves much more to the imagination.
I've heard that a famous director told Greta Garbo: "Your face should be a clean slate onto which the audience can write their own stories."
FLMTQ: One of the more humorous recurring sequences in the film happens when the siblings meet a stranger, who automatically speaks to them in English, forcing the siblings to correct the stranger by noting they speak Swedish. However, these encounters take on a greater significance when we realize that all three siblings are Roma, a minority community throughout Europe that is routinely attacked and discriminated against. What has been your experience with Roma living in Sweden, and how has this revealed societal fault-lines to you within the country that most outsiders don't see?
JSA: The Roma people I have come into contact with have often testified that they feel exotic, both historically and culturally. There was a legitimate suspicion and reservation when we were searching for actors for the movie.
I also felt there was a stigma in how the Roma have been portrayed in films. So with this movie, I wanted to normalize them by focusing on our similarities rather than our differences.
FLMTQ: Can you discuss the aesthetic and narrative motivations behind choosing to shoot the film in black and white?
JSA: It began only as a feeling. But then, when I began to try to intellectualize the feeling, I realized that it was also to resist some clichés.
Because the Roma people have often been portrayed as colorful people, black and white became a way of trying to democratize the image. Everything and everyone in the picture are colorless. The DoP and I started to study a lot of still images, especially the so-called New Topographics movement of, for example, Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams. After that we felt we had found the film's style.
FLMTQ: Film critics have detected echoes of Jarmusch, Kaurismaki and even Bergman in The Garbage Helicopter. What is your reaction to these comparisons— who are your influences, and why?
JSA: I am honored to be mentioned alongside these filmmakers. The Garbage Helicopter is something of a homage to both Stranger Than Paradise and Wild Strawberries. Another source of inspiration have also been the films of Yasujiro Ozu.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
JSA: I have made a short film called P.O.V. which is currently screening at film festivals. I'm developing a feature film that will be called The Longest Day with production scheduled for the summer of 2018.