Danish director Pernille Fischer talks inspiration behind ‘Becoming Astrid’

Swedish author Astrid Lindgren is mostly remembered for Pippi Longstocking and Karlsson-on-the-Roof book series. Her numerous titles have been translated into 85 languages and published in more than 100 countries. Now, everyone will have a chance to see what teenage Astrid’s life was before she became this literary giant – Becoming Astrid opened November 23 in LA and NY. The film was directed by female writer-director Pernille Fischer Christensen.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christensen and finding out more of behind-the-scenes facts about her and the film. Her debut feature A Soap won Denmark’s 2006 top film award, the Bodil, for Best Film and the Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear. A Family won the 2010 Berlin Film Festival Fipresci Prize. In 2014, she won the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature and Audience Awards for Someone to Love. Becoming Astrid is her fifth feature film.

Nikoleta Morales (NM): Why did you decide to write and direct Becoming Astrid? What inspired you?

Pernille Fischer Christensen (PFC): Astrid Lindgren is dear and important to me as a writer, and a humanist, the example she has set as a woman who spoke her mind, who was not afraid of other peoples’ narrow minds, a human being who dared.

NM: Why did you decide to focus mainly on the teenage life of Astrid and not what happens after she meets Mr. Lingren and how she ends up writing some of her greatest books?

PFC: Astrid herself has claimed that she probably would have been a writer even without these few dramatic years as a young woman, but not a world famous one. I believe she met both a deep love and  a darkness she didn’t know before and this is where the foundation of the humanism you’ll find in her stories was cast.

NM: What research did you have to do beforehand?

PFC: Oh, I have read everything available and seen everything available. I have done interviews with people who knew her. Making a biopic is a big responsibility, you have to treat the facts with a lot of respect – it’s someone’s life and legacy you’re dealing with.

NM: What did you learn about yourself and as a director from directing Becoming Astrid?

PFC: I found out that working in an historic environment suited me very well, production design and visual options were rich and inspiring, I learned that a big budget was not that scary. That there is not so much I am afraid of any longer, as long as I have my good story and  my love for working with actors.

NM: Did you grow up reading some of Astrid’s stories as a kid? Did you imagine yourself doing a movie about her life?

PFC: Yes, my mother loved her and adored her and I know all her tales by heart – Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, The Brothers Lionheart, Pippi Longstocking, they are the sound of my childhood.  Astrid’s beloved landscape is partly mine too, all my childhood summers we spent in Småland in Sweden. I know the woods, the lakes, the rocks up there, I am not an alien to her world.

NM: What do you think is the most important thing to take away about Astrid Lindgren and her life? The choices she made? The struggle?

PFC: She was in many ways a first mover, being pregnant outside marriage was not that uncommon, but taking the hard road and rejecting a spouse she didn’t love, insisting on being a mother, even a single one, that has paved the road for other women. There is a message about responsibility and love and forgiveness that runs in all her books, that we can all still learn from.

My favourite quote is: “There are things you just have to do if you don’t you’re not a human but just a little shit.”

NM: How difficult or easy it is to be a female filmmaker in Denmark?

PFC: I guess we could do worse, even if we still have some miles ahead of us. We still have a lack of female directors, screenwriters and good, challenging female parts. The men have conquered a lot of space, but I think we are moving in the right direction. It seems that everybody realizes the importance of a healthy balance on the gender-issue.

NM: Walks us through your life and how did you end up choosing the female filmmaker path?

PFC: I started up doing all kinds of things, photographing, writing, dancing. I  studied  Art History for a year, but nothing really worked for me, not enough, and for some reason the movie business seemed attractive. My initial thought was to become an editor. I started up as assistant in the editing room, but slowly my mind was set for the role as director. I started directing and producing my own shorts on super -8  and then applied to the Danish Film School twice. I was rejected the first time. When I graduated I faced the usual rocky road, made a short, had a feature-project I had worked on for years rejected, but succeeded in having my first low budget feature, A Soap, out in 2007, it was accepted at the Berlinale and won Best Debut and the Silver Bear, so I couldn’t really have hoped for a better start.

NM: What other projects are you working on?

PFC: Right now I’m in for another historic ride about a hefty female character, Leonora Christine who lived from 1621 to 1698, an illegitimate daughter of the Danish King Christian IV – a woman who reached out for power, spoke her mind, betrayed her country along the way and ended up imprisoned for 22 years, where she became the first Danish female novelist. Not as charming a person as Astrid Lindgren, but an extremely fascinating and daring woman.

NM: Message/advice to your fans?

PFC: Whether you are man or a woman, read Pippi Longstocking, and if you are really brave try at least for a day to think and act like her.

Read FF2 Media’s review of Becoming Astrid HERE.

Photo credit:  Nordisk Film Production Sverige AB,Avanti Film,DCM Productions

Featured photo by Erik Mollberg

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