When friendship comes knocking

For the second year running New Zealand born, Danish director Daniel Joseph Borgman has a short fiction film selected in Cannes, this year in the Critics’ Week programme. Berik is a story about friendship and lonesomeness in one of the world’s most remote regions.

Berik-med-bold_450

Berik was born blind and deformed. His disability has been caused by radioactive pollution. He spends his days at home – in Semey, Eastern Kazakhstan – alone waiting for his brother to come home from work. That is, until Adil, the smallest and least popular of the kids in the apartment block, comes knocking on his door.

The film takes place in Semey, close to the primary nuclear testing station of the Soviet Union, where ore than 450 explosions where conducted between 1949 and 1989. test

Universes beyond our own

"Both myself and my producer Katja Adomeit are interested in universes outside of our own and in working with real people – and trying to construct a fiction which exists in a kind of reality. Berik is a real person who has had a tragic life, but he still seems so positive and he is a great character." 

The film takes place in Semey, close to the primary nuclear testing station of the Soviet Union, where more than 450 explosions where conducted between 1949 and 1989. Today, Semey is a town with a population exceeding 300,000 and has a large expatriate scientific community attached to the university and the testing site labs.

Close to reality

In his preparations for Berik, Borgman was very clear that there could be difficulties in making a fictional film that sticks very close to reality. All the characters are non-actors using their real names in the film.

It was essential for Borgman that his film should not be passed off as a documentary. While the story remains close to reality, the viewer has no doubt that he is watching fiction.

"It is dangerous to blend fact and fiction if the reality being portrayed is not your own. A lot of people have actually suggested that we should make a documentary about Berik. But I am a fictional director."

"We tried to take as many elements out of Berik’s life as we could and find a narrative that would fit together with reality. We didn’t, for instance, shoot in his home. We had to shift for artistic reasons. We had to change some things, but we tried to stay true to what the city was like and what the people were like. When you have a universal narrative you can go anywhere and use as many elements as possible from reality and still tell a story that is compelling for a broad audience."

And to Borgman the story has a clear and universal message.

"You can find friendship in places where you would least expect. Adil wants to be a part of the group of kids, but in the end he finds out that it is more important to be happy with a real friend, than to fit in".

Marginalised and innocent

Last year Borgman participated in the official short film programme at Cannes with Lars and Peter, a film which described the relationship between a father and son after the mother’s death. Berik also examines the relationship between a grown-up and a child. According to Borgman, the feelings of children are often marginalised in an adult world. This is one of the reasons children so often play a significant role in his films. However, the setting in Berik is somewhat different from his former films.

"Everything about Kazakhstan is hard to explain and different from life in Denmark or New Zealand, but childhood is exactly the same. The first day we worked with 12 children and they had the same interaction, same dramas and same conflicts as children everywhere else. They have the same wants and needs, but obviously their environments are quite different – but the kids themselves are the same."

The Weight of Elephants

In Paris this spring, Borgman is preparing his first feature The Weight of Elephants, which is also about childhood. He was selected, together with five other young filmmakers from around the world, to participate in the Cannes Film Festival’s 20th Cinéfondation Residence development programme. The 20-week residence offers filmmakers accommodation and 800 euros a month to work on their projects, with directors and producers offering advice on writing and development through to production.

The Weight of Elephants is a coming-of-age drama about Jess, 14, a paperboy, whose life is changed irreversibly when he witnesses a murder in the street where he delivers newspapers. The film will be the first ever Danish-New Zealand feature film coproduction. Shooting is set to commence in July 2011 in New Zealand.

Daniel Joseph Borgman

Born 1981, New Zealand. Studied Film Science at Otago University before moving to Copenhagen, where he has worked as a visual effects artist and film colourist. His first short, The Man & the Albatross (2007), premiered at Locarno Film Festival. Lars and Peter (2009) was in competition in Cannes. In 2009 completed production on additionally three shorts: Behaviour, Kaleidoscope and Berik. Berik, selected for Critics’ Week in Cannes, is produced by Zentropa and Super16 with support from the DFI Film Workshop and Film i Väst.

Super16

A Copenhagen-based alternative film school that is both a training programme and a creative film community. The threeyear programme is sponsored by Nordisk Film.

DFI Film Workshop

The Danish Film Institute’s talent development scheme for promoting experimental film art, focusing mainly on young directors.

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DFI-FILM Issue 

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