Miri lives alone with her two cats in a one-room apartment in a small Swedish suburb. But she also leads another life: everyday she photographs herself and writes an entry for her personal blog. Katrine Philp made her graduation film from the National Film School of Denmark about Miri, because she sees her as an example of a seemingly pervasive need for self-staging.
"It's a question of being visible and making other people aware that we exist. As Miri says, if she died now, who would even notice?"
"I'm fascinated by the boundary between private and public and by the nature of this need to expose yourself. How visible do you want to make yourself? How much are you willing to show?" Philp says.
She sees a depth in Miri's blog that a lot of other blogs lack. Miri writes personally and honestly. The need to express herself is rooted in her loneliness.
"Miri has no one to talk to, and so she has this need to be seen and heard," Philp says. "Her social needs are met through her participation in cyberspace. She has a big online circle of people who read and comment on her blog."
Miri, who was adopted from Korea as a child, always felt like a stranger in the small northern Swedish town where she grew up.
"A tiny one-room apartment and two cats is all she has," the director says. "It's a safe and secure place. She hardly ever asks anyone in. In her apartment, and in her blog, she creates her own world, where she can be herself."
On her blog, Miri writes about anything, from what she is having for dinner, how she spends her Sunday and what she's wearing, to more profound problems like her relationship to her family. How does it fit together, sharing her innermost feelings with total strangers online but being unable to meet people in the real world?
"It's a matter of control," Philp says. "Online, Miri has complete control of how she presents herself. She can stage herself exactly the way she wants other people to see her. When she meets people in real life, she can't hide in the same way." Miri also blogs to make her mark in a world she does not otherwise feel part of.
"Miri wants to leave her mark. That's an existential need, I think, because life is so transient," Philp says. "It's a question of being visible and making other people aware that we exist. As Miri says, if she died now, who would even notice?"
Documenting her life
Ever since she was a child and learned to draw and write, Miri has made drawings of herself and kept a diary describing the minutest details of what she had to eat and what she was wearing. Now she uses her blog. "It's a way to document her life," Philp says. "Of course she is staging herself, but she tries to show herself the way she is. She doesn't cheat – the clothes she wears when she photographs herself are the clothes she wore that day. It is important for her that her images are a window to her life.
"She's really an artist without knowing it," Philp says. The director was attracted by Miri's visual talent as it comes across in her photographs, and she wanted to bring out the visual elements of body and space in her film.
Go with the subject
To get that kind of intensity, Philp says, you have to invest the time it takes to create trust between the filmmaker and her subject.
"Trust is essential," she says. "Of course, you're laying yourself open when you pose in front of a camera and put yourself on display. She was always playing around with her own bashfulness and how much she was willing to show, to her own camera as well as to ours."
Miri gets in front of the camera every day, but it felt transgressive to her to have other people in the room, controlling the camera. To build up her confidence, Philp and Olsson spent a long time playing around with the camera with her.
"We tested how close up we could go, physically," Philp says. "Does she shy away or is she game? You have to feel out your subject on a given day and capture the energy when it's there. I find it hard to film by template. I have more faith in going with the flow of the film and the subject," Philp says.