“The Roskilde Festival is part of a well-rounded education,” Ulrik Wivel says. The new documentary by this filmmaker, artist and former ballet dancer zooms in on the popular music festival held every July that attracts big-name bands and upwards of 80,000 people from all over the world.
“I don’t think "Roskilde" ever really leaves your body,” he says. “Roskilde is in me now, like my life as a dancer is.”
It took Wivel eight festivals and changing crews of codirectors, camera and sound people to get together enough material for Roskilde, an intoxicating look at the festival in all its spontaneity, musical celebration and temporary madness.
It took him so long, mainly because he only had four days to shoot every year – the festival opens on a Thursday and closes on a Sunday. In between festivals, Wivel continually went over the footage to see if he had enough to finish the film.
“It wasn’t until I found myself standing there in the middle of the festival with a tiny crew and no budget that it dawned on me that you really only have four days to shoot every year,” he says. “It wasn’t going to be easy. It took me eight years to get my footage, which works out nicely to a classic 30-40 days of shooting.”
Having spent most of his life at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen and other ballet houses around the world, Wivel never really had a “normal” youth, he says. As a case in point, he had never even been to the Roskilde Festival before he agreed to do a documentary about it.
“The Roskilde project had a natural attraction to me, and it was one of the first films to come my way,” Wivel says. “It didn’t come out of going to the festival all my teenage years and camping out in a tent. On the contrary, I never even went! My curiosity about it was wildly piqued.
“A lot of people are looking for new ways to experience the world. Dreaming you’re someone else, I think, will be familiar to a lot of people. They are fascinated by Roskilde, which gives them four days to cut loose and try out all sort of roles,” the filmmaker says.
A MULTI-PLOT FILM
Like the festival, "Roskilde" opens on a Thursday and closes on a Sunday, while mixing up eight years worth of shots in between. “The film tracks a natural arc,” Wivel says. “In fact, the time frame was the only thing we had a specific use for in structuring the film.
“I wanted to make everything as sensual as possible, and as real and true as possible to what the festival is like and how I experience it,” he says. “I deliberately tried not to do anything too psychedelic, abstract or clever. It just seemed 100 percent obvious that you have to surrender to the synergy and energy of the place, because you’re up against such a huge force.
“I had allied myself with a bunch of people who, like me, are used to strange shooting conditions and thinking in terms of scenes, even if they weren’t written down in advance,” he says. “We had a clear rule not to overplan or overthink things and be taken by surprise instead. I think it’s rare for a filmmaker to be standing in the middle of something without the slightest idea what to do or what you might end up with. That’s a very raw and real experience. You need a powerful intuition and a fully functioning sensory apparatus.”
It didn’t take long for the filmmaker and his team to realise that they couldn’t simply stand there with their cameras and hope for something groovy to happen. They had to cast the film and make agreements with festival-goers to be recurring characters in the story. “We needed some potentially good leads to follow,” Wivel says.
“I tried devising some rules to get a dramaturgical handle on things,” he says. “I decided early on that the film couldn’t be carried by a single character. It had to be a multi-plot film. I saw Roskilde as the beast. And the festival itself as the resistance and the fulcrum, and I tried to communicate that to my co-directors.
“All the characters are archetypes of sorts. And there is a clash of interests at the festival, between those who just want to party, and reach the state of ecstasy, and those who’ll go to any length to look out for the crowd: fire-fighters, police and guards. There’s this weird kind of beautiful symbiosis between the two forces grinding together. It’s all very peaceful. And notably, that’s only possible because of the festival is grounded in respect. The world could learn a thing or two from that,” Wivel says.