Jimmie, IFFR’s touching opening film, tells the tale of a young refugee boy on the run with his father – told from the boy’s perspective.
“I think it’s unique”, says Swedish filmmaker Jesper Ganslandt. “I don’t know any other film with a 4-year-old as the main character, and the only character telling the story.”
Ganslandt himself plays the father, and his son Hunter plays the role of Jimmie. Although: “I don’t think you can act at that age”, says Ganslandt. “His reactions are real. He just had to be himself. It’s great to see the sense of wonder in his eyes, to see how he interprets the world around him.”
Shooting the film, which took 35 days, was a ‘big adventure’ for them both, explains Ganslandt. “We were traveling a lot together. By the end we had gotten very close to each other.” Shooting wasn’t always fun for Hunter, the filmmaker admits. “It’s not easy for a 4-year-old to go to work every day. But there was a lot of playing, there were other children on the set. The crew was very caring, they all supported Hunter. When we shot a scary scene, we discussed it beforehand. And if there was a scene with any threatening characters in it, like police or a customs officer, we had Hunter meet them first.”
“I think the power of cinema is that it can put you in the shoes of others.” – Jesper Ganslandt
Jimmie and his dad are fleeing their home because of a war. The exact nature of what’s happening, however, remains unclear. This was a conscious choice, says Ganslandt. “I thought it’d be interesting to show the fact of fleeing and roaming from the perspective of the child, free of any politics or nationalism. That’s how the film stays close to Jimmie. If I were to zoom out to show who’s fighting who and why, the film would lose some of its credibility. As a viewer, you would think: this didn’t happen, it’s just a movie.”
It is also striking that blonde Jimmie is from Sweden, a country not usually associated with refugees. Ganslandt: “I thought it was important to shift the perspective in that respect too: what would it look like if it were refugees from a Scandinavian country? In the end it doesn’t matter where they’re from. I think the power of cinema is that it can put you in the shoes of others. It makes you think: what would I do in that situation?”
Jimmie is part of IFFR’s Voices programme, showing films that are propelled by powerful stories, gripping topics and big themes – in this case, the refugee debate. Was it Ganslandt’s intention with Jimmie to contribute to this conversation? “It wasn’t my main goal. But should it happen, I’m happy that it makes you think about refugees in other parts of the world. I think the worst is to forget, to simply not care.”
Jesper Ganslandt, now aged 39, garnered a lot of attention at IFFR 2010 with his second film, The Ape – a tense story about a man who wakes up in a bathroom, and is then chased all over Stockholm. Before shooting, the actor playing main character Sarri never got to read the script. Just as the viewer, he had no idea what was about to happen to him. “I was invited to IFFR then, but couldn’t make it to the festival unfortunately”, says Ganslandt. “So I’m looking forward to finally attending the festival this time around.”
He is “honoured” that his Jimmie was chosen as the opening film. “It’s great that a film we made under the radar has caught the attention of the festival and is so appreciated.”
This year, Ganslandt will release another film, Beast of Burden, starring Daniel ‘Harry Potter’ Radcliffe. “It’s an American production, a thriller where Daniel plays a pilot. There are some similarities with Jimmie, but also some big differences. But in the end, working with an actor in front of a camera is universal. No matter how different the setting is, the directions and prompts I gave Daniel Radcliffe were no different from what I told my son."
Photo in header: Photo: Jesper Ganslandt | Interview: Sietse Meijer