LAFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Åse Svenheim Drivenes – ‘Maiko: Dancing Child’

nullÅse Svenheim Drivenes is a Norwegian-born filmmaker who made her
directorial debut with the documentary "Our Man in Kirkenes" (2010), which screened on NRK (Norway’s BBC) and YLE (Finland’s BBC), and then made "I am Kuba," pitched at International Documentary Festival Amsterdam Forum in 2013.
"Maiko’s Dance" is her first feature-length documentary. (Press materials) 

"Maiko: Dancing Child" premiered at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival on June 14. 

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

ASD: "Maiko: Dancing Child" is the story of
an outstanding prima ballerina in Norway, Maiko Nishino, who left Japan as a
young girl to pursue a professional dancing career. Her family sacrificed
everything in order to send her to the best ballet schools in Europe. With so much at stake, she knew she could not return to Japan a failure, and
that drive helped her become a top dancer in Europe. Now she is at the
height of her career. She dreams of becoming a mother, which is not easy to
combine with the strenuous demands of being a performer. The film follows
her journey back to the stage and the obstacles she faces after she has a
child.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

ASD: Maiko is a well-known dancer in Norway, so I knew a little about
her beforehand. But after seeing her on stage, I was blown away by her performance. It was such an emotional experience, and I was fascinated by her presence and
energy. It’s difficult to imagine her anywhere else. Her name
literally means “dancing child.” She has a very strong artistic style
that really appealed to me. With Maiko’s background story, I saw a true
element of human drama. I can’t imagine the pressure she must have been under
coming to Europe as a young girl, knowing her family had sold their home for
her to become a successful prima ballerina. She knew she couldn’t return to Japan as a failure. I was genuinely curious about Maiko. What drives her, and
who is Maiko today? With the story and the beautiful music and dance, I saw a film with huge visual potential. 

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film? 

ASD: I really didn’t want the film to be a traditional portrait of a dancer,
so I spent time looking for the story. I wanted it to to be a character-driven, human-process story. I knew of her obstacles in the past, but I needed to find
out, “What are Maiko’s challenges today? She has made it as a successful
dancer and she is happily married. In a way, she has ‘landed’ safely. What storyline could push the drama forward? What are the difficult
choices Maiko faces today?"

I didn’t know she would get pregnant and if she was really ready for it
when I started filming her. When she got pregnant, it was natural to follow this
as the main story. If she hadn’t got pregnant, it would perhaps be a film
that wouldn’t follow a classical storyline.

It was also new and challenging for me to film a professional. This was
something I had never done before. I spent time finding methods and soon
discovered I could involve her more in the creative process than I normally do
with my characters. When Maiko is performing or focusing on something really
important to her, sometimes having a camera team could be distracting. 

But because Maiko understood that my dedication and artistic ambitions
were similar to her ambitions in dancing, she respected my creative vision and
we could find a way to work on both together.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the
theatre?

ASD: I want them to leave having a proper cinematic experience. I
wanted to create the opportunity to dwell in a professional dancer’s universe
with everything that comes with it: the beautiful music, emotion, dance and
of course the human drama.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

ASD: Be true to your vision. It’s important
to surround yourself with people you trust and respect to support your ideas
and vision. Creative people normally have a strong intuition. Use it! Also, take
the time to find your film — try different things. I think it was Victor
Kossakovsky who said, "If you know how to make your film before you have
started, don’t make the film!"

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work? 

ASD: Sometimes people want to put filmmakers in a box, but that doesn’t fit
with my work. I’m not confined to one issue, but there are common [threads] throughout my films. My interest is not in any particular topic or
drama. I’m intrigued by people and human drive. Maybe they might think that since my last two films are dramatic, I only make dramas, but I’m also
interested in humor. I’m interested in how people react when they have to
make critical decisions, when people have a challenge in their life. [My interest isn’t limited to] certain categories.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made. 

ASD: We are lucky in Norway because we have strong public funding from the
Norwegian Film Institute. They have supported all my films. There are also
funds available in Scandinavia and in the EU, like Nordic Film and TV
Fond and the European Media Programme, that have supported my film.
The public Norwegian broadcasting company (NRK) is co-producing the film. On top
of this, we have done pre-sales to various TV channels. 

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

ASD: There are so many talented female
directors, so I don’t really have a favorite. But a film that made a huge impression on
me is Kim Longinotto’s "Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go.” The story is set
in a school in the UK that specializes in working with emotionally
traumatized kids. She has a unique way of approaching these
"troubled" kids where she really "sees" these kids
that people have given up on. She never stages anything — no constructed scenes — which makes her films very authentic.

Another film that made a huge impact on
me is "The Three Rooms of Melancholia" by the Finnish director Pirjo
Honkasalo. It’s visually so powerful that no words need to be said. And there
are some moments in the film that makes me so sad [that] I found it difficult to
breathe. I like films that challenge me emotionally. I think it’s important to
dare to go into this [level of] discomfort.