Swede dreams

The doc­u­men­tary Three Miles North of Molkom could have taken cheap shots at its New Age sub­jects, but direc­tors Corinna Vil­lari-McFar­lane and Robert Can­nan have cre­ated a funny film that steers clear of cru­elty or mock­ery and, in­stead, fo­cuses on the real

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

IT DOESN’T come as a great shock to dis­cover that Corinna Vil­lari-McFar­lane and Robert Can­nan are de­cent peo­ple. Smooth, good-looking and chatty, the cou­ple have just di­rected a very en­ter­tain­ing doc­u­men­tary about a sub­ject that screams out for ridicule. Three Miles North of Molkom goes among the at­ten­dees of a Swedish New Age event en­ti­tled (no snig­ger­ing now) “The No Mind Fes­ti­val”. Fea­tur­ing all the usual, vaguely spir­i­tual mumbo-jumbo, the jam­boree of­fers enor­mous pos­si­bil­i­ties for mean-spir­ited com­edy, but Vil­lari-McFar­lane and Can­nan al­low even their sil­li­est sub­jects their dig­nity. The film is of­ten funny, but it’s never cruel.

“I think, as doc­u­men­tary film-mak­ers, we wanted to ap­proach things ob­jec­tively,” says Can­nan. “We knew some crazy stuff was go­ing to go down and it would have been very easy to make a film that was just mock­ing. That would have been point­less.” Vil­lari-McFar­lane nods and smiles.

“Th­ese are the peo­ple as we found them,” she says. “And peo­ple are flawed. Peo­ple are funny. There is com­edy in life, but there is more to this story than that.”

If you’ve stud­ied the grim break-up of so many hip­pie com­mu­ni­ties in the late 1970s – your lo­cal im­pro­vised ashram al­most cer­tainly de­cayed into in­ternecine con­flict be­fore the first mung bean har­vest – then much of Three Miles will seem fa­mil­iar. De­spite all the woolly bro­mides to in­clu­sive­ness, ten­sions do in­evitably emerge and, for many of the at­ten­dees, per­sonal growth is far more im­por­tant than camp unity.

“Yes, and so much of it is based around ‘Me’,” agrees Can­nan. “It’s as if to progress to utopia, you have first to go into your­self. You have to heal your­self be­fore you heal the world. But when peo­ple go into those depths, they un­doubt­edly gen­er­ate con­flict. And let’s be hon­est, that’s good drama.”

Vil­lari-McFar­lane and Can­nan have clearly thought deeply about the dy­nam­ics of doc­u­men­tary in their rel­a­tively brief ap­pren­tice­ships. Can­nan, a grad­u­ate in film and drama from the Uni­ver­sity of York, taught him­self to edit video, be­fore go­ing on to work with Bri­tish doc­u­men­tary guer­rilla Nick Broom­field on that di­rec­tor’s wor­ry­ing drama Ghosts. Vil­lari-McFar­lane ran a the­atre com­pany in her late teens, stud­ied pol­i­tics at uni­ver­sity and spent a pe­riod fum­ing an­grily while work­ing in the soul-de­stroy­ing world of ad­ver­tis­ing. They met while work­ing on the strange, vi­o­lent Bri­tish fea­ture The Great Ec­stasy of Robert Carmichael and com­mit­ted them­selves to find­ing a sub­ject wor­thy of a fea­ture doc­u­men­tary.

“A friend of mine heard about this place in Swe­den,” says Vil­lari-McFar­lane. “I looked it up and it sounded very in­ter­est­ing. Sto­ry­telling re­quires a jour­ney. And there seemed to be one there. Peo­ple go there to change and they are there­fore likely to have self-con­tained sto­ries.”

Sure enough, in the clear­ings be­tween sprawl­ing Scan­di­na­vian forests, Vil­lar­iMcFar­lane and Can­nan en­coun­tered a fas­ci­nat­ing cast of odd­balls, charm­ers, freaks and ma­ni­acs. There’s (what else?) Sid­dhartha, a bulky, un­yield­ing Swede who of­ten looks as if he is about to beat peace and un­der­stand­ing into any fool­ish wa­ver­ers; Regina Lund, a mod­estly fa­mous singing star with no ob­vi­ous self-worth is­sues, and a gen­uinely frag­ile woman named Mervi. Most use­fully, the direc­tors dis­cov­ered an archetyp­i­cally un­pre­ten­tious Aus­tralian bloke called (what else?) Nick.

Ini­tially amused by ev­ery­thing he sees, Nick will surely func­tion as the eyes and ears of most au­di­ence mem­bers. “The first time we heard his voice we knew,” says Can­nan. “We wanted to find some­one who was there for the first time and who would be a lit­tle cyn­i­cal about it. Some­body who acts as a bridge and leads you in.”

Can­nan goes on to ex­plain that the un­for­tu­nate Aus­tralian has wan­dered into the fes­ti­val by mis­take. He was ex­pect­ing some­thing very dif­fer­ent and was, at least at first, faintly ap­palled by all that hug­ging, bond­ing and em­pa­thy.

“I think it was im­por­tant that he was an Aus­tralian,” says Can­nan. “It’s un­fair to gen­er­alise. How­ever, be­ing from that part of the world, he was a bit cyn­i­cal, but also had that at­ti­tude that says: ‘I’ll give it a go.’ I think if he’d been from Lon­don he might have looked at th­ese peo­ple and thought: ‘F**k off!’” As the film pro­gresses, Nick emerges as a kind of ac­ci­den­tal guru. His na­tional phi­los­o­phy of “No Wor­ries” makes as much sense as any of the gib­ber­ish spouted by the fes­ti­val’s more self-im­por­tant men­tors. “Yes. In a sense that re­ally is ‘The An­swer’,” laughs Can­nan.

With its sat­is­fac­tory story arcs and its some­what wry por­trayal of a very mid­dle­class, post-hippy ap­proach to col­lec­tive well­ness, Three Miles North of Molkom has gen­er­ated a sig­nif­i­cant amount of buzz at the world’s film fes­ti­vals. In­deed, fol­low­ing a sug­ges­tion in Va­ri­ety mag­a­zine that the pic­ture had the mak­ings of a drama, the film-mak­ers have been del­uged by phone calls from the ma­jor stu­dios.

“It’s very strange,” says Can­nan. “Af­ter that re­view came out, we had ev­ery stu­dio on the phone try­ing to buy the re­make rights. We’re not used to peo­ple re­spond­ing to art that way. We are used to re­spond­ing to the work it­self rather than what it might be­come. Any­way, our main con­cern now is to not do any­thing that will get in the way of the dis­tri­bu­tion of the doc­u­men­tary. We may think about re­makes later.”

Canny as well as charm­ing, the pair ad­mit that they are cur­rently cul­ti­vat­ing a big idea for an up­com­ing drama. The art-house suc­cess of Three Miles will surely of­fer them an op­por­tu­nity to make it hap­pen. So, tell us all about it.

“We would like to make an en­sem­ble com­edy,” says Vil­lari-McFar­lane. “Some­thing that has a warm way of looking at life. We have a hook. But I don’t think we can tell what it is yet. We’ll tell you as soon as it’s ready.”

Keep watch­ing.

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