Dan­ish drama as To­bias Lind­holm talks Don­ald Clarke through A Hi­jack­ing,

Dan­ish drama is on a roll, – and on a screen near you. To­bias Lind­holm, di­rec­tor of new thriller A Hi­jack­ing, dis­cusses its un­stop­pable rise with Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s all about Den­mark th­ese days. Posh din­ner par­ties buzz with con­ver­sa­tions about that lady’s jumper in The Killing and all those po­lit­i­cal shenani­gans in Bor­gen. Mads Mikkelsen is do­ing what he does in A Royal Af­fair and Thomas Vin­ter­berg’s The Hunt. Lars Von Trier lurks in the un­der­growth wait­ing to spring his next out­rage. Did you en­joy Love is All You Need with Pierce Bros­nan? It was di­rected by a Dan­ish woman, you know.

To­bias Lind­holm is not as well-known as Von Trier or Vin­ter­berg. But he re­mains a key fig­ure in the cur­rent Dan­ish re­nais­sance. Still in his mid-30s, he had a hit on do­mes­tic tele­vi­sion with Som­mer in 2008. Two years later, Bor

gen, his knotty po­lit­i­cal drama, also reg­is­tered with Dan­ish view­ers be­fore go­ing on to be­come an in­ter­na­tional cult smash. He also wrote Sub

marino and the tremen­dous The Hunt for Vin­ter­berg.

“I am not sure what hap­pened,” he says. “There was a creative force at the film school. Then we had a di­rec­tor like Lars Von Trier, who could have been from any­where, but hap­pened to make films in Den­mark. Those are things you need in a small coun­try. And there is com­mer­cial fund­ing. You set up a ma­chine and this is what it de­liv­ers.”

The lat­est prod­uct of the ma­chine is a su­perb thriller named A Hi­jack­ing. Lind­holm’s sec­ond film as di­rec­tor con­cerns a Dan­ish cargo ship hi­jacked by So­mali pi­rates in open wa­ter. The film does find time to de­velop char­ac­ters, but it is most no­table for the ap­par­ent au­then­tic­ity of its pro­ce­dural de­tails. The ship­ping com­pany bring in an English ne­go­tia­tor, played by Gary Porter, who urges all in­volved to set­tle in for a long wait.

“My col­lab­o­ra­tors and I are like a rock band and we have a rule: re­al­ity rules,” he says. “You need to con­front your­self with re­al­ity. When we were re­search­ing, we got this mes­sage that this guy might be able to help us. Gary was a real hostage ne­go­tia­tor. So we had him in for a few ses­sions and thought, he has to be in the film. We don’t need to write any­thing for him. We just have to fig­ure out what ques­tions to ask him.”

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing process. What re­ally strikes the viewer is how long it takes. Days and weeks crawl by with­out any ap­par­ent progress. Porter makes sure to keep chan­nels open. The au­thor­i­ties oc­ca­sion­ally im­pro­vise and pay the price. Fur­ther days and weeks pass.

“Well, as Gary’s char­ac­ter says in the film, time is a western con­cept,” Lind­holm ex­plains. “The pi­rates can stand in the desert with noth­ing to eat or drink or they can wait for the money at sea. That’s a re­ally good ne­go­ti­at­ing tool. In con­trast, time is absolutely ev­ery­thing for us. We live by it.”

The film is packed with this sort of an­thropo- log­i­cally wor­ry­ing de­tail (you wouldn’t want to fling th­ese facts at a So­mali ac­quain­tance with­out some fur­ther check­ing). Yet one fact that you don’t get from the pic­ture is just how com­mon such in­ci­dents are. A few days af­ter hir­ing a ship named the Rosen, Lind­holm and his team dis­cov­ered that the ves­sel had, it­self, been hi­jacked two years pre­vi­ously.

“The black sailors had been sep­a­rated be­cause they were not seen to be worth any money and were not guarded so well,” he ex­plains. “Rather than hav­ing a gen­eral im­age of a hi­jack­ing, th­ese guys had a very spe­cific im­age. So we used them in the film too.”

It makes for a grip­ping com­bi­na­tion of art­fully sus­tained sus­pense and deeply re­searched

ver­ité. Much of the more pop­ulist Dan­ish film and TV of the last decade fol­lows that for­mula. A work­ing-class boy from the “projects of Copen­hagen”, Lind­holm had al­ready gath­ered wads of use­ful ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore he even­tual launched into scriptwrit­ing. He re­mem­bers real­is­ing that he might have the knack for writ­ing while com­pos­ing post­cards dur­ing a lengthy pe­riod back­pack­ing about Europe. One evening, he made fun of a girl for writ­ing po­etry.

“I said: ‘That’s not hard. That’s easy,’” he says slightly shame-facedly. “So the next morn­ing I woke up and de­cided to see if that was true. I de­cided to write 10 pages a day.”

He even­tu­ally wrote a novel and se­cured a con­tract with a pub­lisher. The pub­lisher then went bust and, fol­low­ing con­ver­sa­tions with col­leagues, he de­cided to make his way to film school. Within days of grad­u­a­tion, the Dan­ish state broad­caster was on the phone. Thomas Vin­ter­berg, di­rec­tor of the hugely in­flu­en­tial

Festen, also made con­tact. “I still re­ally can’t be­lieve it,” he says with a wag of the head. He ad­mits that the in­ter­na­tional suc­cess of

Bor­gen caused him even greater as­ton­ish­ment. Whereas The Killing surfed the wave of en­thu­si­asm for Scan­di­na­vian crime fic­tion, Bor­gen was in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent genre (or, per­haps, no genre at all).

Fol­low­ing the tra­vails of a politi­cian who, much to ev­ery­one’s sur­prise, be­comes Den­mark’s first fe­male prime min­is­ter, the TV se­ries de­manded stu­dious at­ten­tion from its in­dul­gent au­di­ence.

Once again, Lind­holm and his team re­searched rig­or­ously.

“We had cre­ated a plat­form that al­lowed ev­ery­body to speak,” he says slightly gnom­i­cally. “The me­dia all wanted to comment on it. So it al­lowed any­body who wanted to speak on a po­lit­i­cal is­sue to speak. We met with a lot of politi­cians. We made a sim­ple deal: we will tell their sto­ries as long as their names are changed. So maybe they were us­ing it as a plat­form as well.”

All of which is very in­ter­est­ing to Dan­ish po­lit­i­cal in­sid­ers. How on earth did it break through on the other side of the North Sea?

“It was amaz­ing, for sure,” he says. “Stephen King an­nounced it was the best show of the year. The Guardian loved it. The Killing opened doors, but, as you say, we are not in the same genre. So it was a de­light that peo­ple went back to the BBC af­ter The Killing and were not dis­ap­pointed.”

There’s clearly some sort of magic in that north Euro­pean out­crop. How do we tap it? “I don’t know. I can’t say.” Yeah, keep it to your­self, To­bias.

To­bias Lind­holm at Venice Film Fes­ti­val

Bir­gitte Ny­borg Chris­tensen in Bor­gen

Jo­han Philip As­bæk in A Hi­jack­ing

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