With few well placed questions by festival director Zoran Popovic, director of “The Distant Barking of Dogs” Danish Simon Lereng Wilmont performed a fine 2 hour workshop, sharing with the participants the doubts he had had when filming in Eastern Ukraine, and the decisions to be made. Being asked about the final sequence, which is shot with her mobile phone by the babushka, the granny, Aleksandra is her name, Simon said, that he had made the decision to have it there NOT to end with a “happy ending” = granny and the boy Oleg sitting calmly in the landscape. She actually shot several scenes of the kids and their reactions, when bombs were falling, Simon said, but if I had put more in, it had ended being a war film and that was not the idea! The scene shows that Yarik is not as used to being in the war zone as Oleg.
Simon told about his two previous short documentaries that had children as characters – one about the son of a sumo wrestler and one about children fencing – and how he had problems getting funding for the film at the Danish Film Institute; should it go to the documentary consultants and/or the children film consultant. It helped, when the two short films won Al Jazeera awards that enabled the director and the producer Monica Hellstrøm from the company Final Cut for Real to start the research and casting. “I wanted a boy who lives in the shadow of the war”, Simon said, “how do you feel when you are afraid”, he asked Oleg, who answered in a way that made it easy for the director to make him the protagonist.
Funding-wise the film was pitched at Nordisk Panorama and later at IDFA in Amsterdam, where
Sundance’s clever Tabitha Jackson declared interest and committed, which made Nordic tv stations come on board, one after the other.
“I was very much hanging out with the kids, they often asked me to film, I ignored them to make them less interested and therefore more natural, when I started the shooting. I got into their world and also after a long time of skepticism from her side, I gained the trust of Aleksandra, who ended up cooking for us”. “We stayed in Mariupol, 25 kilometer from their place”.
Aleksandra became the narrator. “I did several interviews with her in the beginning to gain her trust and when they were translated, I discovered that she was excellent in phrasing what it meant to live in a war zone, so I decided to use that, we enter the war with her”.
“Slices of life… that’s what I wanted to show, but during the editing process and when pitching the project, I was constantly bombarded with questions about dramaturgy, the three arcs and all that…” (Shit, my comment!).
“We did editing for half a year, we had 9 cuts and at the 7th and 8th version I invited people like Joshua Oppenheimer and Niels Pagh Andersen to comment on what they saw. It was very helpful”.
Simon also talked about the two composers he had used, but I did not get that down on paper.
“The Distant Barking of Dogs” has won 19 awards (!) and the director is wanted everywhere. He has just left the hotel to go home from the Magnificent7 festival, where he had a great time with his son Fabian, 9 years old. Tomorrow Simon Lereng Wilmont goes to Washington and New York, two more festivals for a remarkable film:
I want you to stay with me, always, says Oleg to his granny Aleksandra. Of course I will, she says, and I get tears in my eyes, writing this.