CLUB DES FEMMES INTERVIEW MIA ENGBERG, BELLEVILLE BABY DIRECTOR
Mia Engberg, the Stockholm based director and producer has been making shorts and documentaries that challenge societal norms since 1994, gay skinheads, animal rights activism, gender stereotyping are some of the topics she has turned her camera to. We were first introduced to her work when we came across her bold erotic love story Selma & Sophie (2003). However, it was her role as producer for the publicly funded Dirty Diaries: 12 shorts of feminist porn that generated notoriety and heated debate back home and abroad. The films received 500,000 kronor (UK£40,000) from the Swedish Film Institute as well as a whole lot of backlash from Sweden’s more conservative corners demanding why taxpayers should have to fund queer feminist porn. The films found their way to London for a sold out Club Des Femmes/London Short Film Festival screening at the Horse Hospital in January 2012 and begs the question whether the BFI would ever be so bold as to do the same?
Engberg currently teaches film directing at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts, is one of the filmmakers behind Story (www.story.se) a film production company producing interesting and original documentaries (The Black Power MixTape 1967-1975) and plays bass in a ska band called Vagina Grande. Her debut feature film Belleville Baby, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival 2013, explores the subjective nature of memory, truth and love. A long distance call from a long lost lover makes Mia reminisce about their common past. She remembers the spring when they met in Paris, the riots, the vespa and the cat named Baby they looked after together. Deftly weaving voice over with mobile phone, super 8 and 16mm film footage, the film raises questions about class and identity and whether it’s ever a good idea to revisit a past love. Club des Femmes caught up with Mia to ask her more about the film.
CDF > Belleville Baby has sometimes been written and presented as a documentary film. How would you describe your film?
ME > I just call it a film. The film is based on “real” event and characters, but the dialogues are written by me and recorded with an actor, so I wouldn’t call it a pure documentary. In literature they use the term “auto-fictional”. That might describe the film.
CDF > Your filmography to date has been interesting, especially for a queer-feminist audience, this film feels like a departure in terms of content and form. Can you tell us why and how you wanted to tell this story?
ME > I always made films based on what I see and experience in my life. Since I am a feminist and spent a lot of time in the queer community I told stories based on this. Belleville Baby tells the story of memories that goes way back to my early years in Paris. Since the narration is not based on a present reality I wanted to something…different with a form that was drifting between authenticity and poetry.
CDF >What do you understand as truth in the context of your film?
ME >I think there is no such thing as objective “truth” when it comes to film. I wanted to tell a story straight from my heart, with values that are true to me, like love, forgiveness and longing. In the film you don’t really know what really happened and what I made up, and to be honest I don’t know either.
CDF > I’ve read that you very much like Chris Marker and Marguerite Duras’ work. In the film you use voice and image as a form of abstraction, can you tell more about your process?
ME > I made the soundtrack first. Telling the story with my voice and the telephone dialogues. The imagery came later. I wanted to make images that were timeless in the sense that you couldn’t tell whether they were shot now or then. I worked with it as a puzzle and the editing process tool over a year.
CDF > Your film is both personal and emotional, how have audiences responded to it? Did the film get theatrical distribution in Sweden and abroad?
ME > I was surprised to see that the film was so well received all over the world even though it’s kind of experimental. It premiered in Berlin Film Festival and has been touring the world ever since. It had a theatrical distribution in Sweden and won the Swedish Oscars for best documentary (which is ironical since it’s not really a documentary).
CDF > Jean-Luc Godard famously said that all you need is a girl and a gun to make a movie. In Belleville Baby we’ve got a guy, a vespa and a gun. What are the politics of the female gaze in your film?
ME > I am very interested in the female gaze. Or…the opposition to the male voyeuristic approach over all. When we made Dirty Diaries we started this journey. I wanted to make a film that shows what desire feels like to and not what it looks like. In Belleville Baby you hardly see “him” or “me” in the film. I think the objectification of the other in the film comes from another place than the gaze…he is the object of desire and I am the one with the power of telling the story. Well…this is an interesting topic and I am not done exploring it yet.
CDF > Jane Campion has been outspoken about the negative aspects of women’s film festival – in that she does not want to be labelled purely as a female filmmaker. Do you think that women’s film festivals play an important role in platforming and debating new work by women or ultimately box them in?
ME > I am opposed to the concept of “woman” and “man” in general. What is a woman anyway? I think we need a much more diverse cinema with queer stories, black perspectives, third world filmmakers being distributed in Europe, alternative, activist, experimental movies…and so on. I am truly fed up with the mainstream film and it’s shallow voyeuristic male white middleclass perspective story telling. But for me dividing in cinema into “male” and “female” is to narrow and kind of … old fashioned. I am not a woman first of all but an activist and an artist.
CDF > What are you working on next?
ME > That’s a secret but I promise to keep you updated…