Recent film school grad, Hallvar Witzo, got off an 18 hour flight and arrived at the Academy Awards Nominee Luncheon to find himself sitting next to his idols, Martin Scorsese and Steven Speilberg. Hallvar candidly expressed, “This is a big deal for a kid from Norway! It is just surreal.” Not bad for a 27 year old. The theatre was a bit far from the village he grew up in as a child, where he would have to take boat to see a film! His father was a projectionist which sparked his love for film—a Cinema Paradiso story of sorts.
Hallvar’s film, Tuba Atlantic, is nominated for the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar. Starting out as just an image, Hallvar’s vision of “a globe, two old guys, one of them trying to [send]a sound to his brother in New Jersey”, developed into the main character, Oskar, being told that he has only six days left to live and must reconcile with his brother after 30 years of unrest. The riveting role is played by Edvard Hægstad, potato farmer by day and stage actor by night.
Bijan Tehrani: Can you briefly touch on the basis of Tuba Atlantic story?
Hallvar Witzø: This is a tale about Oscar, a twenty year old man who lives alone on the outskirts of Norway and has only six more days to live. He feels that, before he can die, he really needs to contact his estranged brother. They had an argument 30 years ago and, since then, they have not talked to each other. His father can help, but the last he knew about his father was that he was in New Jersey on the east coast of America, all the way across the Atlantic. So the only thing he has to reach his father is a gigantic tuba—a forty ton tuba that is 40 meters long—that can, in theory, blow a sound across the Atlantic and be heard by his father. That is basically the big line of the story.
BT: When looking at Tuba Atlantic, it has a very Scandinavian theme to it, yet it sets itself apart from more mainstream Scandinavian films with and a very different type of humor in it. Were you influenced by some of film directors from Scandinavian countries?
HW: I actually think I am more inspired by American and British filmmakers. Theatre was a big part of me growing up, but I was influenced by directors like Tim Burton and David Lynch. David Lynch particularly, in this film. From Norwegian artists, I think it is more painters and writers that have inspired me more than Scandinavian filmmakers.
BT: It must have been very challenging to make Tuba Atlantic as your first film.
HW: Both yes and no. It was challenging because it was hard to find money, so we had to make a lot of compromises. At the same time, it was easy because it was a very personal film and I kind of knew what kind of story I was making the whole time and it was something that was very close to my heart. So as far as telling the story, in that sense, it was one of the easiest films that I ever made. The eight months of pre-production allowed me to make the film over and over again in my head. I storyboarded the film two or three times and, on the set, my photographer and I blocked the entire story with a still camera—how we were going to shoot it and how long we were going to run every image. When we got to the set, I had the film in my head so clearly that it was much easier to improvise and make different changes like location shifts and line changes. So, in that sense, it was very easy to make, but the most difficult thing is to get very personal with what you are making. I feel that when I am not personal in what I am making, than I cannot make something good; it is very easy to be a director because it is just fun.
BT: How did you go about casting the film?
HW: I had a very big casting call and a very long casting period. For Oskar’s character, I searched all over Norway and, from all of the professionals that age and I did not find anyone that was that interesting. Then I had an open audition for everybody, and I then got a tip from a theatre instructor that just told me about this guy, Edvard Hægstad, and I called him and asked him to audition. I put him up with a girl that as there and he just read the lines exactly like Oskar. It was so clear to me that this was the guy, and I just had every other audition with this actor because I knew he was my choice immediately.
BT: You were associated with cinema from a very early age because your father was a film projectionist. Could you elaborate on that unique experience?
HW: That’s right. My dad used to screen movies at a local cinema that only rented movies on Sundays. So on Sunday, I was his assistant. I carried the 35mm films up the winding stairs in freezing cold or the hot summer—it did not matter—and I helped him rewind the roles, but I never became a projectionist because I was so interested in sitting among the audiences. So I never saw the film from the machinist room; I always helped him do whatever he wanted help with and then I just ran down and every Sunday I saw just one or two movies. They would have an early show and a late show, so I grew up with the cinema, but mostly I grew up with VHS cassettes. Cannonball Run was one of my favorites, and I also remember watching Terminator 2. These films were very inspiring, with so much action and drama. Maybe the biggest movie memory I have was when my dad screened Jurassic Park in the local cinema. The floor was packed with people and they had to put extra chairs all the way up to the balcony. I remember that the package with the film was very heavy and I remember I came in last and I had to sit six feet away from the screen. I vividly remember seeing the eye of the Tyrannosaurus Rex staring at me right from the screen.
BT: What do you think are the chances of winning the academy award and how do you think it will help your future films?
HW: First, it is a very big honor, especially among the other films. It is a very strong group of films in my opinion, and I am honored to be one of them. If I were to win, it would make me more confident that this is what I am supposed to do with my life, and now I am just going to continue. I have a lot of future films that are under development and a few that are ready for production, so I hope that this will help those feature films get funded and produced because what I want to do most of all in my life is to make movies, so hopefully the nomination will push me in that direction. I think the nomination in itself is such a big achievement and I think the next step would be to make a great feature film.