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Torill Kove, Director of Oscar-Winning Short The Danish Poet
Norwegian born animator Torill Kove had her first date with Oscar in 1999, when her short My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts landed a well-deserved nomination. The talented artist just received her first Oscar this year thanks to her well-received 2D animated short The Danish Poet, which was produced with support from the National Film Board of Canada. Narrated by Liv Ullmann, this cleanly drawn gem looks at how circumstance and happy accidents determine the love affair between a poet and a Norwegian farm maiden. We caught up with Kove, who answered our questions from her home in Montreal.
Animation Magazine Online: We’re sure everybody has been hounding you with this question lately, but it’s inevitable: How does it feel to be nominated for an Academy Award for the second time?
Torill Kove: It feels like somebody has just given me a really, really nice present. It is a little overwhelming, but very exciting and I am extremely happy for everyone at the National Film Board of Canada and in Norway who participated in the production. Everyone was so dedicated and enthusiastic throughout the whole production and I am so proud to have been a part of such a great team.
AMO: When the short screens at festivals, many become curious about its origins. Can you talk a little about what inspired it?
T.K.: I started writing the story at a time when I was going through a bit of a life-assessment period. You reach a turning point or a milestone and you look back and you think “how in the heck did I get here?” (You might actually use stronger words than that, but you get the idea.) And you realize that the answer lies somewhere in a complex web of all kinds of stuff, like genetic make-up, upbringing, coincidences, choices you made along the way, missed opportunities, lucky breaks etc. I wanted to write a story based on something like this, and it seemed natural to center it on how two people meet because relationships, and especially the romantic ones, play a huge role in shaping our lives, and also, obviously, in creating new ones.
I had started off writing something fairly biographical about how my parents met, but it became too personal and I was not comfortable with it. I then decided to go the fiction route and the next thing I knew, I had this character, the Danish poet who, in his quest for artistic inspiration, got sidetracked and found something else instead. From that moment on’I know it sounds like a clich’but it was almost like the story wrote the rest itself. It took about three to four years to finish it.
AMO: What’s your take on the thriving international animation scene today?
T.K.: That’s really hard for me to answer, which is why my answer will be long. I think the place to best gauge the animation scene is at festivals, and unfortunately I haven’t been to any in a while (Danish Poet’s been doing most of his traveling without me). These things go in streaks obviously and the taste pendulum keeps swinging between narrative and non narrative, but when I look at the prize winners at international festivals lately, it seems like there’s a leaning towards pretty straight-ahead, narrative films and also towards handmade animation.
One wonderful and well-documented aspect of animation is that in terms of techniques available, the sky is the limit. I recently heard of someone animating under the camera with melted chocolate’and I thought why not, if it works. Because of this inherent characteristic I think there is always a certain hunger in the animation community for a new look, new techniques or a new approach. But at the same time I think animators are pretty sophisticated and critical in terms of weeding out the films that are different, only for the sake of being different, from the one’s that are really nailing something with an innovative approach and merit the big awards. I think Regina Pessoa’s beautiful Tragic Story With Happy Ending, which is etched with ink on paper, and Jonas Odell’s Never like the First Time’s collage are great examples of this in the past year.
Another great thing about animation now, is, obviously, that thanks to digital technology and user-friendly software, anybody who’s interested can make an animated short, in bed on their lap-top, if they feel like it. People from all walks of life and art forms are drawn to animation and are contributing. I think that’s fantastic, and I have no doubt that this will continue to be reflected in the international animation scene now and in years to come.
AMO: Why do you think audiences are responding so well to your short?
T.K.: I’m guessing that the story resonates with people. On the surface it is quite a simple tale about the coincidences that bring two people together. Chances are that almost everybody has a story like that in their lives. I think it’s an inherently celebratory, life-affirming idea’that happiness can come from completely coincidental circumstances.
Also, there are a few subplots going on. One is about artistic inspiration, where one finds it and what works. The Danish poet thinks he will find inspiration from an external source, i.e. a celebrated writer, but in the end he finds it within himself. And there’s a subtext, if not a subplot, about nationalism and how much emphasis we in the western world put on stereotypes and on which country we’re from, although we often have the toughest time telling each other apart. This is perhaps a bit of a Scandinavian in-joke (along with the drunken ferry passengers), but I think North American audiences relate to the absurdity of it anyway. And, finally, I think Liv Ullmann’s voice-over is beautiful, and just right for the film. She is the voice for this story and I am so grateful for her contribution.
For more info about the short and to watch related clips, visit