If like me you spend far too much time on Vimeo, you’ve probably already encountered the name Henry K. Norvalls. With three Staff Picks, with over half-a-million views, to his name in the last six months, the Oslo-based director has recently emerged as one of the filmmakers to keep an eye on for those interested in independent film online. First coming to my attention when his film Shower was submitted to Short of the Week, his work is powerful, yet subtle and always looks to open a dialogue around the subjects he covers. Joining us on Directors Notes to discuss his latest film Taxfree, we also take a look back at previous films Shower and Sweet Things and discuss what he has planned for the future.
– A heads up that there’s some NSFW material in this short.
Your latest film Taxfree focuses on human trafficking – what was it that attracted you to this subject and how did you decide on the angle for your story?
We came over some research that outlined the world of indoor prostitution, usually what one sees is the outdoor prostitution. We met some of our own prejudices as well as we discovered the heavy organized and complex world of indoor prostitution. We wanted to tell the story in how someone loses one’s humanity and turns into a commodity in the eyes of others. I also wanted to make a film that took place in more than one location, our film turned into this uncomfortable road movie that showed this transformation.
I want to provoke them to think, so the film stays with the audience when it is finished.
The film carries on from your other shorts, in that it feels like a discussion starter, how important is it for you as a filmmaker that your works covers current topics and provokes conversation?
I think all good art should touch upon themes that are vital for our society, good or bad. It’s a responsibility I put on myself and socially-orientated themes tend to interest me, so I want to develop a perspective to tell them in a new way. I do not want to facilitate an audience for the length of a film, I want to provoke them to think, so the film stays with the audience when it is finished. Not in the way of presenting an answer, but ask uncomfortable questions and to disclose a theme that was not that familiar.
Much like Sweet Things (although maybe not like Shower), Taxfree feels like it avoids the more ‘in-your-face’ approach to storytelling in favour of employing subtlety to tell its tale, is this something your purposefully try to do in your filmmaking and if so why?
Yes definitely, I think a subtle approach to all aspects of filmmaking is much more interesting to work with and also to respect the intelligence of the audience. Today most can connect the dots, one does not need to be served it on a silver platter. I work in fiction, but I want to be as authentic and realistic as possible, I do a lot of research into the themes and the reality of the film I want to make. Reality is quite subtle, so it makes more sense that the acting should be subtle and nuanced, as well as the film language from the visuals, rhythm and sound.
I want to create a space in my films where the audience are at unease at what is unfolding on the screen, I feel subtle strategies give much more tension and suspense. Especially in Sweet Things that are about unhealthy behavioral patterns and power plays. It is much more provoking to see the antagonist do this so subtly it is impossible to arrest him for it.
Although Shower is much more extreme than Taxfree and Sweet Things it is actually the audience themselves that creates the most extreme actions in their minds. All the sexual and violent actions happen under the picture frame. So, in terms of it being quite extreme the actual film is quite subtle. At least I think so. The setting in Shower is a much more private sphere with none other present, therefore the characters can allow themselves to be more extreme than the other films that have more characters and are less private and more in public.
What can you tell us about the production of Taxfree and how did this compare to the production on your previous shorts?
We made Taxfree as a response to a short film competition. We had done some initial research on the theme some months earlier, but from when we decided to enter the competition and got the initial idea, it took us 2.5 months to premiering at the competition.
I use a lot of the same crew in my films, we are never a very big crew but I think the total of crew on Taxfree was 13-14 people. It was shot on Alexa, I’m not very equipment savvy, so forgive me for not remembering the lenses. It was edited on Avid, in regard to sound design I do not remember the software.
Taxfree was intense, usually we spend longer on the script and post-production. It took 2.5 days to shoot. For both Shower and Sweet Things we had one day to shoot, but longer script and post-production processes.
A short film should not last more than 10 minutes or max 15 in my opinion.
What attracts you to the short film format and what’s your main aim from making these films?
The short film format is great, less rules than a feature and you can show just a scene or a scenario and shave it down to the bone. One can play around with stories and script until you find the pure, core of what you want to tell, so the intensity is much easier to obtain than in a feature. Also, a short film should be short, I do not want to make miniature features. A short film should not last more than 10 minutes or max 15 in my opinion.
What are you working on next?
I’m doing my best to develop feature projects. I work closely with Line Dalheim on the scripts and with the backing of our Producer Petter Onstad Løkke. I of course always strive to find a subject matter that is important, often social commentary or take on a taboo theme. I’m going to be honest, I like to provoke and work with controversial themes. I am strangely comfortable in the uncomfortable. Soon, in a couple of years maybe, you are going to see something in a longer format from us.