If you prescribe to the traditional structure of judging a successful script by three basic components: character, desire and conflict then it’s obvious why Exposed (Eksponert), directed by Anna Fredrikke Bjerke from a screenplay by writer/actor Vilde Moberg, doesn’t miss a beat. The cleverly crafted narrative was the perfect fit for the changing world Bjerke found herself in and having already built up a professional relationship with Moberg, Exposed was poised to take on a life of its own. Bjerke was last featured on Directors Notes with reflective portrait of the grieving process Outline and her latest project doesn’t shy away from tackling another challenging piece of subject matter. The Norwegian talent forces her audience to reflect on the thorny themes of unbalanced power structures and skewed gender expectations that play out in the form of a theatre rehearsal where young actors are navigating their own places in a rapidily politically changing world. The script is also based on Moberg’s own experiences making her the perfect fit for the lead protagonist role. We spoke to Bjerke about the pitfalls of releasing work in this uncertain age of hybrid festivals and the visceral reaction she had to the script that compelled her to be a part of it.
Exposed is an intricate collaboration between you and Vilde Moberg, how did you two come together to make the film?
As a director, this is the first film that I did not write but I always wanted to direct something that explored the artistic struggle of producing theatre, and, in particular, the rehearsal process of a play. Then Vilde, who is a trained theatre actress, came to me with the screenplay for Exposed, which is inspired by real events and was written with actors in mind. Its examination of the frustration that makes us question our artistic integrity and portrayal of a woman at a crossroads both professionally and personally was immediately recognizable.
What is the line between right and wrong? Between want and need? How do we fulfil it as humans?
Thinking about my own place, as a woman and an artist, two unshakable and ultimately equal halves, in a confusing and exciting politically changing world, I wanted to get involved with a project that tackles the systems of power which keep women and minorities down. Moreover, I was interested in exploring the notion of boundaries that the film evokes: What is the line between right and wrong? Between want and need? How do we fulfil it as humans – what if we don’t? Where all of this begins to blur is what I find really fascinating.
As this was your first directing project where you weren’t the writer, were there any hurdles you faced working together?
Vilde had been working on the script for nearly a year when she brought it to me. We had worked together in different capacities on a few short films and a web series by that time. She initially wanted me to provide her with feedback, but I had such a visceral reaction to the material that I asked her if I could come on board as a director. I talked her through how I wanted to approach the story visually and contributed some changes to the script which Vilde agreed on, such as setting it in three acts. Vilde was very open to my ideas and suggestions, and we continued having a very collaborative dialogue on story and character all the way through the very end.
I had such a visceral reaction to the material that I asked her if I could come on board as a director.
During our conversation early on, we discussed how films such as John Cassavetes’ Opening Night and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan used the confines of their spaces to their advantage, their use of color to convey emotion and specific camera movements as a way of referencing the changing psyche of the protagonist and rising tension during the ensemble’s conversation which we wanted to apply to Exposed.
Apart from the already mentioned greats, who do you draw from in your work and how do you use that inspiration to develop your own style?
I draw inspiration from so many different places. Mainly literature, theatre, photography, paintings, and music. This relates back to my interdisciplinary bachelor’s studies at Central Saint Martins in London, which encouraged me to pursue a wide variety of artistic disciplines. At the time, I was just searching for ways to express myself through different mediums, which I now draw upon in my directorial work.
As for style, it changes slightly with each film, as it is whatever serves the story, its characters, and its theme. But I continue to be inspired by filmmakers such as Jane Campion, Mike Leigh, Paul Thomas Anderson, and the late Jean-Marc Vallée.
Were you worried about the reception of the film given that it’s broaching such a sensitive topic in the industry?
No, I was more focused on getting it made, as we were shooting it during the pandemic, which definitely had its challenges. I became more conscious of how it would be received when we got into The Norwegian Short Film Festival but seeing as it was hybrid last year, with only filmmakers being able to attend the in-person screenings, I didn’t get any sense of audience reactions. And I haven’t been able to attend any other festival screenings. It’s been a strange time to release new work.
I wanted to get involved with a project that tackles the systems of power which keep women and minorities down.
The final scene is simply brilliant and brought together with the accompanying music, was this created after filming?
It’s all in Vilde’s script, with the music. I sent an earlier version of the film to composer Anna Berg, who improvised a number of tracks that we continued working with in the editing. It was a very collaborative process that way.
Can you tell us more about your edit – what was your process to arrive at the final product?
We shot the film with the director of photography Simon M. Valentine’s BMPCC 4K camera using Rokinon lenses over three days and completed post-production over several months while we were on different jobs. I was a coordinator and a director’s assistant on a feature film directed by Jakob Rørvik, and Vilde was on tour with a theatrical performance in Sweden. This prolonged post-production period actually turned out to our advantage, as we got to really try out different things in the editing room. It was a matter of availability. It turned out to be a great way of trying out different impulses that arose and gave us the time to fine-tune the rhythm of the dialogue-heavy second act. I have to praise Mathias Hamre Askeland’s patience and willingness in this process.
What’s next for you?
I am developing my debut feature film, among other long-form projects, and continue to weave the worlds of narrative, commercial, and music.