Swedish film director Joanna Nordahl
Joanna Perez Nordahl from Lund, Sweden, is recognized internationally for her work as a film director. She is these days based between Stockholm, where she’s been for the last 11 years, and east London, although her work regularly takes her to different parts of the world.
Mainly known for her documentaries, music videos, short films and commercials, Joanna also receives a strong interest for her contemporary performance pieces, both as a director and visual artist.
“Memories, dreams, youth, time and nostalgia are some reoccurring themes in Joanna’s work, often tightly woven into musical elements.”
Her work has been featured at many prestigious festivals around the world such as San Fransisco International Dance Film Festival, Göteborg International Film Festival, Dance Film Festival Milano, and Amnesty International Short Film festival, to mention a few, and in February 2016, Joanna received a double Swedish Grammy nomination for Music Video of the Year, and took home the grand prize for writing/directing the short film "Nothing But a Heartbeat", a collaboration with dreamy pop act Say Lou Lou.
How did your great career as a film director unfold?
For me it started with a deep interest in theatre, music, acting and dancing on stage at a very young age. I developed an interest for directing in high school; it felt like a very natural thing for me to do. I would get nervous before directing something, but then feel surprisingly calm as soon as I was actually doing it. I later applied but wasn’t accepted in to any of the major film schools, so I decided to take a program at a public “Folkhögskola” (folk high school) as well as start assisting / interning for creatives in the industry that I looked up to. That was a massive turning point for me – I had imagined that the fancy film schools would be the only road to finding work in the business, but it turned out that working as an assistant would lead me to more interesting jobs quite fast. It’s been ten years since then, and about five years ago is when I decided to stop assisting completely to solely focus on my own directing. Until then I had been directing free projects between paid projects, but I realized the only way to actually grow and develop my skills would be to take the risk of just going for it.
What has been your personal key to success?
I surround myself with people that both inspire me and push me to do better / not settle for less than the full potential of a project. That to me is the key – no (wo)man is an island. I think there’s a myth that all “true” artists do everything by themselves and need complete control of every element in a process. To me the real magic happens when I collaborate with great people. I’ll give them a creative brief but then have them make their own decisions. That makes the job more fun for everyone, and people work way harder when they agree with or contribute to the vision creatively.
What are the pros and cons within the line of work you do?
What I love about this job is that there is no typical day. I never know what’s around the corner. I’d say that the insecurity about what the future holds is both the major pro and con for a person like me. I love the excitement of not knowing what the next big project might be. And I love the freedom that the job gives me. I can’t see myself ever going back to a nine to five job. Being in charge of your own time is such a privilege. It’s also a tough responsibility. The big con is that it’s hard to plan anything and sometimes scary when there are long periods without work, or with lot’s of cancellations etc. You just have to have trust in that the jobs will come. I’m sure I will have a less chill relationship to this insecurity the day I have kids.
Do you find it challenging to be a female director in such a male dominated industry?
I don't think about this stuff when on set directing, I actually feel completely free then - I just do my job and surround myself with good people, but I quite often reflect over the time and money one spends outside work on looking "beautiful" and "staying young" simply to live up to certain expectations and fit the role of a “nice, professional looking woman”. I would rather spend that time developing my skills. But looking “presentable”, i.e. wearing the perfectly accepted amount of makeup, doing my hair, keeping track of my weight, buying nice clothes and fitting into the beauty norm (sadly) makes my job a lot easier since people treat you better when you "look your best". Sexism, lookism and ageism are real issues for all women, and it’s very hard to not feel affected, even if you try very hard.
Another thing that I think every female director (or any minority in any field of work) experiences is that there’s very little room for error. And you don't get many chances. Just looking at the grim Hollywood statistics every year says it all; as a woman you should feel “lucky" and "grateful” to be part of the biz and you have to work extra hard to prove yourself. Multi million dollar budgets are rather given to men who in some cases have never (ever) directed anything before, than to women with decades of experience and expertise on the specific theme of the script. It's not only very upsetting, but it leads of course also to a massive gap in diversity, important perspectives, stories being told and the way they are told.
It's definitely better in Scandinavia. I feel that the film climate is constantly improving. Growing up, I didn’t know of any female Swedish directors and I only had a couple of women in the whole world to look up to. That has changed. People over here are taking action, and since some years back there's an active and open discussion about integrating women and minorities in the industry. It's really great to be part of that and help push the industry forward.
Is there anyone out there in particular you're dying to work with?
Wow, there are so many… Choreographers, actors, set designers, composers, I can’t pick. I love Björk, Daft Punk and Lana Del Rey, they would all be amazing to make videos for. I think my top pick at the moment would be to make some sort of under water film with Wayne Levin, he’s this legendary under water photographer based in Hawaii. I’m obsessed with the ocean. I’m very excited about BBC's Blue Planet 2, it's premiering very soon. I believe one episode is scored by Hans Zimmer and Radiohead, which is very exciting to me.
What has been your favourite project up to date?
It’s a tie between a documentary series I made a few years ago for SVT (Swedish National Television), and this contemporary play I’m touring with. The TV-show, One Wish, was something my producer and I initiated and pushed hard to make happen. We followed teenage hip-hop dancers for a crucial year in their careers and it was such a moving, and challenging experience. The other project, HYPERFRUIT, is a contemporary dance / film live show. I love it because it brings me great joy to be back on the stage as a performer, but most importantly it gives me and my colleagues complete creative freedom, no compromises. The physical meeting with a live audience is very different from posting a film online and waiting for “likes”. I’ve realized I need that in my life.
What are your top 3 favourite films?
I can’t answer that but I’d say that three of my favourite films are Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance), Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) and Back to the future part 2 (Robert Zemeckis).
What do you do when you're not working, and where are your local hangouts?
I love to dance to loud music, so I try to go out on most weekends, but I also to spend a lot of time just relaxing / reloading. I see my friends, go to the movies a lot and cook dinners. In Stockholm I spend most of my time in Södermalm around where I live. Indio Kitchen, Paradiso, Under Bron and Bleck are my most visited spots at the moment.