Nina Knag

Photo by Camilla Glaister

Photo by Camilla Glaister

Nina Knag (b. 1984) is a Norwegian screenwriter and director. In her work, she combines realism and poetry in a cinematic universe often seen through the eyes of children and young people. She has written and directed many award-winning shorts, including It’s Alright (Vi kan ikke hjelpe alle) and Towards the Sun (Å snu seg mot solen), which has been screened at film festivals around the world. Knag has also directed music videos for various artists and taken part in Berlinale’s Talent Campus. She is a recipient of the Norwegian State Grant for Young Film Artists and is currently in development for her first feature film, Siblings (Søsken).

On engaging with youth culture onscreen: 
Since I started making films, I’ve written about kids and youth. I think it’s because I still have my own teenage years fresh in my mind, and it’s easy to write about because I remember how I felt during that time and I can relate to the characters I’m creating. I’m also fascinated by the time between childhood and adulthood, when we are shaped as human beings. We are so vulnerable in those years, and sometimes small things can turn everything upside down—that's a good source to good drama, I think. I don’t always write about girls, but most of the time it just comes naturally to me, maybe because I’m a girl and I use my own life experience in my writing and directing. I also miss strong female characters in film and now, when I have the chance to write exciting female characters, I think I would be stupid not to seize that chance.

Helene Bergsholm and Alette Johanne Hellesoy in It's Alright. Still by Director of Photography Karl Erik Brøndbo.

Helene Bergsholm and Alette Johanne Hellesoy in It's Alright. Still by Director of Photography Karl Erik Brøndbo.

On the making of her film, It’s Alright (Vi kan ikke hjelpe alle): 
The film’s freely based on the prize-winning short story, Vi kan ikke hjelpe alle (We Can't Help everybody) by Ingvild H. Rishøi. I read the story, cried because I was so touched, and called the author the following day to ask for the rights. I’ve been following Ingvild’s writing for many years, and I felt a connection to her stories and characters, so when I read Vi kan ikke hjelpe alle, I knew immediately that the short story would be a great starting point for a film. I’m really honored and happy that I was allowed to adapt the story.

On casting the film: 
I was really nervous about the casting, because the lead role was a five-year-old, but when Alette Johanne Hellesøy Sæle, who plays Alexa, came into the room and started doing all this fantastic improvisation and showed so much empathy, I was so impressed, and I thought to myself: This is Alexa!

When it comes to Helene Bergsholm, who plays the young mother, I knew before we tried her for the role that she was perfect, because I had seen a clip from the feature film Revenge (Hevn), where she plays a role. I didn’t audition any other girls for this role; I was so sure about Helene, and it turned out to be a very good decision. It was really important for me that Helene and Alette would meet and get to know each other before the shooting, and we had some great days of play and improvisation together. Helene is really good with children, so Alette loved her from the first moment, and they had a great chemistry, which I think really shows in the final result. My main focus when making a film is the actors, so for me, working with them before shooting was crucial.

On her first feature film, Siblings:
I’m working on writing my first feature film, Siblings (Søsken). The film is an adaptation of a short story by Ingvild H. Rishøi (from the same book as Vi kan ikke hjelpe alle), and tells the story of 16-year-old Rebekka, who is doing everything to keep her younger siblings gathered and the child care at a distance, but in a sudden meeting with youth and an intoxicating new friendship, everything starts to collapse. It’s a universal coming-of-age story about sibling love and a young girl’s wish for belonging. Rebekka is a tough female protagonist, and I’m really excited about diving deeper into this universe together with my co-writer, Helena J. Nielsen.

On the need for more female leaders in the film world: 
I think we need more female directors and more women in lead roles to increase diversity in film stories. For this to happen, the producers, sponsors, and decisionmakers at the top of the industry must dare to give women directors a chance to show what they are worth. I think there’s still a lot of skepticism toward hiring a female director, and that’s part of the problem…. In Norway, we have a 40/60 arrangement, so the Norwegian Film Institute tries to encourage female filmmakers to apply for funding, which is great, but unfortunately we still have a long way to go. We see more and more strong women fighting their way through the industry around the world, and most of my favorite films these days are by female filmmakers, so I think that’s a really good sign. We just have to continue fighting for equality and for the same rights as our male colleagues. ★