Sanna Lenken was born in Gothenburg, Sweden and studied film directing at the National Film School (Dramatiska Institutet) in Stockholm. She has also studied film at European Film College in Ebeltoft, Denmark and holds a Master’s in scriptwriting from Dramatiska Institutet. Before starting her work with film, she worked in casting and production for theater and film.
After graduation, Lenken directed the youth TV drama Dubbelliv, which screened for two seasons (2010-2012) on Swedish Television. The series was nominated for Best Drama at the Nordic Children’s Festival and the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. She also created the 30-minute short film Yoghurt in 2010, which was in competition at the Gothenburg Film Festival and won an honorable mention. Her most recent short film, Äta lunch (Eating lunch), has been in competition in Gothenburg, Berlin, and Tribeca and was nominated for a Guldbagge Award.
Her debut film, My Skinny Sister, premiered at Göteborg Film Festival and made its international premiere at Berlinale.
On the making of My Skinny Sister:
The film follows a young girl whose deep admiration of her anorexic sister ultimately causes her problems of her own. But it is also a coming-of-age film.
I dealt with anorexia myself as a teenager, and I felt that I hadn’t seen many films about the topic. I felt a strong need to tell a story about it in the way I experienced it. This disease affects the whole family—not only the sick person. I wanted to make it universal; Even though not everyone can personally identify with an eating disorder, they can at least identify with familial problems…. Everything in the film has happened for real, even though it’s fictional. The emotions are real. The women who inspired me to make it include Andrea Arnold, Catherine Breillat, and Abdellatif Kechiche, among others.
On casting Rebecka and Amy:
It took one year to find Rebecka, the 12-year-old girl who plays the lead. I knew she had to be as great as a professional actor and show all her emotions and be brave. Rebecka is really mature, and the first time I saw her I couldn’t stop looking at her—she has such a fascinating face, so I wanted to look at everything she did. We had to pursue her mother, though, because she thought the film was a bit heavy for a 12-year old. Amy is a famous pop singer in Sweden and she sent a note to my casting director saying that she wanted to apply. I wasn’t sure I wanted a famous person in the film, but Amy was the best of all the girls we met. Both Rebecka and Amy are giving everything, and they are both extremely emotional, like me. I think we were a perfect match. They also fell a bit in love with each other the first time they met, which also was magical for us when we were casting. After such a long search, it was blissful.
On her next project:
I shot a film called Night Child. It is a 45-minute television movie drawn from a comic book by an author called Hanna Gustafsson, about a 14-year-old girl and her sexual awakening. I’m very proud of the film, and I hope it will be screened outside of Sweden, as well. I’m also writing my next feature and working on a television series. But I gave birth to my second daughter three weeks ago, so I have to have some time off before going into that for real.
Constellation chats with the cast of My Skinny Sister:
On how she was cast in Skinny Sister:
I saw online that they were looking for girls who could figure skate and act. I had figure skated as a child from the ages of six to twelve, so I sent an e-mail to the casting director and asked if I could come and audition. I auditioned three times before I got the part, was asked to tape myself while figure skating, and also had to change my accent. I fell in love with the character straightaway and wanted the part more than I’ve wanted anything in my whole life.
On her character, Katja:
Katja is a 17-year-old girl who, ever since she was little, has been applauded for being a “good girl” who accomplishes many things. That praise has turned into a pressure to be perfect that eats away at Katja. Seeing as she’s ill throughout the whole film, I don’t really feel like we get to meet the real Katja—we only see little glimmers of who she really is in some of the loving scenes with her younger sister. Her illness makes Katja manipulative and angry, with a lot of mood swings. She’s fighting a constant battle of trying to keep her illness a secret.
I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout my teen years and still do as an adult. That helped me a lot when trying to understand what Katja is going through. Even though I’ve never had an eating disorder, I know what it feels like to struggle with being kind to yourself and having lots of anxiety. The director helped me understand what an eating disorder does to you mentally: how it affects the way you act and how you feel. The director had suffered from an eating disorder in her teen years, and it helped me to know that she could guide me if I ever felt like there was something I didn’t understand.
On one of her favorite Swedish traditions:
We have a huge tradition in Sweden where we celebrate Midsummer. It’s almost as big as Christmas. We celebrate the arrival of summer by eating special foods, singing songs, and doing shots (called “snapsvisor.”) It’s always a big party!
On how she was cast in Skinny Sister:
I had done some acting in children’s television before, so I was already into it. One day the casting studio asked me if I wanted to go on an audition, and of course, I said yes! I was called back three to four times, and then I got the part.
On her character, Stella:
Stella is a teenager. She’s a person who thinks a lot about life and how to be—but she also stands up for herself. I have siblings myself—two older sisters and one older brother—so this is something I really can relate to. I had that with me all the time: What if this was my sister? How would I feel? What would I do? Before filming My Skinny Sister, I did not think so much about body image and eating disorders, but now, as I have gotten older, I guess I think about it a lot. I often try to stand up for the rights to look as you do and the idea that you are beautiful just the way you are. And Ireally think that’s true. You are beautiful just the way you are. But sometimes it can be easy to compare yourself to others and to the “ideal” body image.
On her most challenging scene:
I had Stella really close to me all the time. I took a lot of myself into her. That made it hard sometimes to get out of myself and into the role. For example, in one of the last scenes, the parents try to force Katja to eat and drink. When I saw them play that scene, I got so touched and emotionally overwhelmed that I started to cry. A lot. ★