Interview with Filmmaker Nora Jaenicke (WHALES)

WHALES played to rave reviews at the September 2018 Female FEEDBACK Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Nora Jaenicke: I wrote the screenplay for the feature version of Whales, the short film, over ten years ago. The idea didn’t let me go, so I decided to make a short film version in order to find the funding for the feature. It is a story that feels very close to me for various reasons. I like films that deal with family issues and psychological thrillers. In writing Whales I wanted to blend these elements into a cohesive story and build a lot of tension into it. I have also always wanted to make a film back home where I grew up in Italy and with Whales it was my goal to develop dimensional characters with interesting inner lives and construct realistic and extremely tense relationships between them. The gorgeous setting of the Italian island stands in great contrast with the dark themes that the story tackles.

Separated by the passing of time and different upbringings, the two sisters unexpectedly find their lives linked back together by the forces of remembrance and forgiveness. How do we forgive and forget, are the main themes that the audience is left with at the end. Is it actually possible to forgive?

Margot and Louise also mark two complementary behaviours, two destinies that start from the sensitive core of family ignorance, while they are censured by the inability to communicate, but also by the somewhat social and religious taboos of the need not to disturb the gruesome and commemorative silence of their mother’s recent death.

The film is a journey into their past, not necessarily a new beginning. Perhaps the realisation that the past can’t be changed and that the most one can do in the present, is to decide, for oneself, whether forgiving or forgetting is even possible.

Each one of the film’s characters has his own version of the truth. The colliding of all these truths is what I find the most fascinating.
The fact that each one of these family members, has a completely different perspective upon what happened.

Although there is (almost) never any visible sex or violence, I wanted the film to feel extreme, as well dressed, well behaved people try to colonize one another with a tenacity that borders on the savage.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I was able to make this film thanks to my amazing Producer Darren Cole, who helped raise the initial funds and a very small team. Out on the island it was only me, the Director of Photography, a dear friend who helped assist the production, the actors and the Sound Mixer. We spent two weeks at a very generous friend’s house on the gorgeous Island of Elba in Italy and we shot the film in less than a week. The first week we were busy with organising everything, from the location scouting to rehearsing with the actors.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Forgetting and Forgiving.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The obstacles were a creative challenge that ended up enriching the experience while allowing me to come up with resourceful ideas. Hunger makes the good cook, is my motto…

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I found it very refreshing and interesting. Some of the comments I never heard before. All in all it was an honor to hear that my film triggered such an interesting discussion.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

I wrote the feature version of this short over ten years ago, and I always had a fascination with psychological dramas that border into thrillers. I like character driven films and strong women with interesting inner lives. I have a sister myself so in a way Whales is also a homage to sisterhood.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Volver by Almodovar, Thelma and Louise by Ridley Scott, Lolita by Adrian Lyne.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I like filmfreeway. Lots of fun festivals out there. The site is very easy to navigate.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Maybe “Baby Can I hold you” by Tracy Chapman. But this was in pre spotify times, when there wasn’t such a vast amount of music out there and at ones fingertip.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

The feature version of Whales which I am developing with my Producers Kim Muenster and Darren Cole.

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