“If you don’t have a community in which to mirror yourself, then who are you?” – quoting the documentary film DARK BLOSSOM (2021) by danish film- and music video-director Frigge Fri. Tomorrow her film will be screened at DIAMETRALE – Filmfestival in Innsbruck.
DARK BLOSSOM follows the story of a vulnerable teenage friendship, which leaves you with a feeling as if you’ve just watched a dramatic feature film. Unusual for documentaries, it has a very artistic feel, where each filmstill can be seen as an artwork of its own – for its aesthetic cinematography, but also for its characters – Josephine, Nightmare and Jay – who are visually expressing their inner world to the outside, thus turning into DIY artworks themselves. At the end, not only we as viewers were moved by this film, but also director Frigge Fri, as she tells us in the interview.
Dear Frigge Fri, how are you? Are you in Denmark at the moment?
I’m fine, yeah. I’m in Denmark. We have this big documentary festival CPH:DOX coming up and I’m a jury there. It will be a crazy week, I think, with a lot of film-watching. Therefore, I can’t come to Innsbruck for DIAMETRALE – it’s so sad.
I’m curious about your background – why did you do this documentary film about teenagers in Goth Culture?
I’m 32 years old now and for my whole life I’ve been somehow not fitting in this world. I grew up in a small place outside Copenhagen, which was not that far from the big city, but far enough to be isolated from alternative spaces. So, when I was starting this film, it came from a really personal place. I was looking for young people who are good in creating universes around themselves, who are trying to make their own spaces, because it’s hard for them to be in their surroundings.
How did you find the characters for your movie?
I was researching on Instagram, because I thought, if I was a teenager, I would have really loved to create insta-postings in form of a personal diary. So, I was kind of casting on Instagram and found this girl, Josephine. I connected with her, because she somehow reminded me of my own teenage-time, just in a more cool way.
So, first you had the idea of doing this documentary film and then you started searching for the main characters…
Exactly, yeah. I had this idea of finding a strong subculture and making a tribute to its weirdness or quirkiness. I was missing this kind of film when I was a teenager. I would have loved to look at nice people who were just different, in a way.
When you were a teenager, did you also miss this kind of subculture in your life – a community you could connect with?
For some years I was alone, I was more in a punk scene, but I was alone with it. When I got closer to the capital, it didn’t take me so long to find friends that looked like me, but in that age of a teenager, one year is a long time, so it felt like many years of just looking for people where I could mirror myself.
I think, the Goth Culture is not specifically mentioned in the film, but you can grasp it somehow. Would this film have worked for you also with portraying a different subculture, like punk or anything?
I mean, it stands in the PR text that it was about Goth Culture, people had to write down what the film is about, but for me it was not that interesting to do a specific subculture thing…
Actually, at the beginning, I was filming a lot of different subcultures. I wanted to portray a strong community and individuals who were good in expressing themselves – in a way of expressing their inner feelings with a visual style. But, somehow this Goth-subculture turned out to be the strongest. I was really fascinated about their inner darkness, but at the same time, it was also super soft and sweet and nothing about anger. I really loved this combination.
What can you say about Jutland, the small northern town, where the film is set – what kind of place is it?
It’s a very beautiful nature place, close to the ocean. It’s a really rough ocean. Somehow it’s a massive place, but it’s completely dead – there are no buses that go there, you really need a car or somebody who can drive you. So, it’s also a weird place to be as a teenager. You cannot go anywhere, you can just stay in this countryside, in this kind of town where there is only one supermarket, one kiosk, one bakery and this little, like, discotheque or club, where all the young people go, but, of course it’s more a popular, pop culture place… and that’s all.
Quite at the beginning of the film there is a roadkill scene, showing a dead animal in a close-up, which was a bit disturbing – I was not expecting to see this in that kind of movie. Also, throughout the film, roadkills and stuffed animals appear as something central. I was curious, why you gave this element so much space in your film?
It was clear to me that in the beginning of the film I need to show that it’s a film about a really strong friendship that will never fall apart. Three friends that are just against the world. I clearly saw how fascinated they all were about the roadkills, the bones and about really looking at something of which people think that was disgusting. For me, this was just a very nice way in going into their eyes and fascinations.
How was it working together with the teenagers? I imagine, it can be really challenging to gain their trust and to portrait them in a way they also like and are comfortable with…
I think, it started when I contacted Josephine on Instagram. I just wrote her: “you look really nice, I’m doing films, maybe you have time to talk, I’d be curious to hear about your life” and she almost immediately anwered like “can you talk in half an hour? I’m so bored, I’m at school, but I can go now” – she was like: “oh, this is my savior”.
In a way, it was really easy to get close to them, but they are really so focused about their look, so it was a hard thing to give them trust that this film is not about trying to take of their mask. I was not really interested in enfolding the persons behind the make-up, I was more like: what is this make up for you? It was not about taking it off, but more like showing it and enjoying the view of it.
But of course, it was sometimes also difficult being around them with camera in all different kind of situations…
Did you change something on their visual appearance – their style, their make-up, their clothing – for the film or were they always themselves?
There were some scenes which were more planned in a way, like the one were Josephine has green blinking eyes. But most of it is just themselves – they are professionals in their style. I enjoyed that they showed up all the time in such nice uniforms.
I was wondering, while the Goth Culture is so central in your film – which is mainly associated with darkness – your film is so colorful. I mean, you could’ve also just made it appear very dark, aesthetic wise…
Of course. I think, they surrounded themselves with a lot of colors, so the film got super intense with colors. And maybe it’s also my aesthetics that came in: the flowers and trying to make it seem like they were growing – or about to expand – in a way. Yeah, it’s actually kind of funny that it ended up so colorful, because they are clearly more black and dark, yeah.
You just mentioned the flowers and their growing which can be seen as a metaphor for the genre as coming-of-age-story. The characters, especially Josephine, are developing throughout the film. Was it your purpose from the beginning to also show kind of a development of their personalities?
When I started the film, I was sure that it was a film about a strong friendship against the world. And I knew that I would follow Josephine who was trying to move from her small city. This was kind of the storyline for me and then, I was just following her life. So, when she fell in love, I thought, this could be her way out of the city, because maybe she will move in with him. Then it got so clear that she was changing, maybe, because it was not so important for her anymore to have this subculture to lean on. But yeah, it was really weird following a process which suddenly became kind of a goth story growing out of goth in a way, while their friends were staying in the culture.
So, it was even surprising for you to see what’s going to happen with the story?
Yeah, I think with documentaries it’s always difficult to know. I would have never known that they would break up as friends, that was crazy for me, because it was so important for them to have each other, but of course, that can happen all the time.
How much time did you spend with them together during the whole process?
It was a period of three years, we met like once a month, something like that. But of course, I was waiting for Josephine to move, because I wanted to see where she ended up, so it was also a lot of time just waiting.
Three years is a long time, especially in teenager’s age – they are changing a lot. Were you afraid during the process that maybe you could not finish the project, because they could loose their interest?
That’s always a concern with doing documentaries – that the people you are filming become tired of the process. But we had a lot of talks about it, and for them, it was also important to do the film, because they also missed this kind of film-showing which portraits ‘other’ characters of Denmark. For example, Nightmare, he was also like “I really need to make this film about me, so that young homosexual guys can see that there is actually room for people like us”.
In the film there is a scene at WGT Leipzig [one of the most popular Goth Festivals]. Have you been there before? Were you also dressed up?
No, no. It was my first time. It was amazing! They dressed me up a bit, it was so nice! And then, in Leipzig, I was mostly without the camera and just partying with them, it was so much fun. Also, the community is so nice and sweet. I mean, I have been in the punk scene, which is so rough, but this one is so polite, the people are really amazing.
How about the soundtrack – did you choose the titles, or did they come from the teenagers?
There was a small scene in the film where Nightmare is doing music. He has this producer, „Sooner“, that’s how they call him. I was filming them when they were doing music, so it was clear to me that Sooner should do the soundtrack for the film, because he is a professional composer who knew the subculture, but also used to work with film music, so he became part of the film process, and Nightmare did some vocals on the songs. This was great. There is a lot of their own sound in the film, I really like that.
Did this process of filmmaking also change the music you are listening to – do you listen to Goth music in your private life now?
Yeah, I think that became very big for me. This groovy-nice-80s sound – it’s really amazing.
Are you still in touch with the teenagers?
I am. But just in these small text messages – with a lot of hearts and, you know, sending good vibes. (laughs)
All in all, would you say that doing this documentary film changed something in yourself?
For sure. I mean, it has been so inspiring meeting them. They have such a tough luggage to carry, they have some hard experiences in growing up and being so different in their surroundings. I’m seeing them as such inspiring and strong persons. It has been amazing for me, meeting young people with so much power and it was really hard to watch how the community around them can be so rough on them – just because they were looking a little different…
It’s so much more than about aesthetics and expressing themselves, it’s really fascinating to see that you can use all your inner emotions – your darkness, your happiness, everything – and express them with your looks.
Do you also implement that in your life now?
I’m trying – but they are so much better in it. But I try to stick to it and to not being so afraid of showing my inner life on the outside.
How were the reactions to this film – from the audience in general, but also from the teenagers – how did they like it?
Let’s start with the teenagers. Of course, it was rough, because they were not friends at that moment when they saw the film. It was really a hard time. Watching this film, they found out what their friendship also was. I think, they have somehow forgotten about all the nice stuff – which is normal when you are angry. So, it felt like a therapy, in a way, to watch it together. And now, of course, they are not best friends, but they support each other, so it’s really nice to see that with the film, they kind of found each other again.
And people from the regular audience, they were really happy about the film. When I was making it, I thought, it would be a really small arthouse film, but somehow it became more. I think, people can relate to this feeling of searching for yourself and trying to find out who you are, these are just normal questions, in a way, and then this amazing look on top of it…
I think, it must be amazing for the teenagers to have this film as a document of their life now. It’s really beautiful.
Yeah, it must be really crazy for them to be in this film in that way. (laughs)
| Brigitte Egger