“In the eyes of children every friendship is forever”
He is a director, she is a producer and together they’re the Filmbin team. After a series of short films, Christian Lo and Trine Aadalen Lo are now presenting their first feature. RAFIKI, still keeping alive the sparkles that were so distinctive for ‘Baluba Runa’, ‘Ramp’ and ‘Iver’, tells about 3 best friends trying to save one of them from being sent back to her African home country. With no other clue than an address, Julie and Mette sneak onto the night train, trying to find their friend Naima.
RAFIKI has a compact storyline: straightforward and quite cut to the bone.
Trine Aadelen Lo: “We worked on the script over a long period. During the process we constantly asked ourselves: ‘Do we really need this scene?’ We peeled off everything that wasn’t needed. Now every scene adds a new and essential element to the story.”
Christian Lo: “Blame it on the financial crisis. We didn’t get as much money as we hoped for, so we had to make adjustments. RAFIKI was made on a budget of approximately € 2 million.”
For a girls’ movie…
Christian: “I don’t see it that way! As a child I loved those children’s classics like PIPI LONGSTOCKING and RONIA THE ROBBER’S DAUGHTER and I never considered them girls’ movies.”
Trine: “We had three girls in the main roles but the movie was never polished into that direction. We didn’t focus on the girlish elements, on the contrary. On the poster we’ve put all the boyish elements up front: a train, a snowball fight,… Once we get the boys inside the cinema, we know they’ll like the movie. In the test screenings they were – a bit clumsily – trying to hide their tears too.”
How did you balance the dynamics amongst the three girls? Especially Julia, who is the weakest link in the group, is depicted in an elaborate way.
Christian: “In the first draft Julia was a Pipi Longstocking-type of girl: brave and cool. We realized that if we made her more shy and obedient, afraid to speak out in public, that would make her story a much bigger adventure and it would intensify the audience’s level of identification. Naisa is the tough girl and Mette is the ‘comic relief character’: very ambitious and not aware of any boundaries or limitations.”
Trine: “The casting process is the last phase in the script’s development. Meeting the children adds flesh to the bony framework of the script. That’s when the characters come alive.”
The parents’ characters are mirrored in their offspring.
Christian: “That’s how we intensified the friction between Julia and her father, who’s a rather strict policeman. Julia struggles with a dilemma between doing the right thing according to dad’s rules and regulations or doing the right thing according to her heart.”
Trine: “To make this police man a bit more accessible, we made him bend the rules just a tiny bit. That’s typical for all Christian’s films: children evaluate every situation by their own morality about what is fair and what is not. In the short film ‘Iver’, a little boy is thrown out of the swimming pool by a rigid pool guard. But when he breaks into the swimming pool at night, he traps the guard breaking the rules for taking a nightly swim. Children are intrigued by the question: What is right? What is fair?”
Not one character in the film is ridiculed; everyone is treated with respect.
Christian: “I remember how much as a child I hated those ridiculed bad guys in movies. It means the director doesn’t believe in his own drama. For children the situations are much more threatening if the adults are real. The only one-dimensional character on the edge of being ridiculous is a politician. Once we tried to give him a certain background, but we lost the perspective of the children.”
Did you consider at any time a less happy ending?
Christian: “That has been discussed. We found inspiration for the script in a newspaper article about a similar situation. I insisted on telling this story since it is a part of children’s lives nowadays. Most cases don’t get a happy ending. The children in RAFIKI experience that pain of loss and farewell. But it’s our motto that a young audience always deserves hope. Naima’s problem doesn’t get solved permanently. They just say her case will be re-opened. So there is hope.”
Nowhere in the film is explained what the word ‘rafiki’ means.
Trine: It means ‘friend’ or ‘companion’ in Swahili; in Arab that is ‘rafiq’. But we didn’t feel the need for an explanation.”
Christian: “In the eyes of children friendship is a huge thing; every friendship is forever. Adults know this doesn’t always match with reality. In my opinion children should keep this strong belief alive. RAFIKI shows you should fight for the things you believe in. Don’t give up on what is important to you.”
A lot of filming was done in the snow. How did that work out?
Christian: “Complicated. All day long the crew stood knee deep in snow and the cold made it hard to move. But snow defines where we come from. Sleigh riding is what an average Norwegian child does. So it’s a natural part of telling a story taking place in Norway.”
With Christian as director and Trine as producer Filmbin is more or less a family business.
Trine: “It works very well. With Arild Tryggestad, our editor, there is a third person involved in our production company Filmbin. We met at film school and filmmaking has always been a part of our lives ever since. It gives us more pleasure than problems and the fact that we know each other so well avoids a lot of quarrelling. Even our son is in RAFIKI, playing the role of the baby. Luckily we shot those scenes a few days before he started learning to walk!”