A conversation with Tobias Lindholm, director of A HIJACKING


The cargo ship MV Rozen is heading for harbor when it is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Amongst the men on board are the ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) and the engineer Jan (Roland Møller), who along with the rest of the seamen are taken hostage in a cynical game of life and death. With the demand for a ransom of millions of dollars a psychological drama unfolds between the CEO of the shipping company (Søren Malling) and the Somali pirates.

Tobias Lindholm, director of A HIJACKING,  has written several episodes for the DR TV-series THE SUMMERS (2008) and BAFTA winner BORGEN (2009-2010) and was co-writer, together with Thomas Vinterberg, on Vinterberg’s SUBMARINO (2010) which was selected for the Berlinale competition and winner of the Nordic Council Film Prize, and THE HUNT (US release 2013), winner of Best Actor (Mads Mikkelsen), the Vulcain Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Award in Cannes 2012. The prison drama R (2010) was a writer-director collaboration between Lindholm and Michael Noer and marked their debut as feature film directors. R was selected for Rotterdam International Film Festival, won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film in Gothenburg in 2010 and the Danish Critic’s Bodil Award for Best Film in 2011 where Lindholm also received a special commendation for his writing on R and SUBMARINO. A HIJACKING (2012) is Lindholm’s second feature film.

Bijan Tehrani: What motivated you to make this very interesting and exciting film?
Tobias Lindholm: Well first thank you, Denmark is a very small country of Islands, we are five million people living but the whole nation is built on commercial fleets, every family in Denmark has a sailor in their house, brother, father and uncle, someone was working and traveling the world and in the 2007 and 2008 the first two Danish ships were hijacked down there and that suddenly opened my eyes to these problems, my father was a sailor before I was born and I had been looking for a story to tell in this arena, but it was almost too perfect and dramatic and I would always end up writing something that I did not want to do so I was just waiting for the right moment and then realizing that these things were happening I was pretty sure that there was a film in there, so that is what motivated me. At the same time when you hear about a topic like this it is always the numbers, like you have 1,200 hostages in the Indian ocean, for me I don’t feel that and I think that is one of the magical things that you can do which is tell the stories that you did not know existed and make you feel and go through experiences of other people and I definitely want to take the audience for a ride in this hell, especially the ones the sailors have to go through during the negotiation.

BT: How did you actually go about composing the screenplay and how much did you research before making A Hijacking?
TL:  I started to research in the spring of 2008 and I always tried to research before you start writing, I feel that if you start writing too soon then the writing will dictate the story instead of the research and we knew that we wanted to do a story as close to reality as possible, not trying to drag out the clichés of other fictions or even the clichés of the news, but really try to research and we would send out a press release that we wanted to do this film locally and a guy who is really hard to negotiate and he approached me and wanted to share his knowledge and he turned out to be a hostage negotiator who had been in these situations a couple of times, helping companies in the process, so when he came along he actually ended up acting as the negotiator in the film and he would add those elements of reality to the film to make the film play like reality. So finding him and getting in contact with a lot of people he knew helped fill in a lot of the blanks in the script and from there we would just research as much as we could and I started to write the script through him and I noticed that the CEO of the company is also a main character in the film, he plays a hostage in the story. In the beginning of the film I would focus on the ship but I noticed that this was a two-character arena that we could jump back and forth to.

BT: How did you go about casting the film and how did you communicate with those whom had never acted before?
TL: The actors there are great friends of mine and I called them and told them that I would write a part for them, so they had the part even before I had written a word, so they were settled. The rest of the guys, I tried to work with them by asking questions, and then they would come up with the answers because he knows more about this than I do, so yes he is an amateur actor but he is an expert to a situation. The crew of the sailors they are the real crew of MB Rosen the ship and a lot of them had been hostages a couple of years before we had started shooting, so they knew all the details about life as a hostage on board so they would be on the film down below, but at the same time they would help us make situation as they could happen in real life. The greatest gift we ever got was from the actor who played Omar, he was just someone we found on the streets of Copenhagen he was the first Somali guy I ever saw and he was perfect because he did not look like the other guys and he turned out to be this huge talent, he had never acted before, he had just came along and suddenly knowing this I would start to write more scenes for him. Basically it is always about making the actors’ act and making the rest of the guys re-act, to a situation, as they would do in normal life.

BT: How did you come up with the visual style of A HIJACKING?
TL: To make it as real as possible we would re-light both arenas so we never needed to spend any time changing lights or moving around so we would just move around freely and film in any direction. We would watch films like All the President’s Men and a lot of documentaries and we made one simple rule which was that the camera cannot leave the man but the man can leave camera, which basically means that the camera has made a deal with the guy to film him, but once in a while the man will leave the camera and those two seconds of confusion helps us add reality to it, to make it real instead of planning everything and making the actors go to a mark on the floor, we would just make the set big for the film; that put a lot of responsibility on my DP but he is a guy who can carry it and he is a very dear friend of mine and we work together as a team.

BT: What is your next project?
TL: I am right now starting to research in some direction, it will be out of this world, it will be in a non-violent environment and I will work with the same crew and I will write it from this August to Next August. We want to bring Denmark out to the world and do stories where we will see crisis and conflict and drama.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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