Next week I return to Mesna in Norway, to take part in Birkebeinerspelet 2018. The following is an interview I undertook for the programme.
Photographer and author Ian Brodie has many years’ experience in the film industry. He has specialised in film location tourism, and has published a number of location guidebooks that showcase the beautiful places in his native New Zealand where both the the Lord of the Rings and the The Hobbit film trilogies were shot.
In 2012 he was invited to speak at a film tourism conference in Lillehammer, having never been to Norway before. At the conference he met representatives from the Norwegian film industry including Paradox Film. In 2014 they asked him to be unit stills photographer on Birkebeinerne. The rest, as they say, is history. Ian now spends many months every year in Norway working on a number of varied projects.
– I fell in love with Norway immediately, says Brodie. – To me, it was a lot like home, like New Zealand, another Middle-earth, but with a long history and a broad mythology that actually inspired Tolkien.
– The people, too, are similar: sensible, practical, reserved till you get to know them, but very dependable. Norway and New Zealand are the only places in the world where I can sign a contract with a handshake, laughs Brodie. – It sounds old-fashioned, but I love that.
Coming to Mesna to work on the Birkebeinerne sets, Brodie also had to get close to the horses.
– I was really very nervous of horses! Says Brodie. – But coming here and seeing how they behave, how smart they are, how sensitive and how gentle, I fell in love with them too. And of course, the Icelandic horses are not so big, he smiles. – Photographing them, I got to know how unbelievably controlled they are, they can come charging at the camera and stop dead with the smallest of signals. I learned to trust the horses. And the riders!
– And of course I met this incredible couple, Camilla and Kristoffer. They had worked with their horses on the Birkebeinerne film, got hold of some of the sets from the movie and wanted to develop film location tourism at Mesna. They got funding from Innovation Norway, and brought me in as a mentor and advisor. And sitting around the table with the family, the idea of an outdoor play came up. And so it grew from there.
Brodie had no previous experience of outdoor plays. He had been to see Peer Gynt at Gålå, but nothing in the winter. When he told people back in New Zealand about the idea they just thought “those crazy Norwegians!”
– But at the same time, their eyes were like dinner plates, says Brodie. – A play outside in winter, with horses, and fire, and live action… It has an obvious world-wide appeal! I mean, wow!
So it doesn’t matter that the actors speak Norwegian?
– Not at all! The spectacle, and the amazing location by the lake, it makes it a unique event regardless of whether you can follow the dialogue. The main thread of the story is universal, the protection of a baby, and the Viking associations also makes the story accessible to an international audience. The emotion is there and keeps your attention all the time, and the action happens right in front of you!
What is it about this place, and about Norway, that you think might appeal to an international audience?
– I am a landscape photographer. I love the quiet of Norway in the winter, and the stunning landscapes, that are even more stunning in the winter, the starkness of the snow, and the way the sky becomes even bluer… There are colours here in the winter that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. But what is also special here is the connection of people to these landscapes – everywhere there are traces of people you can see that history is there, mythology becomes real. And that is also what you get when you watch this play from your hay-bale seat up on the snow tribune: you are not just being entertained, you are part of something that’s alive and unique.
For more information visit the Birkebeinerspelet website.
Scenes from Birkebeinerspelet 2017.