In conversation with Paul Risker, director Johannes Nyholm spoke about his new film KOKO-DI KOKO-DA, explaining how it emerged out of a personal experience of loss and was written in a kind of lucid dream.


The film follows Tobias (Leif Edlund Johansson) and Elin (Ylva Gallon), who embark on a camping trip into the woods to try to repair their broken relationship. The couple however find themselves terrorised by a sideshow artist (Peter Belli) and his shady entourage. In spite of their attempts to escape the terrorising nightmare, they wake up at dawn in their tent, forced to relive that one night over and over again.


FRIGHTFEST: Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?


Johannes Nyholm: When I was a kid I really liked theatre and acting, and I was into doing magic tricks as well. So I started with seeing myself as an actor, a clown or a magician [laughs]. Then I found out that in cinema you could be all of those, and I could play around with so many different elements at the same time. It was a gradual understanding of what you could do with cinema that led me in that direction.


FF: Filmmakers have often described the filmmaking process as a constant learning curve. What did you take away from the experience of KOKI-DI KOKO-DA?


JN: It’s important that you are open minded and open to learning. What drives me is a curiosity to learn new stuff, and when I started to make this film, I’d almost never directed actors at all in my life. I’d made music videos and some short films, but nothing with this many people.


I never went to film school, I learned more by hand, by trial and error. I produced this film, directed and edited it, and I wrote the script. There were so many things I hadn’t done before and I learned through the process. What’s also important is trying to not be afraid of being a fool, of making errors, and to try to work with people who don’t judge you when you work in a strange way, because you don’t know any other way - you’ve never learned.


When I work I try to find companions that understand me and I also think about them in the same way. You can make errors and do whatever you like, but then after a while you move to a similar goal.


This aspect of making things for the first time when you don’t really know it is interesting. You can feel unnerved by something that’s not perfect, that there’s some kind of glitch to it, and it can be very hard to construct if you’ve planned it.


FF: If stories are told by imperfect beings, is the idea of perfection a naïve ambition for a storyteller?


JN: The hardest thing when making films is to get something that is true and alive. If you plan something too much, or if you know the terms too perfectly, then it kills this life. So it’s important to make room for these irrational elements by having an animal in there that you can’t direct, so you can get some real life into it… and to have a director in there that can’t direct [laughs].


In many ways I am a perfectionist. I could sit and edit the film for years, and reshoot and reshoot, and never be satisfied [laughs]. It’s a conflict within me to seek perfection, and to hate it at the same time.


FF: Interviewing Larry Fessenden, he spoke of how a film is abandoned. Would you agree?


JN: The classical depiction of making a film is that it’s like your child that you carry, and then you lead it away to be sacrificed [laughs]. I make films both for myself and for the audience. I want to give them an entertaining and fantastic story, but at the same time I want to get it out of my body. It’s something that has to be done and I can’t really question that what is in my mind has to be out there. It’s a physical need to get it out there.


I haven’t talked about this film for many months now because of the postponements of the premiers in different countries because of Covid. So in one way it’s like I’ve abandoned it for half a year, and now it’s coming back again [laughs], like an old ugly kid coming out from the sewers and it has to try to survive for itself [laughs].


FF: What was the genesis for KOKO-DI KOKO-DA?


JN: For this film it was a specific moment in my life where I felt this notion of loss, of a relationship that had turned sour. This physical feeling of pain was the driving force behind this film, and a lot of the things that happen in the story I saw with my own eyes, like in a dream. It was surreal, but it was like a lucid dream.


I could see all these characters acting out exactly like they do in the film. So it was like me sitting with a pen and paper writing it down as I saw it in front of me very early in the morning [laughs].


I wrote the scenes in the forest down very quickly and we shot that part, but then it had to develop from there. This relationship that made this couple crazy was so abstract, and the more they wanted each other, or the more they wanted to save their relationship, the more they destroyed it.


I’d had this in my mind for so many years but we hadn’t much financing, and so we couldn’t finish it in that first period. So I made another film in between and came back to it. It matured in my mind and I went further back to my earlier experiences of my childhood to find other periods of grief, which were a completely different type. It wasn’t philosophical or psychological, it was still a physical sensation of loss in that trauma, like someone was pulling your intestines out. I wanted to depict that pain and to experience that loss in a similar way that I had experienced it.


FF: Not to simplify the importance of life experiences good and bad, but I believe our sad and traumatic experiences are the most productive means of gaining a personal insight.


JN: I agree that it’s maybe more fruitful to dwell on your traumas and to try to understand them, more than try to understand why you laughed, because you have something to win when untying those knots.


FF: Do you think there is an element in which films can be said to exist on a dream logic?


There are so many rules in filmmaking. If you look at films from western societies there’s a standard or way to tell a story with the three acts, different plot developments and characters and so. In one way it’s very formalistic, it’s something that you learn how to do, but there are other ways to tell a story.


When I watch or read something I want to be amazed, entertained and I want to be surprised. I want to see something I haven’t seen before. If things are too formalistic you tend to have read it all before and it becomes uninteresting. I want there to still be an enigma there. I don’t want to be able to explain it in the end. I want to see film or story as a puzzle to solve, and the film doesn’t ends when the film or story ends. I want it to be something else, more like a living creature.


KOKI-DI KOKO-DA is now available on the BFI Player, Blu-Ray and Digital.


Paul Risker.


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