Silent Nights has been shortlisted by the Academy in its Live-Action Short category. I recently caught up with Director Aske Bang and Producer Kim Magnusson to talk about the film, which tells the story of Kwame, an illegal immigrant from Ghana who meets and falls in love with Inger, a young Danish girl who is working at a homeless shelter in Copenhagen.
The short film not only explores the problems encountered by refugees , but at its heart is a warming love story between two people from different worlds and the many obstacles they face in the world including racism. In Silents Nights, two young lovers develop a strong bond to overcome those challenges.
Read my interview below:
Awards Daily: Where did the idea for Silent Night from?
Aske Bang: I wrote this film with my father. We both live in an area in Copenhagen where we have a lot of immigrants, and on the streets where there are a lot of African immigrants. At night, they’ll go around and collect the bottles which they’ll later deposit for money. That really is what triggered this idea. I saw them all the time and I wondered what their life would be like. Where they came from? Why they’re doing this? I was just really interested in this life where they’re like ghosts, wandering around and no one really talks to them.
Awards Daily: How long did it take you to write and then produce?
AB: It only took a few months. We did a lot of research. I actually spoke to homeless immigrants. They filled me in on their lives and their stories. I would spend time in the shelters speaking to people who worked there.
I wanted to get the story right and close to reality as possible. I also wanted to infuse a love story with it. I don’t see Silent Nights as a crisis film. I see it as a love story between two very different people with political things around it. It’s taking place in Europe during this asylum crisis.
They both live a hard life in two different ways in hard ways, they’re alone. They find love over Christmas.
AD: Kim, how did you get involved?
Kim Magnusson: I’ve followed Aske since film school. I saw a film he had made during film school, I knew of him because he’d also made some short films outside of that. I told him, “I think there’s something in you that I like.” Then I told him we needed to be making films together. He said he wanted to. We thought it would be best to start on a short film.
Aske pitched me two films. I liked this one because it would fit in short format. It took a while though as Aske had to finish film school, but while he did the story became important and relevant because of the refugee situation in Europe. The story appealed to me because it was so heartfelt and heartwarming.
It’s about telling a story that has a warmth to it. I felt there was hope for them, they found each other, and I felt good long after. For me, it ends on a high note so to speak, warm and positive, but the film still manages to look at racism and immigration.
I loved that you could build a story within another story. We didn’t point fingers in the film.
AD: What was it like shooting in the slums of Ghana and the shelters of your city, Copenhagen?
AB: I wanted to shoot in real places. I wanted to shoot in real places which gave the actors energy and gave the film a good feeling, as well as authenticity that you see. We were lucky to get into the shelters and the slums as they were important to our storytelling. The people behind that both thought our story was an important one to tell, and that for me was very touching.
That allows you to see real immigrants, those extras were really living in that place, and you get up close which also helps the actors as they were seeing the real situations they were acting out.
AD: How did you find you the actor who played Kwame?
AB: It’s such a special story. In Denmark, we don’t have many Arabic or African actors, so we have this listing site where we can find actors, and agents. I had to do a casting call for African men, and I found 20 actors together with the female actress, Malene Beltoft. None of the actors I found were good. We did this a week before shooting, and I thought I couldn’t get the film done because of it.
Malene and I went to dinner to discuss which actor we’d choose if we had to choose one. As we’re discussing this, you could see into the kitchen, and in the kitchen, I saw Kwame. He had the perfect look and he was cooking. I told Malene that he would be perfect. I ended up walking to him, explained that I had actors who weren’t good enough for me. I joked about him auditioning and he said yes. He came in two days later, and it turns out he was a natural.
KM: It’s such a great story.
AD: Your film has been shortlisted by the Academy.
KM: I’m so happy and thrilled to be shortlisted. It really means a lot to me and to both of us.