Future Frames 2017 Interview: Maria Eriksson (Director of Schoolyard Blues)

Maria Eriksson’s Schoolyard Blues is a heartbreaking and tender evocation of childhood that will receive its European Premiere as part of European Film Promotion’s  Future Frames at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. You can read a review of the film HERE.

A student of the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts, Eriksson wrote her thesis on Directing Children. Cineuropa Shorts caught up with her to ask her about working with young people on Schooolyard Blues

Cineuropa Shorts: Schoolyard Blues is a tender yet sometimes hard coming-of-age story. What was the spark behind it?
Maria Eriksson: Schoolyard Blues started with the close collaboration between scriptwriter Pelle Rådström and me. We wanted to make a film about shame, violence, brotherhood and what happens when a child is forced to take the role of a parent. I’m fascinated with how quickly a child can accept and adapt to difficult life situations and find strategies of their own in order to survive.

CS: There’s an old adage about never working with children or animals. There are no animals but you have two youngsters in the lead – how did you go about casting these crucial roles?
ME: I worked in close collaboration with casting director SaraKlara Hellström. We casted the older brother first since I knew that role would have the most demanding emotional challenges. He had to be able to get to all those dark and emotional places the character needed. When we had found him, we started to look for the younger brother. SaraKlara found him when casting kids at schools. He looked very much like the older one and had an extraordinary gift of being in the moment and to touch me as an audience member.

CS: Did working with two youngsters in the lead pose any unique challenges?
ME: Yes, absolutely. Showing them the difference between play, reality and acting. Plus, of course, some tricks and lessons in patience and seizing the moment. There are some similarities when it comes to working with adults, but also differences; these actors are, after all, amateurs. But the main difference lies in the preparation process – you simply need more time to get it right.

CS: You’ve got the claustrophobic bathrooms and the wide open forest, as freedom and responsibility clash. Was it difficult to balance all the elements of the film? It’s very tragic and sad yet the fact that both boys look out for each other so much is tender and hopeful.
ME: No, it wasn't difficult. Pelle and I talked very early about a certain neighbourhood nearby where he grew up, which we thought would be the perfect place for the two brothers to live. And then I just started from there to find all the right locations near by to get a coherent feeling and look. All these suburbs that were built in the 60s in Sweden usually have their own colour codes. So all the stores, the shopping mall, toilets etc in the area had quite similar color and style. So when we knew where to start from, it wasn't very difficult, it just needed time for me to do a lot of location scouting and to be in close collaboration with my D.o.P.

CS: Coming-of-age stories are a staple of cinema. Where there any films or filmmakers that inspired you while making Schoolyard Blues?
ME:Yes, Andrea Arnold for her poetic realism, Andrey Zvyagintsevs’ The Return for its harsh tale of two brothers and Stand be Me for the concept of kids walking on a journey together towards a certain goal meanwhile growing up.

CS: What does being picked for Future Frames mean to you? What do you hope to get out being at Karlovy Vary?
ME: New contacts, to open up my network, to have fun. For me as filmmaker it's a recognition. For the film it's also a good continuation after its world premiere in Aspen where it won two awards, so I hope these recognitions will help the film’s festival life.

CS: What projects have you got planned for the future?
ME: I just shot three new shorts this summer, and I’m seeking financing for my next one that I hope to shoot this fall or next spring. I’m continuing my collaboration with Pelle Rådström – my scriptwriter and love – and we are working on a TV film and also developing a feature film project together.

02 July 2017, by Laurence Boyce