It is fitting that Swedish director Sanna Lenken’s debut feature, My Skinny Sister, should have its world premiere at Goteborg, given the filmmaker’s connections to the city.
“I was born there, I have been coming to the festival since I started to watch films and every year since,” says Lenken, whose short film Eating Lunch also played in competition at Goteborg in 2013.
Her first feature is a family drama centering around a 12 year old girl who is struggling to deal with her much loved older sister’s eating disorder. A German co-production, it is produced by Annika Rogell for Tangy, together with Fortune Cookie Film, Film i Vast, Swedish Television, ZDF, in cooperation with Arte, Story, with backing from the Swedish Film Institute and Nordisk Film and TV Fund amongst others.
Lenken was partly inspired to make the film as a result of her own experience as a teenager. “I had anorexia from 16 to 20 and I’ve met so many young, talented girls who get eating disorders. There is something about society that makes so many young girls want to change themselves, a pressure on them” says the director who wrote the script five years ago, before going on to make Eating Lunch (also on the same subject) partly as a way of raising finance for the feature.
“There are some films about eating disorders but they are mainly documentaries. I wanted to make the feature to prove that it is a universal subject that will touch people and make them talk, says Lenken, who studied at the National Film School in Stockholm before going on to direct Swedish youth TV series Double Life. “Everyone I have spoken to about this film has some kind of personal connection, whether it be a friend, daughter of sister.”
My Skinny Sister is set against the backdrop of competitive ice skating, a decision which was made based on “wanting a world that was as physically demanding as possible,” says the director, who has her own background in dancing.
“The sound of the skates, the fact that if you fall on the ice you could die. It’s a rough and harsh atmosphere, but at the same time it’s supposed to look beautiful, and like there is no effort in it,” says Lenken who shot in Goteborg in the summer of 2014, although the ice rink scenes were shot on the island of Tjorn, because “it was impossible to find any ice halls open in Sweden in summer.”
One of the biggest challenges was finding the right actresses to play the two sisters, roles that Lenken acknowledges were particularly demanding. “I have worked with kids before, and I knew how good they had to be to do this whole shoot,” says Lenken, who after an extensive search across Sweden, eventually found her two leads in the form of Rebecka Josephson, granddaughter of Ingmar Berman regular actor Erland Josephson and former Swedish child pop star Amy Deasismont, who plays the older sister.
Both actresses were put through their paces when it came to ice skating and Deasismont in particular had to train intensively, to reflect her character’s obsessive training in the film. But Lenken didn’t expect her to lose weight for the role.“The film deals mainly what is behind the eating disorder, an existential angst, which is very universal,” explains the director.
She may only just have finished editing My Skinny Sister, but as well as looking forward to the film’s upcoming screening at Berlin (in the Generation K Plus section), Lenken is already working on ideas for her next feature.
“I became a mother, and there are a lot of questions around motherhood and how a mother should be or not be, that I would like to explore deeper,” says the director, who has been encouraged by the increasing number of women directors coming out of Sweden.
“There are three films from Sweden at Berlin, and all are by female directors, with women in the main characters, which I’m really proud of,” says Lenken, adding: “There are so many good stories to be told by women.”