Tobias Lindholm, A Hijacking

10 September, 2012 | By Mike Goodridge

The director follows up his acclaimed prison drama R with the powerful modern pirates story A Hijacking.


A Hijacking, which played in Orizzonti in Venice last week and is screening in CWC at TIFF starting today, is the first solo directing effort of Tobias Lindholm who co-directed the powerful prison drama R in 2010 with Michael Noer.

In A Hijacking, R star Pilou Asbaek plays the cook on a Danish freighter captured and held for ransom by Somali pirates, while Soren Malling plays the head of the shipping company back in Denmark who negotiates with the pirates.

The film is shot in a stark, ultra-realistic style, and Lindholm says he cultivates a form of storytelling which is neither fiction nor documentary. “In Danish, we have a word which is translated as “story seen from the outside” The story follows the natural steps that happen and the different stages the characters go through. I try to keep it as simple or as structured as possible. It’s called A Hijacking and it ends when the hijacking is over. Everyone knows what direction the story is going in, but we have a lot of room to play in between the beginning and end.”

As in R, Lindholm strives for a documentary-style realism in the mise-en-scene but, he says, he learned from some of the mistakes he made in R. “I think that in some scenes in R, it felt like the camera knew where the story was going, and it was very important for me not to do that in A Hijacking. I made a rule with my cinematographer to try and copy a documentary situation where a man might get up from a table in the middle of a meeting and the camera won’t know what to do. The man could leave the camera but the camera can never leave the man. The camera has to seek out a little what is going on.”

The need for authenticity was rigorous. The freighter scenes were shot on a freighter in the Indian Ocean with and the conversations over the phone with the shipping company in Denmark were recorded live between actors in both locations and time zones. The actor playing the British hostage negotiator is indeed a hostage negotiator who had come on board as a consultant to the production. Much of the banter between the ship’s crew is improvised (“a sort of controlled improvisation,” says Lindholm).

The effect is arresting: Lindholm eliminates melodrama while maintaining the urgency and drama of the situation.

Ironically, for all his determined film-making style, Lindholm still considers himself a screenwriter first and foremost. “Directing is my little thing on the side like being in a rock band,” he smiles. “I’m not trying to downplay it. I am very proud of the films I’ve done and I have big ambitions for them out in the world. But I feel that my career is not directing, it’s screenwriting.”

Indeed, as can be witnessed from TIFF Special Presentation The Hunt, Lindholm is also a superb screenwriter. That Cannes competition title marked his second collaborationwith Thomas Vinterberg after Submarino and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Vinterberg has enjoyed his own creative renaissance through his work with Lindholm. In the meantime Lindholm wrote the first two seasons of TV seriesBorgen together with series creator Adam Price and Jeppe Gjervig Gram.

The 34-year-old attended the screenwriting programme at Denmark’s National Film School from 2005-2007, one semester of which, sponsored by the drama department of Danish broadcaster DR, is devoted to writing for television. As part of that, Lindholm and hisclassmate Gjervig Gram were required to come up with a concept for a series and they devised one about Danish doctors working in Greenland.

“While doing this, they offered us a job on Danish TV show called Sommer about a doctor’s family,” he recalls. “We wrote the episode that closed the first season. So we were flying out of film school doing that and we were hired to do the second season after that with some other writers. And through that, we met Camilla Hammerich, the producer of Borgen.”

At the same time as his TV career was blossoming, Lindholm was also making waves in Denmark’s film industry.

“Two days after graduating, I had a phone call from the producer Morgan Kaufman and he saidthat Thomas Vinterberg wanted to do this film of the book Submarinoand wanted me to write it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Lindholm is not writing on the third series of Borgen, turning his attention to his exploding film career. He co-wrote Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s next film The Hour Of The Lynx which will start shooting this month with Sophie Grabol in the lead role and is also hatching ideas for further directorial projects.

“I’m a screenwriter: that’s what I do,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to make a couple of films, but we finance them quite cheaply and we do them in our own way. We don’t need them to be a big success. It’s more about developing a language together with the cinematographer and designer. It’s great if we can get together once in a while like a rock band and do this, but we don’t need to play stadiums and sell millions of records.”

“I am very aware that there is a big difference between what I do when I am a director and what Thomas does,” he continues. “He is very experienced and can get away with stuff that I could never imagine.”