Sundance 2021 Women Directors: Meet Frida Kempff – “Knocking”

Frida Kempff’s films have been screened and awarded at festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Telluride, IDFA, London Film Festival, and Gothenburg. In 2010 she won Cannes’ Jury Prize for her short “Bathing Micky.” “Knocking” is Kempff’s debut narrative feature film.

“Knocking” is screening at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which is taking place online and in person via Satellite Screens January 28-February 3.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

FK: “Knocking” is a film about Molly, who has just been released from a stay at the psychiatric ward due to a tragic incident in her past. She wants a fresh start and moves into a new apartment. Pretty soon she starts to hear knocking. The knocking turns into patterns and she is convinced that another woman is crying for help, but when she confronts her neighbors no one believes her, and Molly starts to question herself. 

W&H: What drew you to this story?

FK: “Knocking” is loosely based on a short novel called “Knocks” and when I read the novel I could identify with Molly from my own life and that of my female friends. It reminded me of the whole Me Too movement and that if you stand out in any way as a woman it is so easy to be judged and labeled crazy. In others’ eyes you are not a trustworthy person, and what can be scarier than no one believing you? 

Molly is a complex woman, just like we all are, and [there is a] lack of portraits like this in film. 

W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?

FK: That everyone has the right to be listened to. I think [that notion is] more urgent than ever in the world we live in. We just hear want we want to hear and our opinions differ from each other more than ever. We see the world from our own little circle of friends. We have lost the capacity to listen to each other.

I also want the audience to be encouraged to raise their voice when they feel something is wrong.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

FK: The biggest challenge I would say was for the lead actor, Cecilia Milocco. She was acting alone a lot in her character’s apartment and was just reacting to sounds from the wall. It was just her acting against a wall. Challenging, but she did a great job!

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

FK: “Knocking” is funded through a program by the Swedish Film Institute called Moving Sweden. It’s a program where directors that have done shorts are able to move on to features. It is a low-budget program but the process between development to green light is quit fast. A lot of short filmmakers are often stuck between the short and feature phases and never get the chance to make their first feature. Moving Sweden is a great bridge.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

FK: I grew up on a farm and my family only had two government TV channels. There wasn’t so much to watch for a 12-year-old girl, but one late Sunday evening a new TV series started called “Twin Peaks.” I was totally blown away. I didn’t know that you could create those kind of stories with sound, music, costume, sets, and charters. 

David Lynch really invited me into another world and it really made an impact on me. I later got into documentary filmmaking, where social issues were my drive to make films, but after a while I felt I was lacking something as a director. I wanted to really create the story my way and with my perspective and so that led me into fiction.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

FK: Worst: “There are rules you have to follow when it comes to the craft.”

Best: “There are no rules, do whatever you want.” That sentence inspires me!

W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?

FK: Team up with people that inspire you and are willing to share their experience and knowledge. Film is teamwork and you become stronger if you have people who have the same visions and goals.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make sure you work with people who are positive for new ideas and to give you energy. When you have fun, creativity comes naturally.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

FK: There are many great female directors, but Céline Sciamma is one of my favorites. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is so beautiful in so many ways. Her ability to work with the script, sound, colors, light, music, and the whole visual picture to create a film is just stunning. I learn something new about life every time I watch a film by her.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?

FK: I was lucky to shoot “Knocking” just before the COVID19 outbreak. A lot of things in the post-production were postponed because of COVID-19 and that gave me a chance to do some more editing which actually made the film better.

Right now I’m developing two new projects so I’m writing every day and am luckily quit busy. 

W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?

FK: People of color should be put in the positions where decisions are being made: producers, directors, casting directors, etc. I think it’s only then real change can be made. We need more representation among directors so that everyone has the possibility to tell their story from their perspective. That will lead to a more representative cast and give us diverse stories, which is so important for society.

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