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Director Johannes Nyholm on 'Koko-di Koko-da', fever dreams, and facing your fears

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Director Johannes Nyholm on ‘Koko-di Koko-da’, fever dreams, and facing your fears

Talking about ‘Koko-di Koko-da’.

Koko-di Koko-da sounds like the title of a fairy tale. This makes sense as it is the title of a French nursery rhyme. The movie also has a dream like quality with storytelling and production that is initially welcoming to kids. The multi layered film takes on themes of grief and guilt and may ultimately be a little too much for children. AIPT spoke with director Johannes Nyholm about his surrealistic story.

AIPT: How would you describe Koko-di Koko-da?

Johannes Nyholm: It’s some kind of fever dream. You wake up and go to sleep over and over again. And you’re traveling around in your dreams trying to cope with life.

AIPT: What was your inspiration behind this fever dream?

Nyholm: It’s my own fever dreams, I guess. But also things that happened to me when I was a kid. It’s a lot of different things, but more than other films or art or so.

AIPT: With Koko-di Koko-da, there’s a very childlike quality to it. Like the music, and the colors are bright, and then they get a little bit darker. Why did you decide to go that route?

Nyholm: Yeah. I mean, it started in the dark. It started in those really dark parks, those kind of limbo nightmarish scenes. Actually I both wrote them and shot those scenes long before the rest of it. But I think, we needed some contrast to it. So the story had to evolve a little bit to deepen the characters, but also to deepen the contrast in the film. To make you understand a little bit of what was going on in their minds.

AIPT: Where did you come up with the characters? I know you said a lot of it is based on real life.

Nyholm: They all are based in the real life. I mean, for sure. I’ve met all of these characters in my life, for real.

Koko-di Koko-da

AIPT: Oh wow. That’s kind of scary.

Nyholm: Yeah.

AIPT: Koko-di Koko-da has some violent moments. But there’s very little bloodshed. Why did you decide to make that decision?

Nyholm: Yeah. But I mean, it’s a film about loss or about grief in general and I wanted to portray that feeling in a way that I usually feel that, a very physical sensation. It’s not abstract at all. It’s very physical and it’s like having your intestines pulled out, or being hit really hard in the stomach, or something like that. It could feel physical in that way. And that’s what I wanted to portray. But it also goes on in your mind, it’s not real in a way. It’s in your mind. I don’t think it was necessary to show all this blood also because it’s both happening and not happening at the same time.

AIPT: That’s actually a very good point. Koko-Di Koko-Da also deals with guilt along with grief. How difficult was it to film and how difficult was it for the actors?

Nyholm: I think it was harder for them than for me. It’s shot in the autumn, when it was rainy and cold. They don’t have so much clothes on them, especially the male lead. He’s in his underpants for half of the film. But I think psychologically, it was quite tough as well because we shot it for many years actually.

We had one main shoot eight years ago but we didn’t finish the film then because we didn’t have any financing and we didn’t have any time. So we have been going on and off shoots after that. I made another feature in between, but it took a very long time so they had to go in and out of their characters many times. They lived with those characters, more or less, for eight years.

AIPT: You mentioned your previous feature The Giant, which is a sports movie. I read interview where you said you want to do a crude comedy. Have you always been a fan of horror or was this just a one-off?

johannes nyholm

Nyholm: I don’t like themes to be genre defined in that way or at least maybe not in my films. I like to play around with different genres and I don’t try to make a copy of another film, or another genre, or another dramatic structure that already exists. I like to play around and have some fun, and tell a story in a surprising way. I mean, you could say that this is a horror movie. But you could also say it’s a comedy or it’s a surrealistic, what do you say, it’s like a maelstrom of ideas. It could be many things.

AIPT: Surreal is actually a really good word to describe it. You can also call it a dark fairytale, I think.

Nyholm: Yeah. For sure. For sure. Yeah.

AIPT: Why do you think people are still attracted to fairytales, today in 2020?

Nyholm: I mean, fairy tales you grew up with them. Those fairy tales that you heard when you were a kid, a lot of them follow you in your life. Especially the ones that was really strong, or made a big impact on you then. They could still make me cry, or laugh even though they are old and I knew exactly how they end and everything.

I think there is something with a fairy tale, that it’s true and it’s not true at the same time. It can give some hope to impossible situations. I think that’s … the most amazing stories can do that. To give this kind of hope when you have this impossible situation you can never ever solve, and then maybe only a fairytale can save you from that.

AIPT: What do you want audiences to take away from Koko-di Koko-da?

Nyholm: I mean, it’s a lot about psychological illness in a way, this film, and that you get trapped in your own mind and in your own dark labyrinthic thoughts. And I want to tell people that it’s okay to affirm those feelings. That it’s okay to be there. It’s okay to walk around clueless and don’t have any idea where to go, and try to give some hope in this misery at the same time. It’s not always the best thing to fight and to, or to run away, or do something really actively. Sometimes it’s good just to stand there and see what’s happening.

AIPT: You talked about a maelstrom of ideas. So what future projects are you working on?

Johannes Nyholm: Right now I’m working on something that’s completely different but also has some similarities with this one. It’s a much lighter thing. It’s a slapstick comedy with a lot of very crude Charlie Chaplin slapstick things going on with characters that don’t speak. It’s like a silent movie in many ways but very expressionistic in other ways. Going a little bit back to, I used to do a lot of music videos many years ago working tightly with musicians and so, and I think I will do that with this film as well. It will be a lot of music and a lot of expressionistic extravaganza.

Koko-di Koko-da is available in virtual theaters.

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