Q&A: A Hijacking Director, Tobias Lindholm
Let Reality Decide
12.10.2012 - Denmark's Tobias Lindholm delivers
a gripping psychological drama about negotiations between Somali
pirates and the CEO of a shipping company, and the terrible toll
taken on the ships' crew. Before the film screened at ADFF in the
New Horizons Competition (winning a Special Jury Mention and an
award for Søren Malling's performance as The Boss), Lindholm took
time to answer a few of our questions.
After R, we see another dark and tense
psychological drama from you with A Hijacking. How were
you drawn into this story?
Denmark has always had a great merchant tradition and all Danes
have at least one family member who is a seaman, which in my case
was my father. In that way, A Hijacking is a very Danish
story, and this is what drew me in the first place. At the same
time, I wanted to make a Danish film that takes place in the big
wide world; and I became aware of the reality of piracy in the
Indian Ocean, following the hijackings of the Danish-owned
freighters Danica White and CEC Future, in 2007 and 2008. This is a
reality where pirates earn millions of dollars and seamen are held
hostage for months without any influence on their own
Do you want to give a political message regarding piracy
in the Indian Ocean with this film?
I never have a political message. Politics does not interest me,
but people, real people do. If A Hijacking feels like it
is about them, then I am very close to my goal.
In a previous interview, you have said that you
want to make your films as realistic as possible. In A
Hijacking, how did you develop the script and the characters
to make sure that they're portrayed realistically?
I work based on a dogma that says: "Reality Rules." I always use
more time to research than to write the script. I always try to
find a story that is better than anything I could come up with. I
think that reality is always more accurate than fiction.
Fiction often tries to tell so precisely that it destroys the
intensity and honesty. For me, realism is a playground that puts
great demands on discipline. If you want to tell a story about real
people, you have to listen to the reality of these people. Reality
is full of logic that you cannot just skip over because you like
something more dramatic. You are forced to listen and learn from
that reality and be loyal to it. Otherwise it will not work. So I
listened to the reality and let it decide: in this case, the
reality of piracy in the Indian Ocean and the negotiations between
the company and the pirates.
What did your research regarding the hijackings
In my research I have talked, written and discussed with a lot
of people who know the reality of the Indian Ocean, including
pirates, sailors, security guards, CEOs and relatives of sailors.
Their stories have surprised and shocked me. The most shocking fact
is that there were more than 1200 hostages last year and many of
them are still not home. You cannot imagine that 1200 passengers
were held hostage in an airliner without anyone doing anything. But
it is apparently difficult to find out who is responsible for the
hostages. Is it the government, the companies or the sailors'
When I wrote the script, a real hostage negotiator helped me to
stick to reality. When we started shooting, I was so impressed by
his cool and precise observations that I ended up offering him the
role of The Negotiator in the film. I didn't have to write any
lines for him: He knew exactly what to say. At the same time, I
could ask him for advice if I had any questions during the hectic
days of the shooting.
Are there any patterns regarding the negotiation process
with Somali pirates? How predictable is their
I believe that their behavior changes from case to case, but one
can say that young men, high on kath, are not the most
trustworthy and reliable people on earth. My research showed that
they were very aggressive and unbalanced. You can't anticipate
their next move. As the hostage dealer says in the film: Time
is a Western thing! It does not mean anything to them.
Regarding your film, you have said: "I couldn't make a
film about the truth of the hijackings in the Indian Ocean,
because I don't believe that truth exists. But I could make a
film about seamen, pirates, CEOs and relatives. Because
they do exist."
I think that realism and truth are two very different things.
Truth is subjective. Realism is objective and sober. I believe that
the truth of piracy doesn't exist. It is far too complicated and
contains more than one truth. But people and their experiences
exist. That's why I tell stories about people and not about issues.
I can be truthful in a portrait of a person and thus move my fellow
human beings so that we might understand each other a little
Your background is in writing, and A Hijacking
is your solo debut. Following A Hijacking, what's the next
step for you?
Right now, I am writing Thomas Vinterberg's next film. After
that I will start to look for my own story. On the other hand, I am
the father of three little boys whom I love dearly and with whom I
would like to spend more time. Maybe the only truthful answer is:
Time will tell.
Which filmmakers have inspired you the
I stand on the shoulders of filmmakers like the Dardenne
Brothers, DOGMA 95, Paul Greengrass, Ingmar Bergman, David Simon
and Jean-Luc Godard. From my point of view, they have all insisted
on minimizing the distance between the audience and the big silver
Where do you see yourself and your work as far as
contemporary Danish cinema is concerned?
I don't. Let's talk about that when I have made 20 films.