Film

‘We Are Afraid Of Change’ – Jimmy Olsson On Tackling Racism In ‘2nd Class’

Director Jimmy Olsson’s short film, 2nd Class, follows a second grade teacher as she discovers one of her students is the son of a Nazi who brutally attacked her.

Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Jimmy to talk more about his all too relative tale of racism, fear and understanding.


Q: There is a scene in ‘2nd Class’ with torch-bearing Nazis that conjures images of Charlottesville last year. Were you provoked to make this film by those events?

A: Yes, that was the main reason and that is why I named the main character Charlotte.

Also at that time, there was so much hatred going on elsewhere in the world – and still is. As always, fear is the main container for all these things. Fear protects us from change. It seems the human race is too conservative as a creature. We are afraid of change. It is still about ‘us’ and ‘them’ instead of seeing other human-beings wanting the same things or in need of help.

Q: Spike Lee used footage from Charlottesville to punctuate the ending of ‘BlacKKKlansman’. Do you feel it is important for filmmakers to respond when events like Charlottesville happen?

A: It is key. Super important. Film is a tool to inform, educate and entertain the masses. Like the news is as well. Perhaps we can’t change the hardcore dissidents but we can put a seed in someone who is on the verge of taking that step toward something bad, in all areas. We need to continue making films that remind us what is happening in the world. To make films is almost to be part of a resistance movement.

Q: Funnily enough, you actually play the lead Nazi in ‘2nd Class’. How did you find the experience of entering such a hateful role?

A: That was by far the most disturbing thing I’ve ever done. One of the producers and the AD thought it was a good idea. I was hesitant and had a back up actor, but at the same time I felt it could be an interesting challenge.

I grew up in the south of Sweden in the early nineties. We had a lot neo-Nazis in Sweden then. A lot of refugees came to Sweden from the former Yugoslavia because of their civil war and that stirred things up. I was around 12-13 years old and still trying to find out who I was. I hung out with a lot of football hooligans. In that environment, I saw a lot of Nazis and racists and at the same time, I also hung out with the cool immigrant kids. It wasn’t a question of choosing sides but at that age all you hear from grown ups is what they have read in the paper. Adults think that is the entire truth and you have to believe it.

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It was a weird time and we are still there in a sense, but nowadays we see more racists in suits and their message is hidden to make it sound nice. That is way more frightening. It is more sophisticated now. To answer your question, I wanted to see how it felt stepping into something evil – it is not something I recommend.

Q: There are some very interesting ideas at the core of this film – how we respond to fear and hate. Also, acknowledging how some people are born into cyclical hate and how we can try to lift them out of it. Can you talk more about the themes and ideas you wanted to explore?

A: Well, the whole idea is how we communicate to our kids. You are taught how to hate, that is nothing you are born with. You are born out of love. Love is the natural feeling people have. Look at small kids, the first couple of years before they try to test the limits they are all about love – even when they are put to the test. For example, let us say they hit someone or say a bad word to someone. I don’t think they do that out of hate because they don’t know what that is yet. They just want to try stuff to see what happens.

When we as adults have a bad day or if we don’t like someone or even hate a certain group of people, we project that onto our kids, and in a way we do that to protect how we feel. It’s like we are thinking that they shouldn’t experience what they just experienced. And I feel it’s unfair to throw that ball of ignorance in their faces because they don’t know how to use it. The only thing they know is to swallow it because it comes from a person they love and respect.

I am still working hard with prejudice myself. We have to ask ourselves, how does it happen? Why do we feel this way? Can we get to the bottom of it and understand why that person did that? But then again, it’s natural to trust our first instinct, prejudice can feel like a gut feeling. Sometimes we are trapped in a bad cycle in which we want to believe what our prejudice says.

Q: Hannah Alem-Davidson (who plays Charlotte) is holds the focus of the entire film, even through long takes like the balloon scene. What qualities did Hannah bring to the role?

A: Vulnerability and hope. I wanted to find someone who is capable to acting with just reactions and facial expressions, a person who we can read all the way through. That is also one of the reasons why we shot it 4:3. We wanted to frame her in and only focus on her, without being too much in her face.

Q: You wrote, directed, edited, produced and acted in ‘2nd Class’. Do you enjoy being able to be involved in almost every layer of the filmmaking process?

A: Yes, very much so. Especially so when it is such a small project like this. You are able to be in control of most things with help, of course. I understand it is much harder on a bigger project.

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I am not a control freak or anything. I am the kind of person who likes to give people the chance to prove themselves and I enjoy collecting good ideas from other people in the crew.

Q: What type of films do you want to make in the future?

A: I am really inspired by Michael Haneke and the Dardenne brothers. I like human stories, to get inside a person and tell a story. I guess I am an arthouse freak and I like stories about social issues and the feelings people have around those subjects. I like subtext a lot. I like to incorporate symbolic things and meanings in stories because it helps the audience to relate.

Q: What is next for you?

A: I have written a feature script based on this short film. I am on the hunt for a producer at the moment.

I have another feature that I am working on about a young man coming out of prison after he has killed his brother. When he comes home, his parents don’t want anything to do with him and they have placed a refugee boy in his old room.

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