OSCAR Shorts Special: Producer Rebecca Pruzan Talks Ivalu

Producer Rebecca Pruzan joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about the OSCAR-shortlisted short film, Ivalu.

Directed by Anders Walter, the film tells the story of a young girl who is desperate to find sister, Ivalu. Her father does not care. The vast Greenlandic nature holds secrets. The search for Ivalu is on.

The film is based on an award-winning Danish graphic novel of the same name. What were the challenges the production faced when adapting this source material?

Anders Walter and I had some great talks about the graphic novel and how we felt the need to change the narrative and so Anders wrote the script based on the novel but with a different ending.

To Anders it was important to stay truthful to the source material, but at the same time finding his own voice and make it feel like his own story. This is a longer process. In the beginning you tend to copy what is right in front of you and then slowly you start to trust your own instincts and let the story take you to a new place and at the end you forget that the story was based on anything but your own idea.

The short was filmed on location in Greenland. How important was it to film in this vast, atmospheric, and often quite brutal landscape. And, as producer, were there any specific challenges from filming in Greenland?

To us the Greenlandic nature was as important as an actual character of the film. The younger sister, Pipaluk’s, relationship with nature was essential for the story and the development of her realizing what had happened to her sister, Ivalu. Also, the contrast between the poetic beauty of the landscape and the brutal subject of the film was crucial for the story.

It did however challenge us as the weather can change dramatically over night. When we made the shooting plan, we did so in close collaboration with our co-producers Polarama Greenland, to make sure that we left enough time for weather changes. It did however, all work out perfectly so we ended up having perfect weather at all locations. Especially filming in Kangerlussuaq at the Russell Glacier we had beautiful snow the night before filming, leaving the landscape untouched by anything but snow (and -18 degrees C).

The narrative follows a young girl Pipaluk, whose sister Ivalu has vanished. No one seems to care, so Pipaluk sets off in search of Ivalu – a journey that becomes increasingly dark and chilling as the focus turns to the difficult and taboo issues of abuse and incest. Why did you feel it was important that this film tackles such issues?

Both Anders Walter (the Director) and I have a history of working with stories of children in need. When Anders was given the graphic novel, he knew that he wanted to make the film. When he asked me to read it, I was blown away by the brutality of the story and the poetry and magic of the pictures. To be able to tell a story in such a poetic and beautiful way and at the same time covering one of the biggest taboos of our time, incest, inspired me. After reading the novel I knew I wanted to produce the film and help Anders make the story become alive.

When we did more research and talked to psychologists and other experts on the subject, we realized just how big a taboo incest is. And when you look at the numbers of known victims – all over the world – we were deeply shocked by the contrast between those numbers and the lack of debate and focus on just how serious a problem this is. Even in literature and film there is a deep void. The only way to break the taboo and thereby help children so desperate in need of help, is to break the silence.

As filmmakers/producers, what are the additional responsibilities you take onboard when working on a film with such a sensitive topic at its heart?

I realize it is a tremendous responsibility! Not only is it important that we portray the different reactions and emotions correctly, it was also essential to me that we left the audience the right way.

So, I spent a lot of time consulting experts both in Denmark and in Greenland to make sure we didn’t do anything wrong. Our aim was that the movie should be both a touching and important story about how childhood can be stolen from you in a brutal way, but that hope and imagination can survive, nonetheless. In the novel the ending is very brutal and leaves the reader with no hope at all. We changed that in the film.

Can you tell us a bit about how the two actresses Mila Heilmann Kreutzmann (Pipaluk) and Nivi Larsen (Ivalu) were cast?

 We did all our casting in close collaboration with Pipaluk Kreutzmann Jørgensen, who is also the co-Director of the film. Due to covid we had to do the casting via zoom. Pipaluk was great in finding Mila and Nivi, who were both inexperienced. When we talked over zoom, we all felt that they were the right choice for playing the sisters. And as Pipaluk knew their families, we knew that both girls had the right support from home. It is a big responsibility engaging these young girls in such a brutal story, so we felt it was very necessary that they had families to support them.

IVALU is now shortlisted for the 95th Academy Awards, in the “Live Action Short Film” category. The film’s director Anders Walter won an Oscar in 2014 for Helium and was shortlisted in 2013 for 9 Meter. What would you say are the blessings and the challenges of having a film that’s a potential Oscar contender?

So far, the only challenge has been that I have been so busy since the shortlist that I haven’t been as focused on the holiday traditions with my own children as usual. But I think it is worth it as the shortlist will hopefully mean that the story of IVALU will be seen by people from all over the world. 

Even if we don’t make the nominations the shortlist alone is a huge acknowledgement of the film and it offers a great opportunity to talk about the film and the subject matter. In this case we get to shine a light on children who finds themselves in very difficult situations. Incest needs to be talked about and I certainly hope IVALU will help the conversation. And hopefully that will help break the taboo and silence that far too many children live in.

Finally, what do you hope audiences take away from watching IVALU?

Although our story is also brutal and sad, our aim is to send the message that even in the most lonely and fragile situation there is hope – you are not alone.

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