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Axel Petersen's Avalon

The filmmaker discusses his latest release and its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival

Having diversified from fine art and video-installations into more accessible, genre-driven cinema, Swedish filmmaker Axel Petersen has been receiving acclaim for his assured feature debut Avalon. The blackly wry, naturalistic film focuses on sixty-something Janne (Johannes Brost) as he prepares to open a high-end resort nightclub. A big partier in the '80s, he hasn’t moved on from his hedonistic ways. But his desire for a carefree lifestyle at any price takes on increasingly dark shadings when a catastrophe threatens to derail his endeavour. We spoke to Petersen at the Toronto International Film Festival where Avalon had its world premiere, coming way with a critics' award.

Dazed Digital: How did the idea for Avalon came about?
Axel Petersen
: I was partly brought up in this place, Båstad. My mother lives there all year round and used to come there for summer. And my father always had a summer house there. It's a resort, people come there to have a good time. The first week of July is a tennis tournament. I think it's changed, earlier in the '70s and '80s we had really good tennis players like Bjorn Borg, so then this week really became something big, it was part of the Grand Slam. Then the tennis got worse but the party stayed and just got more and more crazy, people didn't come to watch tennis they just came to party. I was growing up there, being there in the summers, working in these nightclubs. I thought if I only make one film it should be set there.

DD: Who inspired the characters?
Axel Petersen: I was very absorbed by the friends of my parents, and my aunt, who are all in their sixties but thinking that they're 25, just going on, not wanting to have responsibility, not wanting to be grown-ups, just continuing to party. I was very inspired by them, but at the same time it was love-hate, because of the carelessness. What inspired me was this drive for a better tomorrow, they had some hope, some light left. I guess the inspiration started when I was thinking oh, I'm becoming mature, responsible, and all of a sudden they were younger than me. My aunt is playing in the film as Jackie, the sister of Janne, the main character.

DD: Had she acted before?
Axel Petersen: She was in a small film I did before, but she’s not an actress. She works in a place that sells cards and dice and things. She's a player, she plays backgammon and bridge, she's basically a gambler. My father's in it too, playing her ex. Then when Johannes who's playing Janne came into the story, he was kind of an inspiration in the early stages, because he was very much a part of these 60-somethings being out in the nightlife. It turned out that he knew my aunt from the '70s and '80s, they were having very late nights together, so when they were put together in the test scenes it was like, here we are.

DD: In contrast, the Lithuanians in the film are living in harsh conditions. Did you intend to comment on immigration in Sweden?
Axel Petersen: They're not really migrants, but summer workers. In early spring they come. Now not so much Poland because the economy there is booming. When I grew up it was all Poles, and now it's all people from the Baltic countries, and they work on these people's summer houses. They don't have papers, on paper they don't exist, so whatever happens to them is usually not reported. If it's a comment on anything it's on the fact that Sweden and Swedbank have bankrupted some of these Baltic countries just to get ahead. The relation between the Baltic countries and Sweden is not really in synch. I grew up in a house where there were constantly Polish people, and I remember my cousin thought that a Pole was a profession, she didn't think it was a nationality.

DD: What direction do you see your work taking next?
Axel Petersen: I'm going make more films after this. It's fun. This was just a test.

DD: So the whole process went smoothly?
Axel Petersen: Smoothly, no. But it worked out. I got some grey hairs. Didn't make any enemies. Maybe some, but no-one died. So far, so good.