Could you explain the choice of title? What are these mysterious shadow animals?
I believe that humans are shadow animals, social creatures trying to imitate others to fit in. In our subconscious, we carry all the aspects of ourselves that our egos don’t want to acknowledge or show, because it’s not accepted in the world around us. We imitate others to survive. Our brains are programmed to imitate what we see in order to fit in, and this is an important part of our learning process. But it can also become an issue if we try to adapt to a group that doesn’t accept who we are as an individual. The fear of being excluded can become so strong that we go against our own nature and behavior, in order to fit in, and instead project self-hate on others.
In every group of humans there is a specific behavior that is the norm, and if someone behaves differently they might be corrected, punished, silenced, mistreated or excluded, in different ways. Some people may be excluded because of their skin color, gender, sexuality, beliefs or class, while some may be excluded because they have a different behavior that makes it difficult for the rest of the group to enjoy themselves. Humans are social herd animals that need to belong in order to survive, and to belong to a group we imitate and adapt to others around us. This is what shadow animals is to me.
What did you seek to explore through this young girl’s perception of the party? Are we seeing those adults through her eyes?
Human behavior seen from a perspective of a person that has not yet decoded and understood it. The film started with an image of a woman that was stuck with her hand inside of a man’s mouth, a duet. I didn’t know much more than that, but I knew it contained something that I wanted to explore. Bit by bit this dance film about social rituals and human behavior grew, guided by this one image. The child, Marall, came much later but was the most important part of the puzzle.
I wanted to create a film about human behavior and social rituals in a playful and absurd way. So I deconstructed social rituals and put them together in new, slightly twisted ways. But it was important to me they were still recognizable. I wanted the audience to react to the rituals and slowly see glimpses of their own behavior through them. And that’s when I realized I needed a perspective of an outsider, that we all can relate to, a perspective we all once had, a child. But we don’t only see this party through the eyes of her, we see her experience of what happened this evening. The child’s perspective adds a layer of realism to something that is very surreal. Her gaze helps the audience to see how strange human behavior might be to someone that hasn’t fully decoded and understood why we do certain things in a certain way – an observer who knows as little as the audience about the social norms needed in order to survive at this party.
Can you tell us about the choice of “choreography” when the music is playing?
There is a scene in the film where the adults are dancing, and I have based this choreography on flamingo mating ritual, which is not very far from human mating ritual. As with many animals, humans come close to others by dancing. In the case with flamingos it’s almost like a night club, they all join one group’s movement and dance together with a group of individuals, in the same synchronized style, and while doing so they choose a mate, much as people try to spot someone at a club. During this group dance, individual pairs split up in duets in which two individuals become more intimate, to find out if they are compatible. This social ritual of dancing to find a mate, is both seen in humans and animals. In Shadow Animals, it happens to be the physical movement of flamingos, performed by humans. They even mate the way birds do, by cloaca mating, hole to hole, but here they do it armpit to armpit.
How would you describe the genre of the film? What were your cinematic influences?
I would describe it as a surreal movement-based drama.
I think dance and film have very much in common as art forms, they are both built on rhythm and visual elements. I wanted to do a dance film where the movement and dance was made for film, and not a stage. In Skuggdjur, I wanted to find that language where acting becomes physical movement and naturally evolves into dance. On the verge of surreal, yet realistic. In doing so I discovered a movement-based language where acting and dancing become one.