Interview: Emily Norling, the madness of love and how to capture it – CPH:DOX 2023

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The second feature from the Swedish filmmaker Emily Norling, ‘Megaheartz’, premiered at the CPH:DOX Dokumentar Filmfestival 2023. Emily spoke with us about her findings on how to make a documentary about the madness of love.


Have you ever felt your heart beating faster than your thoughts, and your thoughts moving your body like stumbling in your life? Good news— this is called feeling in love, and (for our sake) it doesn’t last. But what happens between in and out of love? How do we find our way out and, in the end, what happens to broken hearts?

‘Megaheartz’ starts with a voice-over, guiding us behind a girl running to a splashy jump; ‘Woke up one morning and asked you for direction. Go out and make the day count.’ This voice, among others, will follow us throughout the film, as we get to stand next to intimate instances of four women finding directions, ‘almost after love.’ This is a non-fiction story. This is also non-linear, non-traditional, and non-factual. It is a tough take and not easy for sensitive to timelines and coherence stomachs. This picture contains hardly any photographic reality; the camera will move in its own rhythm, changing from fixed-to-a-subject shots, to independence movements and cryptic artistic explorations.

‘I knew I wanted a material that was very direct and at the moment. This material is also very raw. But, I think in those shitty images, the feeling drives the pictures. The presence and the directness are more important than whether the camera is shaking.’

Although it is referred to as a hybrid documentary, I would prefer to reject this term here. Like many of its generation, ‘Megaheartz’ is on a mission to capture the chaos of the human inner being; in this case, affected by the immense, crushing and piercing heartbreaking state. And as most human feelings and sensations, this cannot follow a normative clarity or accuracy, but rather a feeling-as-it-is-lived sense. Emily worked fully collaboratively with the production team and the characters, to let reality be with all its layers. She asks, ‘How can we portray the feelings that are happening? They are very true and very now. We have to invite them to be part of the creation. This feels more true than sitting down and just laying what happened.’

As for the characters themselves, they come with a sort of ‘madness,’ originating long before love, or maybe just because of it. According to Emily, ‘I think the madness part of this film, or for the characters, is to push yourself to the point where you have to break. Take it the whole way before letting go. I wanted the film to be at this energy, before something breaks.’

This also means, that in the case of these women, the forced falling-out-of-love struggle doesn’t stand alone; it goes hand in hand with substance abuse, destructive obsessions, and frenetic styles. Along with the camera pointing at them, darkness follows them everywhere, from Sweden to Ibiza and back to Sweden. Together, (i.e. the camera is the director) they are pursuing a coping way, among pain and desire. ‘There wasn’t any set script when we start working on the film. I had an idea that was based on how it would feel. Like emotions, that I would write down, or thoughts’, Emily explains.

For those obsessed with facts, the hybrid documentary is not a trend. Equally, it does not mark a new turn in documentary-making; it was always there, since the beginning of the cinema. What the growing production of hybrid audiovisual works does say, though, is that (for now) fragmentation and fusion are more relevant to the contemporary acceptance of and resting along with the convoluted reality.

After the premiere of Megaheartz, director Emily Norling and author Anna Rieder (‘Hjertet er en fold med heste’) got together in a panel to explore the hybrid format and discuss the advantages of telling a story in a fragmented way.

‘Megaheartz’ premiered at the 20th CPH:DOX (Copenhagen International Documentary Festival, 15-26 March 2023), as part of the Be No Stranger and Next: Wave sections. 

2023, Country: Sweden, Norway | 80 mins | Dir: Emily Norling | Music Eartheater | Producers: Melissa Lindgren, Ellen Ugelstad, Tonje Alice Madsen