Interview with Gina Kippenbroeck, director of Ensom Cowgirl [Lonely Cowgirl]
Saturday 5 February 2022, by ,
Alone in her apartment, Liv is counting the days until she is reunited with the woman she loves. Accompanied by her audio-tapes, she thinks back on her relationship as the solitude slowly begins to test her mental strength.
How was Ensom cowgirl born?
It started with a feeling and a mood, more than an actual plot or idea for a character. During a long and dark Copenhagen winter, I moved into a new apartment which had a quite dystopian view from the living room window. I did most of my developing and writing while sitting in front of this window, watching the fabric smoke and empty trains passing by. The fact that I did not see any humans or human life from my window created this feeling of alienation, which also affected the script that I was writing. The plot grew bigger and more doomsday-like. I realized that I was writing a plot driven dystopian sci-fi, which had not really been in my original plans and had difficulties connecting with the project on a personal level. Suddenly, the world really closed because of the pandemic. The story that I had already been developing for a couple of months felt uncomfortably realistic. This gave me the chance to bring the story in a more subjective and character driven direction, as I myself and the rest of the world were experiencing actual isolation.
The film deals with longing, desire, and loneliness. Would you say it’s easy to capture these feelings on screen? What draws you to such topics?
It started a little bit as a challenge that we wanted to experiment with different ways of visualizing the topics of the film. How does longing, desire and loneliness feel like, and how can we make the film look and sound like these feelings? This is something that we had a lot of focus on throughout the whole process. It turned out to be complicated, as I find these feelings quite often come as a result of emptiness and lack of interaction and drama. We wanted to tell a story where there was room for this void of emptiness that takes place post a big dramatical event and follows a character for whom the world suddenly stands still. Still the story needed some progression and drama to drive it forward. It was difficult to balance the want for freedom to focus on expressing feelings and moods, but also have a storyline that somehow made sense in terms of the progression of the story. Our solution became these old audio tapes that she listens to and the dream sequences we experience with her. They are an attempt to invite us in on her senses and emotions, which are important. I tend to find myself interested in both when I watch and make films. I think they are present in most people’s lives, but for me they are some of the hardest emotions to find enough logistics within to be able to put words on. You can stand in a room full of people you love, and still feel lonely. Some of us have everything we need and think we want, but still feel longing towards something else, something different. What I find magical about film is the capacity to show how complicated these feelings can be, without having to try to describe them with words. I don’t know if we succeeded with this, but it is always something I am striving for when I make a film.
Utne Stiberg Kristine carries the film pretty much entirely by herself. What can you tell us about your collaboration? What directions did you give her?
I met Kristine for the first time at a music festival in Denmark some years ago. The meeting was brief and we were both tired and hungover, but she still left an impression on me. She radiated the kind of power and vulnerability I imagined it would take to play the role of Liv. Even though I had not seen her since the festival, I contacted her a year later when we were casting. I felt that she quite instantly understood the character and brought a vulnerability to the role which I think became important for Liv. We knew that Kristine would be alone in front of the camera most of the time, so it was important that the two of us had a close collaboration and that she felt safe with me and the rest of the crew. Our process before shooting mainly consisted of talks where we shared experiences that felt relatable to the story and the character. We created a common library of emotions, anecdotes and scenarios that helped build up an emotional world around Liv, that Kristine could use when we got on set. We recorded all the audio tapes beforehand and I had Kristine take the photos of Carla in the role of Flora. We played the recordings out loud during her audio tape scenes and had the same sweater and cigarette as Florahad in the photos as props in the apartment. This was an attempt to awaken some senses and memories from playing Livtogether with Flora, that Kristine could play on while being alone. We also had a very free technical set up in the apartment, which gave Kristine the possibility to move quite freely during the takes. This also made it possible to spend less time on the technical setups between shots, so that Kristine could spend time alone in the apartment and get acquainted and comfortable in the space as if it was her own.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
I recently watched Mati Diop’s A thousand suns. It is a stunning film which really struck me visually, but I was also amazed over how smooth it mixes past with present and does not necessarily distinguish between reality and fiction. The dream-like sequence in the end where Magaye walks barefoot in the snow and finally sees his long-lost love as they finally speak after so many years, really made a strong impression on me.
What’s your definition of a good film?
I love when I can relate and see parts of myself in a character on screen, so I am definitely a sucker for personification. But I am also very fascinated by films that make me question the world and how I see it. Sometimes a film can do both, and that is magical. Also a great dance scene never fails!