SPOTLIGHT: Meet talented writer and actress Minni Katina Mertens

Minni is back from catching a heatwave in the Norway countryside, she describes it as an ‘explosion of summer‘ from her now-current Oslo location.

Nordic Watchlist first discovered Minni’s work when catching images on her Instagram of a project she did during the summer called The Foxcave, an art project that she worked on as an actor and in which “dealt with the human erotic drive and was created by an international group of actors, performers and musician.”

Meet Minni Katina Mertens (Photo Credit: Anine Lindvig)

SK5161

You might have caught our interview with Lene Seestad a few months back, who was heading up a short film competition with the Panorama Academy that she runs. Minni’s film SK5161 was one of the films in the competition and has received a huge amount of love, with multiple nominations.

Before going any further, take a moment to watch SK5161 below. Then continue on to read the transcript of our interview and find out more about the film and her other projects.

NW: Where did your inspiration come from for the piece and your particular connection with the actor in it?

MINNI: To be completely honest with you it came from my own experience during the pandemic. I started dating someone I had never met and who lived in a completely different city.

NW: So this really is a story based off a genuine experience from the pandemic!

MINNI: Yeah I was inspired by that and I find it very fascinating that there is this thing that we all experience how our social relations were (and still are) just moved to a screen. That is where it all happened for me.

So when I was writing this I felt a bit like there was this closeness that you can experience when you are communicating through a screen and I wanted the viewer to be inside of that somehow.

That is where the idea came and the characters are very aware that they are being filmed and that they are filming themselves – so I wanted to put the viewer in between those two characters somehow to create this intimacy.

In the writing process, I was also interested in how we choose to (in lack of a better word) stage ourselves when communicating with a romantic partner, and how this behavior potentially creates a mirage for the other person to fall in love with. When being physically distant to one another, is it easier to project all our desires and longings onto the other person?

NW: I have to ask how did you manage to pull off the filming on the plane for the film? That must have been a real challenge given the situation

MINNI: That part was quite a demanding part because really you are not allowed to film on aircraft but I just acted out like I was a character, a naive tourist, who was just filming everything with my phone. So it was just accepted by the crew who must have thought I was just a being silly tourist filming everything.

Many of the shots had to be done when I was walking onto the plane and walking off the plane – there was no chance of re-shooting! Everything was quite random – I had these ideas of what I wanted to catch but then you realise there are twenty people at the place I wanted to film at. So it was challenging but it worked.

Minni went on to win an award for Best Actress at the festival (Photo Credit: Anne Marie Jo)

Look At Me

Minni is also both actress and co-writer behind the fascinating performance film Look At Me by Christian Falsnaes, which she shared with us as we had missed it at the brilliant CPH:DOX. It was something very different from what we had ever experienced before, so we were keen to ask her about it.

MINNI: I have been working with Christian Falsnaes now since 2016, so many years, and I started working with him as a live performer. Around two years ago he said to me: ‘Minni I am going to make a movie‘.

What I admire about him is that he is always curious in going to new places with his work. He was aware he had done all these performances for many years and he wanted to see how he could translate this into a cinematic world – I found this really exciting. He had these ideas for many scenes but this film had eight scenes in the beginning and now it has five.

The film opens with Minni staring straight into a camera and a voice can be heard (belonging to Christian) telling her what to do – it is a polarising and hypnotic start.

MINNI: We were never sure how the film would be at the end – we would film one scene at a time and see how it goes then let it affect the next scene. So it was very much a film that evolved during the production process and also each scene was filmed very separately in different locations with big timespans in-between at an open-air festival on the island Bornholm, a film studio in Düsseldorf, and an art fair and a night club in Copenhagen.

That scene was the first one and it is probably the most staged one because we knew what was going to happen. We had a script and we were following it A, B, C, D but we didn’t have much time though, and only had two attempts to film it. In fact that goes for all the scenes in the film – they were shot with limited time. Especially the ones that involved audiences because we only had one go then!

Improvisation was a key tool in all situations.

This particular scene that Minni mentions is with a live audience but I couldn’t figure whether the audience were actors or genuine real people.

Things get touchy feely in the concert sequence of Look at Me

NW: How did you manage to pull this scene off – it looks like it got pretty crazy!

MINNI: This was a genuine live audience and they did not know what was going to happen – they knew we were making a movie, they knew who we were but they did not know what was going to happen – that was the concept also.

The scene ends in a writhing pile of bodies..

MINNI: That wasn’t supposed to happen, it was not planned and it was something that just seemed to happen out of the situation of us improvising. We wanted to go as far as possible with the time we had and let the situation unfold.

The scene was filmed in Copenhagen at a music venue, so it was an evening with this scene being filmed and then Pussy Riot played afterward. So it was a genuine audience who we were very lucky with!

The film is very much about borders and your personal borders, comfort zones, and how does a group dynamic get affected when authority arrives? How do you respond to it? For example, in this particular scene, they become more and more intimate with one another but you can see members of the audience reach their limits and step away.

This is the important point because you yourself become the art piece!

This is essential in Christian Falsnaes work: he employs directives to underscore the significance of individual will, turning the reactions of his audiences into material for their own self-reflection. Look at Me reflects on the relationship between dominance and subjugation. It examines the mechanisms underlying the various relationships: between artist, performer, camera, and the audience – and how power relations tend to govern social behavior.

The film also explores the labor and hierarchies behind the production of images.

Everywhere, the camera has become central to our culture where we incessantly perform and stage everything. In Look at Me, the camera is utilized as an authority contributing to control people’s appearance in front of the camera lens.

NW: Where does the movie go from here and how can others get to experience the film and see it?

MINNI: We have a cinematic version and a museum version. The museum version is going to be exhibited next at a place in Berlin called a K60 as part of Berlin Art Week. It was initially made for museums and a whole architecture was built around that for the film.

NW: With the other projects at CPH:DOX what did you catch there – any favorites?

MINNI: I loved Dark Blossom – just everything about it. The aesthetics of it was just so enjoyable and pleasurable to watch – it was such a beautiful story and so moving.

The excellent Dark Blossom that was featured at CPH:DOX (and went on to win an award too)

What Next?

NW: So you have been preparing for you first feature film How We Live Now . What can you tell us about the film so far?

MINNI: It is a film by Anna Fredrikke Bjerke, she is a Norwegian director, and it is a story about a group of friends who are gathering for New Year’s Eve and one uninvited guest arrives. So you follow them for the whole night through to the morning and it is very much inspired from the feeling that emerged from the whole pandemic.

It explores what boundaries we’re willing to cross in order to regain a sense of intimacy and belonging, following the pandemic year that has been.

It is still very much in development – all I can say is that it is a comedy-drama, but it is still early stages. In fact, I am off to rehearsals this evening!

NW: This sounds incredibly exciting and can’t wait to see the finished product next year! You have also been working on a short film which you are in the final stages of finishing – Et Drama For Tre Personer (A Drama for Three People).

MINNI: Right now I am in process of wrapping up post-production which will be really nice to finish that. It is a story around 5-6minutes long and I can’t really say too much without spoiling the plot due it’s shortness.

I can say that it is about power dynamics within a relationship and transactions. Transactions in the literal meaning of the word; exchange of services, but also the transactions happening within a romantic relationship. What do you long for to receive from your partner, and how far are you willing to go in order to achieve it?

NW: You have Maria Wolter and Patrick Quansah in it is that correct?

MINNI: That’s right – when I writing the film I had Maria in my mind. I have pictured her being this character and I felt very inspired by her when I was writing. So I was extremely happy when she said yes – this was a dream come true!

(Photo Credit: Anine Lindvig)

Minni’s Recommendations

NW: We are always interested to hear what you have been watching, reading, or listening to recently – what are some of your recommendations?

MINNI: Well I watched The Worst Person in the World yesterday! That is the movie I am mostly thinking about and I can say the hype is very real – you have a lot to look forward to. I am still trying to digest what I saw and I was very moved by that movie. It is beautiful!

It speaks directly into the life of women around my age, and deals with issues all my friends are struggling with. I was blown away by how precise Joachim Trier is in his portrait of Julie. And Renate Reinsve’s presence on screen is unique.

Then there was Young Royals on Netflix which I binged-watched and absolutely loved – I really really liked that show. The two main character’s acting and chemistry were incredible – that was the reason I loved that show the actors were so good.

I haven’t been reading as much over the Summer which I have been really missing – I have been working so much! The last book I read though was Just Kids by Patti Smith – it is beautiful!

Interview by Alex Minnis

Find about more about K60 | Berlin Art Week by following the link HERE

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