Denmark-based filmmaker Sanne This decided to make her and her husband, Albert, the subjects of her debut documentary film ‘An Eternity of You and Me’. The film showed at Copenhagen Dox earlier this year, where we saw it online, and we loved the quirky, funny, emotional journey of seeing this devoted couple struggle with trying to conceive.
Sanne spoke to us about her experience being both the director and the subject of the film, how they found letting the world in on their most intimate moments and conversations, and injecting some humour into this difficult time.
Nordic Watchlist: At what point did you make a decision to film yourselves and were there any doubts about opening up your lives to the world?
Sanne This: When I had visited my doctor and opened up about our struggles trying to conceive, she referred us to a fertility clinic. There was a period of a couple of months in which we were just waiting for our first appointment.
In order for the doctors to get an idea of how our bodies worked, I had to undergo a scan of my uterus. I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen, when the doctor sprayed contrast medium into my uterus, told me to lift my legs up and the nurses slid me underneath a scanner. This experience was both nerve-racking, absurd and had an instant payoff.
I know it sounds absurd, but it took me three months to figure out that I could film myself and my husband. I all of a sudden thought of the treehouse Albert had been building for our future children and all of it made sense
After that, I started playing with the idea to film a couple who had to go through fertility treatment. I was wondering how I could find this couple, as I wanted to find someone who hadn’t started the treatment just yet, so that I could follow the whole journey. And I wanted this couple to be likable, relatable people.
I know it sounds absurd, but it took me three months to figure out that I could film myself and my husband. I all of a sudden thought of the treehouse Albert had been building for our future children and all of it made sense. So I started to film a couple of weeks before our first appointment at the fertility clinic.
When I asked Albert if it was ok that I try making a film about us, he didn’t even look up from his phone and answered that it was alright. “But Albert, I will have to film EVERYTHING. Also the sad parts, or when we fight”… “Fine” Albert answered. And that was that.
I wanted to tell a very honest and real story. So I filmed everything. And I filmed it in a way where the viewer can look around in the pictures and make up their own mind of where to look in that picture. In my opinion, this creates a sense of control and directness in the viewer which gives the scenes a bigger impact.
I wanted to tell a very honest and real story. So I filmed everything.
The fact that I was filming myself, as opposed to other people, gave such direct access to all the feelings and situations. Much more than I am used to. And the documentary director in me enjoyed that tremendously. I am used to filming other people, and I always treat them with such respect, that I myself never had any doubts about opening up in my own story.
For years I have asked other people to open up in front of my camera, so of course it was only fair that I was willing to try this myself. It was much more difficult than I thought, but I am sure that I have come out as a better director now that I have an understanding of being on the other side of the camera.
Nordic Watchlist: How did filming your journey impact on you and your relationship? Did it provide comfort, add stress or some fun to a difficult situation?
Sanne This: Filming our journey was very hard work, and it added a bit of stress to everything we did. It took three years, and that is a long time to be at work when you are at home. Because in everything that happened, I was constantly thinking “Is this something I should film? Is something coming up? What is Albert thinking? How do I tell this story?”. That was exhausting and challenging. But I knew that it was necessary to make the type of film that I wanted.
Albert and I had an agreement that if I decided we should film, we had to stop everything right then and there, and were not allowed to talk when I set up the camera. We had to try to stay in the moment from before I was filming. Then when I had everything set up and we had microphones on, we could continue what we were doing. In that way I didn’t miss any potentially important conversation or situation. By leaving the camera on the tripod, at a distance, I could always find myself again and leave the director behind.
However stressful that may seem, I feel that filming these difficult times in our life helped me get through them. We were putting ourselves in pain by choosing to undergo fertility treatment. It was such a disturbance in our life and it terrorized everything we tried to do. It also took much longer than I thought it would, and therefore the filming also took longer.
I feel that filming these difficult times in our life helped me get through them.
I did not know how long our journey would take and if we ever would get a child out of it. But I knew that I got a film if I kept filming. So I could hang on to that. Because the darker the situation got, I was getting more and more scenes that were powerful. That was the only positive thing I had in that time. And Albert supported me that whole time, by letting me film all this.
Nordic Watchlist: Despite the serious subject there is so much humour in the film. Are you both just naturally funny people?
Sanne This: One of the things I knew right from the start is that I did not want to make a sad film about fertility treatment. That is what I thought was missing in the stories I had seen: humour and scenes from the present.
So I wanted to tell the story by only showing scenes, no talking about things that had happened. And I wanted it to reflect our life, which can be absurd, awkward and tragi-comical. Albert and I have always used humour a lot, so of course that wouldn’t stop when I started filming. And the situations in the fertility clinics can be so absurd that they become funny, at least in my eyes. I actually never thought about how funny we were until I started filming and looked at ourselves through director’s eyes.
I also always had in mind how I should compose my pictures in a way to make the scenes quirky, such as my legs sticking into the frame at the fertility clinic. And then the composer Anna Lidell and I, used the music to enhance that quirky universe.
Nordic Watchlist: How did you find being both the director and the subject of the film?
Sanne This: It was much harder than I thought. The director side of me was always at work, but having a blast. Subject-me was having a horrible time. It’s weird to experience the same situation while having this double role.
I’m very happy I tried being the subject for once, and I was surprised by how difficult and annoying it was being filmed.
Nordic Watchlist: What message do you hope your film will bring to its viewers?
Sanne This: I hope my film can start a conversation about infertility. Because it is something so many people go through in silence, while it casts a dark shadow on that chapter of their lives. One out of ten children get conceived through treatment, so this is a major issue in the modern world.
I hope this film can be used as a tool to communicate what somebody might be going through, and that the treatment means more than just a couple of doctor’s appointments. At the same time I hope it can provide hope for people in treatment or be an inspiration of how to deal with any obstacles a relationship could have to deal with.
Nordic Watchlist: What are you working on next?
Sanne This: I am helping other people with their projects while searching for my next one.
An Eternity of You and Me will next be having its International premiere this August in South Korea at the EIDF festival – any further festivals we hear it is showing at we will keep you posted about!
Interview by Alex & Claire Minnis