Sally gave Sam up for adoption 20 years ago- when they reunite, they fall romantically in love with devastating consequences. "Westermarck Effect" is a narrative feature film, directed by Saara Lamberg.
Finnish Australian Saara Lamberg is a director, actor, writer and producer. She has received several awards for her work, including the Best Film and Best Director at Influx Awards (California 2022), Best Film and Best Director at Verakruz World Film Awards (Mexico 2022), Best Film at the IFF (Milan 2018), the Best Film at the FAFF (Los Angeles 2017), Cinema Australia Audience Award (Melbourne 2017), Bronze prize at the Beverly Hills screenplay contest (Hollywood 2013), Best Actor at Comfy Shorts (Melbourne 2014), Best Drama at the Connect Film Festival (Melbourne 2014) and Best Actor (Lithuania 2004). She lived in England 2006-2010 and studied in the critically acclaimed Dartington College of Arts, graduating with a BA (HONS) degree in Theatre and Choreographic Practices in 2007. She moved to Melbourne in January 2010 and received a Distinguished Talent Permanent Residency in 2012 and citizenship in 2014. Innuendo was her first feature film, it opened theatrically in Melbourne 2017 and was broadcast nationally in Australian free to air television in 2019. Westermarck Effect was released in 2022 in Cannes.
What makes you fascinated with the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?
Ultimately, I love humans and all the complexities that make us human; I feel like film has an opportunity to bring us very close to someone elses inner world, desires, needs, joys, decisions and how they see themselves and how they see the world around them.
I love intimacy and film for me is very intimate: the close ups that show every pore of your skin; and I love the juxtaposition of being able to go from seeing something extremely close up to seeing it from far away. This creates a rhythm that's not really possible in life as we know it.
I started in theatre, and whilst that's potentially close up as well, I found most theatrical performances a little "false" due to having to project, which is unnatural for a human. In film, a character can whisper and we hear it. I just find that I like the performance style of film acting better. Having said that, in terms of plots I enjoy very surreal stories as well, but always performed in a non-theatrical way.
Well before I started directing, I was an actor first and in my first film I played a rape victim. I was 15 and I loved the fact that the role was so challenging and that I really needed to get out of my comfort zone for it. After that, I went playing in dozens of short films, I was an assistant director in an independent feature film, I studied radio and television production and devised theatre. I have always had this hunger to do more work and to do better work and cinema offers me a challenge I can never complete, there will always be more to learn and explore.
Please tell us how "Westermarck Effect'' came to life and let us know about the process from pre-production to completion.
I had just completed my first feature Innuendo and had heard about the first feature gap that many directors fall into and never get past and I was determined to not see myself fall into that hole. I had created this crew around me and I launched into the production of Westermarck Effect buoyanced by the momentum.
The story came from an article I read, it was about a couple that fell in love following a reunion after years apart, after being separated through adoption. it peaked my interest and looking further into this phenomena called genetic sexual attraction, I learned it was a lot more wide spread than I realised, we just don't hear about it because it's so frowned upon and illegal. I am interested in exploring emotional landscapes and particularly ones that are poorly understood. I think taboos need to be talked about because otherwise we cannot progress as humans. Nothing good has ever come from hiding challenging things.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this feature film?
Making it totally independent and with limited resources of crowdfunding, essentially. This means everyone in the project had to volunteer their time and co-ordinating all that logistically is very challenging. I believe my work now is at a level where I would be ready for an investor to give me a lump sum of money and I would be able to deliver a very interesting piece of art so I am open to hearing from anyone in this position. I am not the best in explaining my work, I am much better at doing it, so I feel like an investor that has seen my work and sees some value in it enough to trust my process without me justifying it, would be the best fit.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
I have three features in different stages of post production, soon ready to release. My main focus is getting these off the ground which is a lot of hard work in itself, as without submission and marketing budgets, getting work seen is a massive hurdle, but I do everything in my power that these films get seen because I feel I have a lot to offer in terms of artistic value and that the films I make are unique and something one does not come across every day. I believe there is an audience hungry for original, auteur work that is not dilated by commercially bland infrastructures.
What is the most creative part of directing a feature project for you?
Many parts for different reasons. Writing because that's when I first imagine the world and the plot, being on set with actors, because by knowing what I want but also being open to suggestion, I feel like creativity has a safe place to live in, editing, because I get to recreate the story from scratch and the captures are the ingredients ready to be mixed and matched and sculpted into a piece of art that is the outcome. I am also interested in exploring what happens after that, how can the experience of being an audience member also be more inclusive than just watching. My first feature film INNUENDO was about a life drawing model, and I brought nude models into the cinema and gave the audiences an opportunity to draw before they watched the film.
Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why?
Cinema combines all my favorite things: humans and other living creatures, beauty, light, music, voice, rhythm, eyes, the ability to be very close to someone, the ability to see from afar, the ability to intercut and interject, the emotion, the absolute focus in the moment and presence. I am not the biggest fan of episodic content. I like the holistic experience of living two hours of my life with a film and then that experience changing me and staying with me. I immerse myself in everything I do, and I like being present. I don't see the value in anything halfhearted, and don't get me wrong, I love playing, I love fun, I love enjoyment. I believe in authenticity and integrity, and I find that film for me is the most natural way of exploring the human psyche. I like "fiction" more than I like "documenting" because I don't really believe in one ultimate truth, and I find that too limiting to my exploration of what is life. And the juxtaposition of being able to be surreal in narrative whilst having the very practical framework of making the film works for me. I am good at being practical and pragmatic in process, whilst being free and open in the work, if that makes sense.
Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your films have on the world?
I am interested in the human psyche and how the things we do affect other people. Audiences say my films feel personal, but I don't make them for myself. I am in need of way too much validation to make something only for myself. I am constantly exploring how I live in this world, what my needs and desires are, how I can improve and expand myself and how I can best serve other people. I have been fortunate enough to be brought up in a way that allows me to value the arts and humanity. I have seen enough corners of the world to deeply understand how similar peoples' innermost needs are; despite the screaming and unjust differences in their environments and resources. I have been given this intellectual brain and this kind mind and I feel that the best way of being, for me, is through creating art and trying to reach other people through my art. I have experienced a wide array of bad experiences and I have suffered with challenges such as grief, lack of safety and low mood. I feel like I can provide something extraordinarily relatable through tapping into the struggle, rather than shying away from it.
I hope to be able to keep growing as a human and for my work to have value in enriching the lives of those that see it. I believe in providing viewpoints and questions, not so many answers. I cannot decide anything for my viewer, I can only present a story, a viewpoint and emotion through my characters and it's up to the individual experiencing my art to make up their own moral and cognitive sense of it.
I am interested in complexity and I hope to continue to deliver the unusual and the unexpected, emotionally and intellectually challenging and artistically generous films that audiences will either love or hate.