Figuring It Out
The biggest problem was that we didn’t have any pictures of Gus. How do you make a movie about someone you’ve never met, who’s been deceased for twenty-five years, without any pictures to portray him? Our solution was animations and to put half the focus onto ourselves; our journey while following in Gus’s footsteps.
I met Elin in Sydney just before the new year. I breathed the Australian heat for a month before I finally started to find myself in the library next to the cooling system every day. I decided to go to New Zealand on my own and meet up with Elin a month later.
On March 3rd, we met at a hostel in Hobart, Tasmania. We didn’t have any real plan on how to tackle the filming or a concrete vision of what our documentary should be, but we knew we were going to hire a van to drive out to the west coast so we could resume contact with the people we had e-mailed. Afterward, we just had to film a little and ask everything we wanted to know… Right?
The morning after we arrived, we sat down and made a to-do-list. The first thing on the list was to look in the archives so we went to the library, looked through newsreels and old newspapers without really knowing what to look for. What else did we really want to know about Gus that we didn't already? Doubt began to cloud my mind.
The road from Hobart to Strahan would take about four hours and with each mile I felt something different: Nervousness, anticipation, anxiety, joy. I need to structure all the jumble in my head and talk about everything, but the more I began to talk the quieter Elin got. New feelings this time: irritation, frustration, incomprehension, stress. We decided to stay overnight in Queenstown (an hour away from Strahan) because it had started to get dark outside. But the real reason was probably because we didn’t feel ready to start filming seriously.
The morning after, we woke up to a dead car battery. Untechnical as we are, those red and blue wires didn’t mean much to us. Luckily, an Australian couple came to our rescue and soon after we were on the road again! After coasting through green forest and taking sun-drenched curves which made up the road, we came to a sign: “Welcome to Strahan”.
– Aah! Elin, pick up the camera! Film it!
– You have to drive slower!
We reversed the car to film the sign and rolled into the village of Strahan. It lay beautifully next to the water from the Tasman Sea with a population of no more than 650 people.
After we had walked around the town centre for a while, we decided to check in at the campsite we had the most contact with a year ago. A woman working there had asked around and gathered information about Gus for us. We park the car, breathe… and start stress-eating peanut butter, something we’ve practically done since landing in Tasmania. Our first dilemma suddenly becomes obvious: Should we check in and introduce ourselves? Should we film straight away or ask for permission first? But maybe she didn’t even work there anymore… Why hadn’t we emailed and given her a heads up that we were coming over? More peanut butter. We sit in the parking lot and discuss what we’re going to do for about fifteen minutes until we at last boost up our courage, or at least some courage. We decide to check in first and then go back to introduce us properly, with a camera.
When I say my name while checking in, I feel as if I’m committing fraud. I know who she is; she knows who I am… If only I would introduce myself properly. My stomach feels like a twisted cloth and my brain has died as sudden as the car battery. So instead, I just smile a little extra and pay for the camping spot.
When we’ve parked the car, I feel how low my heart has sunk. Elin is quiet and I babble out all my nervous thoughts. It feels like I’m constantly bossing around my best friend and giving orders:
– Get the camera!
– Film this, film that
– What do you think?
– Say something?
In Swedish, there is a word for a specific type of anxiety that clicks in when you feel the need to live up to your own, or someone else’s expectations. Prestationsångest. It makes you feel utterly paralysed, frustrated, and it wears on your self-confidence. Prestationsångest has been my biggest enemy for years and I just felt like I had to prove to myself (and to the world, who never really questioned it) that I could make a film.
The little I’d learned about filming was that you can’t have enough material. Therefore, I cling on to the thought that as long as we don’t miss a single moment, everything will be fine. We just have to film as much as we can. The lump in my throat expands and I feel it all starting to swell. Once again, I hiss at Elin to get the camera out. Feelings are good on film and setbacks are good for the drama. Stress. Elin gets the camera and starts to shoot while I, grouchy and dramatically lean against the car with my sunglasses on. I stand there quietly for a while, trying to collect my thoughts… Then I try reaching out to Elin by saying:
– I feel like a bitch… and it feels like we don’t know what we’re doing? What are we gonna' do?
I kick the wheel of the car. The camera tilts towards the ground. Elin gasp for air and walks away from the car with tears streaming down her face.
I taste the salt in my mouth and grab the camera. Red eyed, I clumsily try to find focus before I explain to an imaginary future audience about what just happened.
– I just made my best friend cry.
Ten minutes later, I’m being chased off by a wasp. I pull myself together and start looking for Elin. She’s on a bench in the shade with her laptop. For the first time during the trip we start to finally talk about our emotions.
– Viktoria Sahl