16.6. Morning Discussion with Dag Johan Haugerud

Sunday’s morning discussion continued with Norwegian writer and director Dag Johan Haugerud, who made time to visit Sodankylä in the midst of a busy post-production process. Growing up in a farming community, Haugerud recalls Disney films and the late-night television airing of Dracula (1931), which scared him so much as a child that he didn’t dare put his feet on the floor. His father had to carry him to bed.

Despite his working-class background, Haugerud read a lot and watched movies, as his father was interested in American culture and Hollywood films.

“My father read Steinbeck and Hemingway. We went to the movies every Sunday,” Haugerud says. He also remembers the Finnish drama series shown on Norway’s only TV channel on Mondays.

Haugerud initially studied to become a librarian but eventually ended up in Stockholm studying the Bible.

“While traveling in Europe, I happened to see Leos Carax’s film Mauvais Sang (1986). That’s when I got the idea to study film. I wanted to understand more and be part of that world.”

Haugerud made his first film, 16 Living Clichés, with a Super 8 camera. His style has evolved over the years into works exploring relationships, sexuality, and society. Though his films are diverse, they share a common element: Oslo, which feels almost like its own character.

“I feel like an outsider in Oslo. The city has a strong class divide that is reflected in everyday life. I don’t quite understand Oslo, which is why I want to explore it in my films,” Haugerud summarises.

Haugerud’s latest film and the first part of a planned trilogy, Sex (2024), explores sexuality and its gray areas, especially among men, as male sexuality has remained trapped in stereotypical representations. The film playfully questions gender roles and sexual orientation.

“Empathising with another person’s experience is fascinating and challenging. The film challenges us to think about the assumptions we have about each other,” Haugerud explains.

“I like to write dialogue specifically for certain actors. I go to the theatre a lot and pay attention to those I could work with. Actors need to be used to being in the spotlight and expressing complex emotions with their bodies. I find that a tremendously fascinating profession.”

Rehearsals are an essential part of creating the tension in Haugerud’s films. “The script provides the foundation, but workshops with actors and their commitment to the project create most of the intensity that comes through in the films. A scene must have an essential meaning and tension that draws the viewer in.”

Music plays an undeniable role in Haugerud’s works. He sees music as a stylistic device in literature and film, conveying more than words alone can. “Music is its own character in my films. It conveys more emotions and meanings than words or images alone could. I love the feeling of walking down the street, observing the surroundings with music playing in my ears. It makes you see reality differently.”

Haugerud, whose sister is a social worker, is interested in social relationships and structures that affect everyone’s lives. He can be seen more as a part-time sociologist in the realm of film art rather than just an artist.

In Haugerud’s films, communication and relationships are under scrutiny. “I have always been interested in communication and how people hurt each other with words. Family relationships are particularly intriguing because people take each other for granted and can be quite sharp with each other,” he explains.

Image: Juho Liukkonen