June 16: Morning discussion with Lenny Abrahamson

Lenny Abrahamson launched his filmmaking career in 1980s’ Ireland, during a time when the country’s entire filmmaker community could fit around a couple of tables at a pub. Since then he has directed films with a great variety of topics.

One of Abrahamson’s earliest cinematic memories was 2001: A Space Odyssey, which his babysitter half-forcifully dragged him to see when he was ten. The film’s strange atmosphere fascinated the filmmaker and left a lasting imprint. As a child he tried to watch everything television had to offer. He remembers sometimes watching even a blank screen before the broadcast begun at Saturday mornings.

In youth he studied mathematics at Trinity College in Dublin. He stated that he wanted to please his parents who appreciated academic education but on the other hand he was drawn by the intellectual challenge that the studies presented him with. Later he moved on to study philosophy, which “he loved even more”.

His field was a far stretch from filmmaking, but during his time at college he founded a film club with his childhood friends, with some financial assistance from the college. It was used to buy among other things a video camera, which was big and cumbersome in comparison to modern versions, requiring several people to operate. Abrahamson explains that his background in philosophy helped him greatly in his career. As a young filmmaker he toured production companies like a travelling salesman pitching ideas. Studies in philosophy provided him with rhetorical tools to do that successfully.

In his early career Abrahamson made commercials. Traveling around the world directing commercials about subjects that didn’t interest him, gave him a lot of knowhow about filmmaking and organizing a production. “It was my film school, as I never went to film school.”

His most memorable lesson from that time was that making films always requires a community that provides the filmmaker with energy and tools. “No matter how good a filmmaker you are, you cannot achieve your goals without professionals that can work on cameras, lights, sound, et cetera.”

Abrahamson mentioned Aki Kaurismäki‘s Leningrad Cowboys go America when talking about his first feature film Adam & Paul.

“I loved the strange sadness of it and its atmosphere greatly influenced my first feature film.”

When Ireland’s economy boomed in the turn of the millennium, Abrahamson wanted to deliver stories of the poor and downtrodden that were unaffected by the country’s economic success. The tragicomic Garage was based on true events that took place in a small town in Ireland in the 1980s.

“I wanted to show the everyday reality of the Irish countryside. The film’s protagonist is the town’s greatest defender and simultaneously its greatest victim. I loved touring Irish small towns during the making of the film and working with the lead actor Pat Shortt was warm and inspiring.”

At the moment Abrahamson is working on a trilogy that is based on the story of his parents and their marriage in different decades. “I aspire to make a period film, my own Fanny and Alexander.”

For a deserted island Abrahamson wants to bring Stan Laurel‘s and Oliver Hardy‘s Way Out West. “It’s beautiful, funny and delicate and I could watch it over and over.”


Photo: Viena Kytöjoki