Celebrity Interview: Director Jonas Bak Talks on The Making of Wood and Water, Covid, and Shooting in Hong Kong

Wood and Water, the newest film from Director Jonas Bak, tells the story of a middle-aged woman, adjusting to retirement, and her reawakening as she travels from Germany to Hong Kong to help her son.

The film, which the director admits, "is kind of slightly risky," pulls together elements of his own life and his mother's, Anke Bak, who plays the lead role, and ends with a charming look at the unexpected pathways that lead to a new chapter. I had the opportunity to speak with Jonas recently.

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Janet Walker: Congratulations on your film. I really enjoyed it. I understand it all starts with a good script, so I understand it all starts with a good script so why don't you tell me a bit about your writing process?

Jonas Bak: It does start with a good script, but I would say it starts more with the good idea or with good story narrative thread because that's, I think, at the end this all that we kept and that is the idea to tell the story of a lost son from his mother's perspective, an older woman who goes out and checks on her children. That's kind of what I started writing.

So, I was living in Hong Kong. So, I wrote about the mother how she would kind of live a bit of a nightmare in Hong Kong looking for his son and I wrote that in maybe two or three weeks. It was very easy because I was quite inspired by this storyline and I could just visit all the places that I'm living in Hong Kong, you know, that my life takes me through and that I've come across and I showed that script then to people, a producer, cinematographers and to my mother who plays the main character and they all loved it. So, we set out to on this adventure but then you know for example the Germany part was mostly improvised and was not written like the Hong Kong part.

It was more written so that we could start to have something on paper to rehearse and to get going with and from that moment once we got going, I think this story and the script really adapted to the changes in the places that we visited. For example, Hong Kong was going through the political changes that was just impossible to keep the script as it was and just adapting it to who my mother is and that's what the became much more the film was much more betrayed of my own mother and how she goes about life and kind of you know make really make her the hero and make this film for her and then kind of that story and the script really.

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Janet Walker: Sounds great. You just mentioned that you shot in Hong Kong during the political protest and before the pandemic so describe better about those moments?

Jonas Bak: Because of what was happening in Hong Kong, and it happened with so much uncertainty and everything was so nebulous about you know what's going to happen so we kind of tried to condense it all to one area of Hong Kong and shot everything around that bit. We knew there were the big marchers so you knew when they were happening, and you knew how they would end quite violently so we reset everything around that that area. We had an apartment looking down as you saw in the film where we could find refuge as well and to minimize our movement as much as we could.

I said that the idea of the film was never to be anything political, so it was difficult to find a balance between sticking to the original idea and storyline and not to get too tempted to explore what's going on in Hong Kong.

Janet Walker: That sounds very interesting thank you. It's very interesting elements about that the film being made but following the film then came the pandemic and tell me a little bit about where you were with the film at the height of the pandemic? Where you finished shooting? What were you dealing with during the lockdown?

Jonas Bak: We were finished shooting. We just finished shooting some last scenes. Yeah so, we just finished and so I had the first lockdown while still living in Hong Kong to start editing and to edit quickly. I think the pandemic and the lock down bought me a lot of time to reflect on what I want to call the message of the film. I made lots of versions and I tried so many different things so all that time that the lockdown gave us I was very good, and it helped a lot, I think. Although there was always the uncertainty of 'Why am I making this film?' 'Will they ever be an audience for the film?' So that's how they pandemic had in a way a positive influence on the making of the film.

Janet Walker: Once you got the film made and decided on the version that you wanted to keep, you sent it off to film festivals and you started receiving positive feedback. So, then what was your what did you decide to do after that? How did you get your distributor on board?

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Jonas Bak: After the first lockdown we got invited with a rough draft (cut) to pitch it to professionals, distributors, sales agents, and festivals in Norway. That's when all the festival of festivals showed interest but not so much sales agents and distributors.

I think the film is kind of slightly risky because of you know how slow it is and maybe because of the political changes in Hong Kong. We got into the festivals, and it was the "New Directors New Films" in New York that Kimstim (the distributor) got involved and was excited about the film. Unfortunately, that was in 2000 at the second lockdown so we couldn't go but it was really "New Directors New Films" festival that opened many doors.

Janet Walker: You just said, "because how slow the film was." Tell me was that intentional did you shoot it in that way?

Jonas Bak: It's just inspired by the cinema that I like. When I said slow cinema for me it's a positive term. I mean often in this fast-paced world and in this fast-paced industry, slow is maybe a bit of a risk. Let's be honest, so this was a luxury of this film that I could make it exactly how I wanted and that reflects how I see life, how it goes through life, but more so how my mother lives and goes through life. You know I try to stay honest in that regard.

Janet Walker: OK so do you have a most memorable moment from the film?

Jonas Bak: It's been a while now, but yeah, I think all those days just on the streets of Hong Kong. I don't know if there was a lot of adrenaline because of the protests and you know all the heat, our small team, great friends, and you know we were literally crying because we were exhausted, and we were angry at each other, but we're also laughing the next day and you know I don't know maybe it's the moment in the sadness of parting ways at the airport that's most memorable. It was three weeks of shooting almost but it just kind of felt like one long day without much sleep and it's also great after many years that I lived to be able to really spend so much close time with my mother, maybe that's my favorite part of making that film.

Janet Walker: Sounds good. Thank you. Congratulations on Wood and Water Jonas. Thank you so much for your time I really appreciate it and again congratulations on this on the film I really enjoyed it.

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Wood and Water

A film by: Jonas Bak

Starring: Anke Bak, Ricky Yeung, Alexandra Batten, Patrick Lo, Theresa Bak, Patrick Shum, Edward Chan, Susanne Johnssen, Lena Ackermann, Amy Aceituna and Christel Johnssen. 

Wood and water will be released theatrically in New York (MOMA) on March 24 with a Los Angeles and national release to follow.

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