Norwegian Cinematographer Pål Ulvik Rokseth on Challenges of Shooting ‘Amundsen,’ ’22 July’

Ed Meza

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TORUN, Poland – Norwegian cinematographer Pål Ulvik Rokseth is making his mark with such recent high-profile films as Paul Greengrass’ “22 July” and Espen Sandberg’s “Amundsen,” both of which landed him in the main competition at the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography in Torun, Poland. Rokseth spoke to Variety about the challenges of shooting “Amundsen,” working with Sandberg and the difficult experience that was “22 July.”

How did you get involved in “Amundsen”?

I knew about the movie and was very interested in what kind of approach Espen Sandberg was going to take, telling the story of Roald Amundsen. I got the script from Espen Horn, one of the producers, and I was truly amazed at how the film was angled – not at all the action movie I thought it would be, but rather a character study, not only of Amundsen, but also his brother Leon and people around Amundsen that I knew nothing about. I then got to sit down with Espen Sandberg to discuss the movie, and I think we had the same sense of curiosity for the characters so we decided to do the movie together.

What were the biggest challenges during production?

We had some bad luck with weather in Iceland where we filmed all the scenes with snow. Iceland is beautiful, but also unforgiving when it comes to weather. Espen wanted to get as much as possible on camera, so we made the most of our polar sets on a frozen lake in Iceland. We knew that Iceland has very unpredictable weather, so we chose the most weather-safe place we could find, but it still melted down to slush and rocks one week before we were supposed to shoot. And because we were not “The Revenant” we could not move the sets somewhere else, so we had to shoot most of the polar scenes in slush. The surroundings changed from whiteout winter to rocky autumn in just a couple of days and we where forced to shoot anyway. That was brutal!

You worked as second assistant camera on “Kon-Tiki.” How did that experience with Espen Sandberg make this collaboration more effective?

I had worked with him on commercials and “Kon-Tiki” before I got to shoot with him. I believe we had a mutual respect for each other from the start. At least we knew each other from before and could jump right into the movie. From “Kon-Tiki” I learned how good Espen is with characters and actors, which was good to know as he early on talked about how to make this film a character study. Espen works very closely with the actors in prep to get a sense of how to tell the story. That way we could plan the film in detail and not wait until we blocked the scenes on set to get a sense of how to block it.

What was it like working on “22 July,” a film about a horrific real-life event?

“22 July” was a great but also a very difficult and exhausting experience, both physically and psychologically. I remember discussing with my girlfriend after reading the script for the first time if I wanted to do it or not, because it is such a delicate matter. But the story was too important not to tell. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it or not before I met Paul Greengrass and he told me his vision of the movie. I became convinced and I can’t think of anyone better than him to make a film like this. He has so much respect for the whole story and the people involved. So he was the main reason I ended up doing the film. We talked about cinema and how it can entertain, but also how it can reflect on our society and the time we live in, how a film can be a capsule for the future to see and learn from. I think it’s important for filmmakers to take that responsibility. In “22 July” we wanted to do a portrait of how Norway responded to the terror attacks, not the attacks themselves. The film is extremely relevant today.

What project will you be working on next? 

I just finished work on the series “Defending Jacob” for Paramount and Apple. I’m actually having a little baby boy in March, so I think I will be working on that project for a while.

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