Phie Ambo’s IDFA Forum Pitch Entry ‘Fire, Water, Earth, Air’ Finds Nordic Partners (EXCLUSIVE)

Danish IDFA winner Phie Ambo (“Family”) will be attending Amsterdam’s major doc showcase for the 8th time with “Fire, Water, Earth, Air,” bowing at the Forum Pitch alongside 20 other projects. Ahead of their industry pitch Nov. 13, Ambo and her producer Rikke Tambo Andersen of Copenhagen-based Tambo Film, have just secured two co-producers: Mantaray Film Sweden’s Stina Gardell (“The Most Beautiful Boy in the World,” “Nowhere to Hide”) and leading Faroese producer Jon Hammer of KYK (“Trom,” “Heartist”).

Securing Swedish and Faroese partners was paramount for the making of Ambo’s first creative documentary conceived as a fully-fledged collaboration with filmmaking teams in Sweden, the Faroe Islands and Norway, on top of the helmer’s own Danish crew.

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The four elements-focused “Fire, Water, Earth, Air” is a poetic portrait of climate change in the global North, weaving together scientific findings with stories of everyday life in the four nations, with each country representing one element.

Nature-lover Ambo, credited for the “human nature” trilogy “Organized Wildness” (2022), “Rediscovery” (2019) and “Good Things Await” (2014), is directing the section “Water,” focusing on flooding in Denmark. Her Swedish counterpart Ewa Cederstam (“Dare Remember”) is tackling wildfires in Sweden with “Fire,” Janne Lindgren (“Becoming a Citizen”) is looking into landslides in Norway with “Earth,” while Rógvi Rasmussen Jensen is capturing the violent storms beating down the picturesque Faroe Islands in “Air.”

Main characters in each section range from local dwellers – elders or children – scientists and the Faroe Islands’ first environment minister Ingilín D. Strøm.

Discussing the genesis of her project, Ambo said she was approached by a group of researchers, part of the ClicNord project exploring climate change and resilience in small Nordic communities. The scientists were keen to move away from anxiety-inducing climate pics, and to tap into Ambo’s poetry, combined with her humanistic and scientific approaches. “They said we want something that digs deeper [into global warming] and maybe sparks more initiatives and hope,” said the filmmaker, herself engaged in exploring “how do we prepare for climate change instead of avoiding it.”

Ambo says teaming up with local filmmaking teams is allowing her both to reduce the overall film’s carbon footprint, and to collect “stories more engrained in the subject matter.” “I wanted to work with people who had lived landslides in Norway, Faroese who had experienced storms, and Swedes who had seen forests go up in flames, smelt it and heard it,” she explains.

The Danish helmer is currently working on shaping the visual style with cinematographer Troels Rasmussen Jensen (“Dark Blossom”) to be shared with her Nordic colleagues. Borrowing from Sebastião Salgado’s style, Ambo says she wants the main characters to blend into the landscape, to make humans part of the overarching theme but not the main focal point.

Phie Ambo
Phie Ambo

Commenting on his involvement in the project, producer Jón Hammer cited the opportunity to work with Ambo and to awaken the 54,000 plus Faroese islanders to climate change. “There is a strong need to have this discussion on the Faroe Islands,” he said. “I also really wanted to take the opportunity to be part of a bigger, international project that can speak to the world, on an issue that is relevant to everyone,” he added, underlining that the project is “beneficial for both the local community and the global community as a whole, and a great exercise in collaborative filmmaking at the same time.”

Gardell said she was equally seduced by the film’s engaging narrative, green call to action, and innovative multi-territory collaborative model for funding creative documentaries from development stage. “The major commercial players will never take up the type of creative documentaries that we work with, which is why we have to find new forms of collaboration,” she argues.

So far, the project has secured backing from Creative Europe, the Danish Film Institute, Film Fyn, CliCNord and the Faroese Cultural Fund. The long feature will be available in 90 minute and 58 minute formats.

IDFA’s Forum Pitches showcase for documentaries seeking co-financing and/or distribution runs Nov. 12-13 in Amsterdam and the festival Nov. 8-19.

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