Prior to receiving a Kristián award for contribution to world cinema at Febiofest, Bille August discussed his work at a public master class chaired by journalist Pavel Sladký. During it he recalled working with Ingmar Bergman, who asked him to film his screenplay about his parents’ relationship. “I was afraid that he would be overly domineering during the shooting of The Best Intentions. But he insisted that I cast as his mother Pernilla August, whom he knew from the theatre and adored. I fell in love with and married her, which made him rather angry.”
The Danish director likes to shoot long films but says he never hears complaints about their runtimes. “Even a short can be long,” he said. His new film A Fortunate Man, an adaptation of a novel by Henrik Pontoppidan, is over two hours in length. “It’s one of those books where everybody says that they’ve read it but it isn’t true, because it’s over 1,000 pages long. But after the premiere of the film it went to the top of the best-seller lists,” said August, who specialises in literary adaptations and made Les Misérables in Prague.
His most famous film, the Palme d’Or and Oscar winning Pelle the Conqueror, is also based on a book. “Its success meant I skyrocketed. Suddenly I had lots of offers, mainly from America. It really was a big change,” said the director about the turning point in his career. As his first project in English he chose to adapt the novel The House of the Spirits. “One the final day of shooting Pelle I got an ear infection and then I wrote the screenplay for The House of the Spirits in bed. I was obsessed with the book and kept calling Isabel Allende’s agent to set up a meeting for me. When they finally consented I went to see her with reels of my film. The next day Isabel called saying I was the only person who could film The House of the Spirits.”