Burn The Place You Hide – Interview mit Richard Knights (english)
Nachdem wir vor einigen Monaten schon einmal über die Musiker-Dokumentation „Burn The Place You Hide – The St. Thomas Story“ berichtet haben, ist viel passiert. Mittlerweile hatte der Film eine viel beachtete Premiere in Norwegen. Wir sprachen mit Produzent Richard Knights von Native Weapon Films über die vergangenen Monate und den Plan, den Film auch in Deutschland in die Kinos zu bringen. Hier findet Ihr die ausführliche englische Version. Eine etwas gekürzte deutsche Version gibt es HIER.
Crazewire: The premiere of your documentary „Burn the place you hide” was a couple of weeks ago in Bergen (Norway). A second screening was a few days later in Oslo. How was the reaction of the audience and what did the press in Norway write about it?
Richard: It’s been a pretty humbling task to make a film for a country whose language you can’t even speak and even more nerve wracking to wait for people’s response to it. However, after quite overwhelming responses from audiences at both Bergen and Oslo screenings our nerves have begun to settle slightly. We’ve been genuinely moved throughout, not just by the support for the film, but by the kindness we’ve been shown along the way. Throughout the production we’ve felt quietly ashamed when having to conduct all our interviews in English. However, the people we met, as well as Thomas of course, made this easier for us, he sang in English and he often spoke in it as well. He perhaps did this so his voice could reach outside the country he lived. Hopefully what we’ve done, in some small way, is take that voice and echo it back. So, yes it was really important to us that the first release of the film was in Norway and that Norwegian people weren’t offended by it being produced primarily in English. Luckily the response from everyone we’ve met and has been universally positive so far.
We’ve had some really good press and reviews in Norway off the back off it but it’s been pretty difficult trying to keep on top of everything when you’re just two people trying to do it all in your spare time. Especially when you have no marketing or advertising budget. I guess we only have ourselves to blame for that though, we’d always wanted to go down a DIY route, mainly because we wanted creative control but also as an experiment to see if it’s possible to produce a feature length documentary in your spare time, for a relatively small budget, and then distribute it to an international market. It will be a fair while before we know if it’s been a success, and if we’ll be able to cover the personal debt from the film, but at the end of the day you have to decide if you’d rather fail on your own terms or succeed on somebody else’s. So far it’s definitely been a success, but it’s early days….
Crazewire: After watching the documentary I was very surprised how honest friends, family and musicians talked about Thomas and also about his mental issues. Was it difficult to make them comfortable enough to answer in such an honest way?
Richard: It was made during many visits to Norway, the two of us travelling from place to place on public transport with cheap consumer cameras, basic lights and sound equipment in backpacks. Over the years we visited a huge number of people who knew and played with Thomas and in long interview sessions, often lasting late into the night, became completely absorbed by their stories.
We hope that the intimacy of these very personal recordings comes across in the film. And that what we lost in production value we gained in empathy.
I think you start to question your motives when you contact grieving parents, or friends, and tell them you’re making a film about someone they loved who’s died in such tragic circumstances. I can only imagine the pain of losing your child and I don’t know how I’d react if somebody asked me to do an interview about him. I think this was when Thomas became a real person to me, rather than just ’the guy on the album’. However, from day one, Beth, Terje and his sister Kate, were the warmest most generous people you could hope to meet. Although it was painful for them, they agreed that the only way the documentary could properly honour Thomas was to be as honest as he was. So, that’s what we tried to do. Thomas was very open about the flaws and failings that made him human and his family and friends were equally forthright. The film tries to be as uncompromising as possible. As Espen, his close friend and guitarist said to us. ‘EVERYTHING has to be said to honour him.” Those words became a kind of a mantra to us as we worked on the film and whenever I’d feel uncomfortable about something I’d think of those words and aim for the truth. As painful and uncomfortable as that was some times.
Crazewire: What did his parents say when you started working on this project?
Richard: His parents were always supportive of the project and backed us from the start. I think it took two interviews before they felt totally comfortable with what we were doing. They are wonderful people, very brave to have participated in the way they did. But the same can be said of his sister and closest friends.
Crazewire: Have they (family and friends) already watched the final documentary? Did they like it?
Richard: Yes, I think the majority of people in the documentary have now watched and it’s been a really positive response. It’s obviously an uncomfortable and emotional experience to watch something like that back I’d imagine and as I said we’ve tried to be as uncompromising with the source material as possible. So, yes it was a pretty terrifying wait to hear what people thought about it and throughout the project we’ve had the thought in the back of our minds that one day we’d have to show it to his parents and friends. So yes, it was a huge relief when they told us they liked it. Although ‘like’ is probably not the right word to use.
Crazewire: Thomas Hansen wasn’t that famous in the UK. When did you realize that his life could be material for a documentary that people want to see? What was your intention?
Richard: I’d never intended to make a film about Thomas. I was in a big record store in London and I was looking through the racks to see if there was a new St Thomas record. I guess this shows how long the production process has been because it was a time when I still spent afternoons browsing in record stores. Anyway, I guess I couldn’t find anything because when I got home I went online to look for any new St Thomas releases and I saw that he’d died. It’s a strange feeling when an artist whose music you enjoy dies. You don’t know them, so there isn’t a feeling of grief at losing the ‚person’, but there’s a sense of grief at losing the ‘music’. And, that’s how I felt that evening, I felt the same way when Mark Sandman or Linkous or Bowie died. A sense of loss that I’ll never get to listen to a new album by them.
Around that time I’d moved into directing commercial spots, and was looking for a side project I could have more creative control over. I’d just thrown in the towel on a short documentary I’d been working on with my co producer Gary. I sent an email to Thomas’s record label asking if we could make something about Thomas and spoke with Pal Klosterman at Racing Junior.
I didn’t know really anything about his personal life back then but as I travelled to Norway those first few times, I found a real warmth to the people we met and a heartbreaking story that added a new narrative depth to his music. Everyone’s looking for authenticity and it’s such an increasingly rare thing these days. It reminds me of what Mark Kozelek from the RedHouse painters is doing these days, very diaristic, honest and emotional songwriting. But with Thomas I never knew those songs had any deeper relevance until we started talking to people and it makes his music so much richer to know the context. Apart from which he had a hugely poetic turn of phrase. Burn the place you hide is taken from a lyric in one of his songs and it’s such an emotive sentence. And a lot of Thomas’s song writing has been overlooked but there’s a beautiful reductive poetic sentiment to them. But, although I’m a fan of his music this is definitely not a ‚fan film‘. I I’m a fan of his music but I didn’t know him so I can’t be a fan of him. I’m a fan of his friends and family because of the warmth and generosity and openness they showed us. But it’s certainly not portraying him in some kind of messianic rock star light. We wanted to humanize him, show his faults and flaws and be honest to the spirit of St Thomas. I’m no fan of films that idolize celebrity, put it on a pedestal. I’m also no fan of the ‚celebrity back patting‘ in many ‚authorised‘ music docs. A bunch of ’names’ flowing from one to another, a stream of hyperbole about how he was the best this or that, the originator of something or other. I think Thomas was the antithesis of that. He wanted people to know he was just the same as them, perhaps a bit more fragile, a bit more volatile. But he was a regular guy. And that’s the point. That’s what attracts me to the story and him. I don’t feel that by presenting his flaws we’re doing something he would disapprove of because he was so open and honest about everything.
Crazewire: Tell us a few words about the idea and the production. How long did you work from start to the premiere? Where there any problems/difficulties in making the movie?
Richard: The production process was in a word ’slow‘. Partly because we relied mainly on our own funds and partly because it had to be made entirely in our spare time. I’m very lucky because I have a really supportive wife and family. But making a full length documentary in your spare time means you have to sacrifice things. Perhaps too many things in retrospect. It’s probably quite a selfish thing to do in some regards.
So it’s been slow and the lack of a serious budget has slowed it down even more. When we’d nearly finished, probably more than a year ago now, I became quite ill and I didn’t know if we’d ever get round to releasing it, but we had to get it out there one way or another. Kickstarter helped us a lot, and our backers gave us the moementum to keep going, but even now we’re both quite heavily in debt and it’s a big gamble you take. But I’m glad it’s out there now. I’m glad Thomas friends and family appreciate it and I really hope other people relate to it as a story, because at the end of the day it’s not actually about the music, the music is a ‘McGuffin‘ to carry you through what is essentially a very simple, human story, about love, friendship and loss.
Crazewire: After the success in Norway. What are your plans for the next month? Do you need any support or in better words: What kind of support do you need to spread the word about the movie to all the people who still are into the music of St. Thomas?
Richard: We have a UK premiere at the Doc ’n Roll Film Festival in London on the 13th November. Thomas’s last unreleased album ‘A Mouse in a Crowded House’ will hopefully share the same date for it’s vinyl and CD release. It felt really important to us that the album and film were released at the same time. Each adds a deeper sense of context to the other, so hopefully people will listen to the album directly after watching the film.
Aside from that we’re currently trying to firm up additional screenings and release schedules for the UK and Europe.If anyone wants to put on a screening they should get in touch and let us know. It’s been very much a community driven production and release. We’re as open to people who want to show it in their local community centre, or café, as we are to screenings in mainstream cinemas. Please check out our Facebook page for more details.
Video: Burn The Place You Hide – Trailer