Hallström discusses his film - the first of two English-language films a year based on major Nordic figures or events to be produced by Nent Group for Viaplay.

Hilma will be the first biopic about the enigmatic yet major Swedish painter Hilma af Klint ((1862-1944), a pioneer in abstract painting, ahead of Piet Mondrian or Wassily Kandinsky.

Af Klint’s art however remained largely unknown to the public for decades, as her unconventional spiritually and occult-inspired art made her an outsider in the male-dominated artistic scene of the time, and the artist herself requested for her paintings to be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death.

The life and legacy of Af Klint, one of the ‘Five’ artist women who applied spiritism and theosophy to their works, will be brought to the screen by Oscar-nominated Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules) who spent three years working on the screenplay.

The director’s daughter Tora Hallström, in her first major screen appearance, will play the young Hilma, while Hallström’s wife and seasoned actor Lena Olin (Fanny & Alexander, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) will be the celebrated painter in her later years.

Speaking to nordicfilmandtvnews.com about the challenge of personifying Hilma af Klint on screen and to play under her father’s direction, Tora Hallström said she feels fully prepared, having given her input to the director during the writing process, and done acting workshops based on the script.

For the rising acting talent, Af Klint was an awe-inspiring artist, ahead of her time. “Staying true to her art and ‘artistic mission’ as she called it, was very courageous. Also, not going the traditional way by getting married, and not having any financial safety-net made her very modern and unique,” said Tora Hallström. “As an artist, it’s super cool also to hear about the influence that science, maths had on Hilma’s life and work. She wanted to show the world as it is, but invisible to the naked eye, which is very interesting to me.”

Lena Olin who played a painter in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and most recently in The Artist’s Wife, said she will draw from that experience. “Hilma was incredibly modern, stronger than a man to be able to survive in a men’s world. It is super fun to approach her character from Lasse, Tora and my own perspective,” said Olin.

The film fully-financed by Nent Group, will be produced by Brain Academy’s Helena Danielsson, with Josephine Zapata Genetay serving as executive producer.

“Hilma af Klint’s work is still to be discovered by many, and it’s really her retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York [October 2018-April 2019] that blew her art out of proportion. The fact that Af Klint hid her art for decades, her experience as a medium with the ‘Five’ makes it a fascinating story to tell. I’m really proud to do this film, and for Nent Group to commit to feature films, as a means to tell important Nordic stories,” said Danielsson.

Hilma is due to start filming in the fall, between Stockholm and Vilnius, Lithuania with a release scheduled for 2022. The rest of the ensemble international and Scandinavian cast will be unveiled after the summer.

The film will first be released in Swedish cinemas according to Nent Group’s CEO Anders Jensen, who is in negotiations with various partners to get a short theatrical window before the exclusive launch in Viaplay’s territories. Those include the Nordics, the Baltics, and before the end of 2021, Poland and the US. The film’s release in non-Viaplay territories will be negotiated on a territory by territory basis.

Questions to Lasse Hallström:
How did you get in touch with Nent Group to make this film, the first Swedish production since The Hypnotist nine years ago?

Lasse Hallström: My long-time friend, Josephine Zapata Genetay ended up working for Viaplay, and she has found a wonderful other project that I will do with Lena [Olin].

In the meantime, I had originally planned to make Hilma in Swedish language, but it was hard to finance it. We switched to making it as an English-version and Viaplay took it on. They are financing the whole thing.

You’ve worked a long time in Hollywood, and this will be your first film fully-financed by a streamer. How do you feel about this new financing model?
LH: Yes it’s crazy! This project started out as a small Swedish film which received development support from the Swedish Film Institute, and three years later, it’s an international Viaplay production in English language! It’s a lovely surprise.

Why did you become so interested in doing a biopic about Hilma af Klint? Are you a fan of her art?
Lena [Olin] had mentioned her name. I researched a lot about her art and life and became obsessed about the idea of making this film. I was fascinated by her spiritual journey. I had actually done research earlier about UFOs for another project and that opened up my mind to trusting and believing in Hilma’s theories. That was a weird coincidence.

Af Klint’s belief in a mystic force that would influence her creativity is indeed fascinating. What are your views on the mystery of creation?
I do find it fascinating. On the outskirts of the Hilma project, I’ve researched other aspects, such as human consciousness. Are we all connected? Are we part of a big vortex? I think we are, which is why we have mind-reading, connections with the afterlife etc. These are all big questions that I started exploring through Hilma.

As an artist, are you interested in legacy? What you will leave behind?
LH: I wish I could do a little cleaning up [laughs] and if I could, yes, it would be a nice thing. But I can’t so I don’t worry about it too much. Some films were pure bread and butter creations, others true works of love…

What films were works of love, that you’re really proud of?
LH: I would list My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Cider House Rules. More recently I’ve enjoyed doing The Hundred-Foot Journey

In Hilma, how will the story be split between the younger Hilma played by your daughter Tora and the elder Hilma played by your wife Lena Olin?
LH: Two-thirds will be about the young Hilma and one third about the elder Hilma. It will be an epic story, spanning from her younger age, to what happens to her paintings after her death. It’s very ambitious in scope. it will be my labour of love.

Visually, how will you make it alive and modern?
LH: Everyone has gut reactions to Hilma’s art. So much is not abstract images but flash images of the spiritual world, which is why people connect so easily with her work. Younger people will probably also be interested in getting part answers to what happens to us after our life on earth.

How do you feel about shooting under Covid, between Stockholm and Vilnius?
LH: We hope for few mutations, few regulations and a lot of vaccinations. We expect less problems during the fall, but who knows…

Are you tempted to work on long form storytelling in the future?
Yes. We actually have a project with Lena in the works for Viaplay.