I was fortunate to speak with Katrine Weber, a Denmark filmmaker, about her short documentary “A Morning, A Mother & A Boy”. The short is an everyday drama portraying one morning, in the life of a mother and her 4 year old son. We follow the mother and child through all the morning routines while the boy stubbornly tries to stretch out time to avoid going to kindergarten. But there is no way out. The separation between the two is inevitable as it is for most parents and children in Denmark every day. The film is a slice of life and a self-portrait about motherhood and its dilemmas that many parents will recognise from their own lives
As a trained anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, Katrine Weber’s approach to filmmaking is both personal and objective – exploring the universal themes of life through personal stories. Being raised in a socialist co-housing community in Denmark, and as a mother of three, she has especially explored the themes of family, growing up and womanhood.
In Katrine’s previous documentary “Skråplanet”, she looked into the experience, and repercussions of children growing up in a 1970’s co-housing community in Denmark. During Autumn 2020, she joined Ecole DE LETH, a film school based on the filmmaking approach of the Danish film director and poet, Jørgen Leth – who is also the grandfather of the Dogma-movement and the personal subjective documentary. Katrine’s most recent documentary “A Morning, A Mother & A Boy” was the final project at the school, where she worked with several obstructions and explored the personal dilemmas of motherhood during everyday life.
Because English is not Katrine’s first language, I will be writing our discussion in paragraph form and inserting her quotes throughout the piece. The first question we discussed was how Katrine conceived of “A Morning, A Mother & A Boy.” Katrine had been attending the film school Ecole de Leth in Denmark founded by the Danish poet and filmmaker Jørgen Leth (“The Perfect Human,” “66 Scenes from America”). A method taught at the school is utilizing obstructions in all of your films. Their assigned challenge was to make one film with one person, one object, and in one location. Weber said, “I saw the theme of women represented at different stages of their lives. For my final film, I wanted to represent that theme.”
Initially Weber wanted to make a film about modern witches, but she could not find a witch that wanted to participate in her film. During this time when she was preparing for her final film, she was unable to see her three children for long periods. “My youngest, Silas, who you see in the film, was having a difficult time going to kindergarten.” It was difficult for Weber to see her son struggle so much, and her friend, who is a screenwriter, said, “Why are you looking for witches? You have enough stories just within your own four walls.” As this was a struggle for Weber, she thought this might also be a universal struggle during motherhood. “Bringing my kids to daycare never felt natural to me. I always felt it wasn’t really the right thing to do . . . It’s something that’s been a struggle with each of my kids.” Weber decided she’d like her film to capture one morning, and do it without a handheld camera. She felt that a handheld would make it look too much like a home video and she wanted the film to be aesthetically pleasing.
The film that was Weber’s inspiration for “A Morning, A Mother & A Boy” was Jørgen Leth’s film, “The Perfect Human.” In the film, Leth studies a human. “Basically it’s a very objective way of looking at the human in different situations through dinner and sleeping, putting on clothes.”
With “The Perfect Human” as Weber’s inspiration, she wanted to put the focus on the details, as it’s about a typical morning of a four-year old going to kindergarten. “I think the devil is in the details, right? You see so much when you focus in. You simplify and slow down, and you look at the little picture, right?” It was important for Weber to make the film intimate in the details, because when it becomes personal, it becomes universal. She took some mobile videos of her son getting ready for kindergarten and showed them to her teacher. They thought the idea and subject for the film was a great idea. She was glad to get confirmation, but Weber notes, “I was really worried about it because I knew I had to be the director and the mother in the film.”
Silas, Weber’s son, was very excited about being the subject of the film. I told Weber it seems that would be difficult for a four-year-old to do. She asked Silas, “Since you’re really not happy about going to kindergarten, should we make a film about it?” it turned out Silas was up for being in the film, and had fun during the process. The shoot lasted for several days, and certains scenes, like Silas getting dressed in the morning, took several takes because of all of the close-ups. “But he was really patient, and he thought it was fun to do,” Weber said.
Silas was a natural in front of the camera. Weber added, “It also helped that he had a good relationship with the cinematographer. He was very fascinated by him, and he was very good at working with him.” Sometimes Silas would not want to be filmed or he’d not see the camera following him, and would ask, “Where is he?” Because of that, there were several takes.
The cinematography is beautiful in the film, and certain scenes really stayed with me. We talked about the end scene when Silas is in the kindergarten and looks out at his mother with his hand pressed against the window. It’s a beautiful shot that reminded me of a similar image in Leos Carax’ “Holy Motors.” Weber said, “This is actually the window where Silas says goodbye every morning. That image is burned in my mind. That is the hardest place because it’s where you say goodbye. For me, this is the image of the separation. “
Another shot that I loved was Weber’s end credit sequence when she is driving away from the kindergarten after dropping off Silas, and we see her struggle in the rearview mirror. It reminded me of the final scene in “Michael Clayton,” where the end credits materialize over a close-up of George Clooney as he rides in a car. The reason for this choice, according to Weber, was, “I could have made the choice to go back and get him, but it’s not the reality. The reality is that you actually leave. So that’s why I made that choice.” Along with the action, she really wanted to use mirrors as a reflection of her theme in the film. At the end, you see her looking in the mirror at herself, whereas earlier, she was looking at Silas as she was driving him to kindergarten.
I reminded her about the scene of her after she gets up in the morning looking at her tired face in the mirror and the stress of the day to come. I appreciated the vulnerability and realness of this scene. “That was quite important to me, really trying to put down my vanity, because I had to show it all in a way. That’s something that all documentary filmmakers should do. It’s really difficult and a very vulnerable position to be in. I think to make films about others, you should make one about yourself first.”
We ended with Weber talking about her future projects and how she’d love to continue to explore the subject of motherhood. Her film is receiving an emotional response because of the vulnerability of the subject. She also feels motherhood, real motherhood, is not represented enough onscreen. I’m excited to see what she does next!
“Filmmaking is to me a very collective experience,” said Weber. “The cinematographer, Dror Kasinsky, is someone I’ve worked with before, and he definitely helped me feel more comfortable in front of the camera, as well as create beautiful images. The editor, Mette Esmark, who I also worked with on a previous project, was such a great asset to the film. She has an incredible way of feeling the material and making it work. I was also incredibly lucky to be able to use the music of a very talented musician and composer, Fritjhof Toksvig, which was a great part of creating the atmosphere and lifting the film. And finally, my sister in arms and co-filmmaker, Lene Kamm, has been a really big support throughout the process, as well as assisting me with camerawork when needed.”