Friday , July 19 2024

Film Interview: Andreas Eidhagen, Director of ‘Philosopher of the Sea’

On July 11, Nordic streaming service Viaplay released a fascinating documentary called Philosopher of the Sea. In it, director and editor Andreas Eidhagen focuses on the life of 83-year-old Swedish sailor Sven Yrvind, who wants to sail from Ireland to New Zealand. Yrvind’s specialty is building small boats, which he believes to be more efficient than the trendy big boats of today.

Eidhagen’s film won Best Feature Documentary at the Stockholm City Film Festival in February 2023. He joined me on Zoom from Stockholm to explain how he developed the film and the messages we can take away from Yrvind’s experiences.

On Getting Started

Do you sail? How far would you get in a small boat? 

I grew up in the Swedish archipelago. I’ve been out on boats my whole life. This whole thing started when I was kinda stuck in a job that I wasn’t really enjoying that much. I started looking at sailing longer distances, maybe crossing the Atlantic.

Then I found one of Sven Yrvind’s books, which got me interested in him and led into the documentary. I am interested in sailing, but now I’m doing more kayaking. Maybe I’d go across the Atlantic, but not as in such a small boat as his. I’d like a little more comfort in my life. 

Was it a smooth process to set up this project with Yrvind? 

There are a lot of people that have been wanting to make a documentary about him, but they haven’t succeeded because he’s a quite private person. When I first contacted him, he said no. He’s very afraid that somebody will make a film of him for their own personal benefit. He doesn’t see a point in that. 

As we talked more, he realized I was interested in the same questions and philosophy, thoughts about society, climate change, and so forth. He opened up and we spent some time together. He became more open to the idea of me filming him.

Photo of director and editor Andreas Eidhagen standing by a wall
Andreas Eidhagen (Courtesy of Viaplay)

When he allowed me to interview him, he opened up. The first layer is difficult to get through, but once you’re one of the people that he trusts, you can talk about anything. 

On Planning with His Team

How did you film the footage? 

We filmed it over four or five years, on no budget at first. We started off with anything we could get our hands on: a Canon c300 as the main choice, a RED camera for slow motion, and a DJI for drone shots. We had a Sony FS6 towards the end. Since we filmed for a long period of time, we had all kinds of material. We combined it with archival, YouTube, GoPro, and iPhone footage. Since we wanted to make it 4K, we used AI to scale up the older archive footage with grading in post-production. 

Describe your collaboration with co-creatives Annika Gritti and Claes Helander.

I’ve known Annika and Claes for a long time. Annika is my producer and shares the same office as me. We talk daily and work together all the time. Claes is a friend from film school. [While] he’s not part of my production company, we’ve done many projects [together].

It was a great collaboration. We talked a lot about what the film should be and shouldn’t be: the pacing, tempo and images needed calmness in it, because [Yrvind] is quite a loner. Even if we’re in the workshop, a small space, we wanted the feeling that there’s some empty space around him. Everything you see today in films is close up and at fast tempo. I wanted [the] pictures to be scenic images of nature and of him moving in the boat. 

Screenshot of Sven Yrlind in his workshop
Andreas Eidhagen’s shot of Sven Yrvind in his workshop (Courtesy of Viaplay)

In terms of story, we had no idea what direction it would take. I had an idea of the film structure, but it changed over the years. We thought he’d sail away and reach New Zealand at the end of the film, but then he stopped the journey early. It became more about the process as a constructor and his life. 

Anecdotes from the Journey

I love when people are looking at the small boat that Yrvind built. Did you climb in to try it for size? 

I did but I’m a much bigger person than he is. I’m taller, heavier and wider, so I didn’t get in all the way. It was too cramped for me. I’m not a gigantic person and that’s something about how small it is. He tailor-made it for his size.

There are segments when you’re traveling during COVID and activity was restricted. Did you expect to make the border crossing? 

I gave it a 50/50 shot. When you had a reason to work, they allowed you in. I felt if they’d allow Yrvind to go sailing, they should allow us to film the documentary. I thought he might be turned down. He’s not paid, so he can’t argue that it’s a job or that he’s making a product. If he’d been turned away, we’d have followed him setting sail somewhere else.

I also wasn’t sure if he’d turn back for home and we would never get a final sail. Or would we see him build a third boat? 

How long did you spend convincing the border staff to let you through? 

It felt like forever, but probably not more than half an hour. 

Reflections about Sailing

Was there something in planning you hoped to include? Was there an unexpected moment you’re really glad you caught? 

Both. From the start, I had the idea of going to New Zealand. For me personally, I’d love to go there. Also, it’d be amazing for this 80-year-old to manage the sailing by himself as he intended. It would be a dream scenario to see him succeed in sailing from Ireland to New Zealand. We had an edit of the film where he was finalizing the second boat. It worked out well, but it didn’t feel a hundred percent right. 

Photo of Andreas Eidhagen speaking with Sven Yrvind, the philosopher of the sea
Andreas Eidhagen and Sven Yrvind (Courtesy of Viaplay)

When we followed him to Norway, one problem was that we didn’t have footage of him on the boat after he set sail. I was pushing him for footage, but he said, “I don’t have anything” or “I’m not good with filming on my phone.”

Suddenly, he dropped me footage he [had] shot from the boat. It’s only about five minutes, but it was what we needed to get the ending of him out at sea. Having him sitting there talking and seeing how fulfilled he is when he’s there is a great moment for the film. I was happy with this ending, even if my other endings would have been fine.

What else would you like to share about the documentary that I didn’t ask about?

I’m curious what people will think of the film. In Sweden, there’s a big discussion not just about the environment, but how we live our lives in capitalism. Are we supposed to work as much as we do? Is life only 9-to-5 work and then we go home and watch lots of TV? 

Yrvind questions that. He has no money and lives like a poor person. When you hear his stories, you can tell he’s lived a full life. He’s seen fantastic places. Only a small percentage of his stories are in this film. Some people think he’s completely crazy to live this life and sail at his age. Others are inspired by it. 

Andreas Eidhagen’s ‘Philosopher of the Sea’ is available now on Viaplay. To learn more about Sven Yrvind, subscribe to his channel on YouTube.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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