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Opinion and Insight

Catching Up with RSA Director Åsa Riton

On working with Trentemøller, wrestling in hotel rooms, and creating more opportunities for women

Catching Up with RSA Director Åsa Riton

Originally featured in Pitch RSA

Swedish filmmaker Åsa Riton has a strong artistic approach to her practice. Originally trained in graphic design at Central Saint Martins, she was able to experiment in film, a medium she later went on to study at the Danish Film School. Riton boasts an impressive commercial portfolio with brands such as Philips. However, she also has a strong documentarian background, shown in the stories she’s told of artist Andreas Emenius, the band The Knife and fellow director David Lynch. She’s exhibited her films at the Gothenburg International Film Festival, the Helsinki Short Film Festival, Kulturhuset Stockholm and the London Institute of Contemporary Arts. 

Q> How did you get into directing?

AR> I have always been interested in telling stories in some way, but it wasn’t a straightforward road to get there. After my education in graphic design at Central St Martins I just wanted to get busy. Quite quickly I realised that film was the best medium for me to communicate to the world around me, so I applied to The Danish Film School and got accepted. Studying filmmaking helped me to get an understanding for storytelling in a historical perspective and get a grip on how to work with large teams. Also, what’s brilliant about studying is that you get a chance to experiment a lot and get to know yourself. Once out in the real world things are moving so fast that you might not get that kind of privilege for trial and error.

Q> What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

AR> See the job, do the job, stay out of misery. Rest is as important as work. You can always say no but yes is usually more fun.

Q> What achievement are you most proud of?

AR> Having a life without compromising on love.

Q> Is there a piece of literature/music/film that you keep returning to?

AR> Far, jag kan inte få upp min kokosnöt - a Swedish all-time favourite song about asking your dad for help cracking open a coconut.

Q> When not directing how do you spend your down time?

AR> The easy answer is yoga. Though this winter has been all about skiing and wrestling in hotel rooms.

Q> Do you approach shooting a commercial in the same way as you approach shooting a music video?

AR> It’s always about what you want to say or project rather than the media. So yes, my methods are similar – a mix of research and intuitive approach, with investment of my own background and experiences. In a way the various projects feed from each other. The commercial world seems to need it spelled out a bit more clearly, rather than being suggestive. I’m able to use my artistic background more when making music videos, since people are less afraid of losing money if you create something off-the-wall. But that’s all changing now and I feel there’s a craving for something more ambiguous in the commercial world as well, since it creates a more emotional long-term impact.

Q> Sweden made a bold move for equality by introducing the En av Tre (One of Three) initiative. Has it made much of an impact? Is it something you think will work in the UK?

AR> Unfortunately, I think it’s still a need in the advertising industry to highlight the issue that female directors don’t get a fair chance to pitch. Since the target group for commercials is 50% women, it would be a pretty reasonable idea to aim for 50% female directors in the long run, right? So that’s the answer for the UK and the rest of the world. The One of Three initiative is a good starting point for highlighting an issue that we all could solve in a blink if we were brave enough! The film director Steve McQueen recently said that it’s not a Me issue, it’s an Our issue, which I think is the way to go. There are some visible changes in Sweden, at least when it comes to pitching on projects. Now we just need some gutsy decision makers actually awarding the big money projects to female directors as well.

Q> What can you tell us about Her Story?

AR> It is one of the projects closest to my heart. A few years ago I seriously faced the challenge of continuing working as a director. I became a single mum and I had the choice to quit and take a ‘normal’ job, or take on the fight to continue doing what I love. One of my best friends that I went to St Martins with, Kjersti Lund, went through a similar patch in life and we supported and encouraged each other. We realised that we had very few female role models within the creative field – and how did the few we have manage family and career? Out of this Her Story was born. We wanted to create a documentary project with creative women from all over the world telling their stories about the challenges to reach their goals in life, and sharing their advice. The bold truth.

Q> What projects are you working on at the moment?

AR> I’ve collaborated with artist Andreas Emenius under the name RitonEmenius. We’ve co-directed three music videos for the electronic musician Trentemøller as well as a series of video-installations that will be shown in galleries in Copenhagen, New York and Paris. The ambition is to expand this collaboration into future art and music-related projects.

Q> What advice would you give to any aspiring young female directors?

AR> Don’t listen to any advice of getting a ‘real job’. Keep knocking on the wall until it breaks, then take the money and run!

Written by Daniel Challis