Ninja Thyberg

Ninja Thyberg's films revolve around themes such as power, sexuality and group dynamics. In 2012 Ninja won the inaugural New Talent Award, which consists of $300,000 in production support from the Pixel Film Festival in Lund. Thyberg's short film "Pleasure" was the only Swedish film shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. The film, which is about behind-the-scenes of a porn movie, won the Canal+ Award.

Tell me about your background. Where you are from?

I’m from Gutenberg, and I started making films between high school and university. I wanted to be a photographer, and I had also wanted to become a dancer, because I had been dancing for almost all of my life. I was taking photos, and then I realized that with moving images I could combine movement and rhythm with pictures and composition. That was when I fell in love with filmmaking. I felt that film media was so powerful and I could have a big influence on people. That’s when I decided to go to film school. First, I did a two-year preparation at the university level. After that, I made a few short films, and my films got into festivals. Then I made a film called Afro, which won a prize called the New Talent Award. The prize was  funding to make another short film.

What festival was that?

It was the Pixel Film Festival in southern Sweden. I lived there for a while.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a director?

Well, I went to film school, but I couldn’t see myself as a director in the beginning, because first of all, all of the directors that I knew were men, and then I also thought that somehow you had to be some kind of genius. When I started to understand the process of making films, I got dizzy just thinking about all of the things you have to know and the decisions you have to make. I also felt scared of being in a situation where I might never get employed. You have to create your own work, and you have to create your own career. So, that scared me, and in the beginning I was sure I didn’t want to be a director, but I didn’t know what part of filmmaking I wanted to do. So, I thought maybe editing, or maybe I should be a production designer. But after a while I realized that I was so engaged in telling the stories that I wanted to tell. So, I made some films in the first semester of school.  I made one quite long fifteen-minute film. I did everything myself – I wrote the script, directed and produced. I did everything in the beginning.

What was the name of that film?

The title was Egalias High School. It’s a comedy, and it’s kind of a parody of the American high school genre. But I never understood that I was directing it even though I had such a clear idea on how I wanted everything. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized okay, this is directing. I’m actually directing this.

Let’s talk about your film Afro.

Afro was the first film I directed outside of school. I had a decent budget.

What was the hardest part about making Afro?

It was so hard. I think I learned a lot about the process.

Technical problems?

No, my own emotional process, because after a while, when I started editing it, I just felt like it was a disaster. I can’t do anything with this. What have I done? I just felt like it was so bad. I had to keep pretending that it was going to be a film, but I was so sure that this would never be a film. That was also how I felt when we were shooting. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I could feel the panic inside, and that was the worst. Nobody knew that I felt like that. I was able to keep my confidence on the surface. Even though I was totally panicked, I worked it out somehow. After that I had so much more confidence. I gave the material to a friend of mine who is an editor. He didn’t make that many changes. He edited it in a way that was quite similar to what I had in mind when I wrote the script, and all of a sudden I really liked it. And now I’m really proud of it.

What inspired you to make the film Pleasure?

Well, I’ve been very interested in porn as a topic, and I’ve worked on it from many angles. As a sixteen-year-old I was like an anti-porn activist. I worked with the topic for a long time, and I wrote an essay on porn when I started gender studies. I studied, which is one of the biggest porn sites, and I watched the 20 most viewed clips, and I measured different things. I made a qualitative study. I had to watch a lot of porn while I stayed at my mother’s house, and that was really awkward. I got interested in some of these female porn actresses, because they do things that are more athletic than sexual and push the boundaries of their bodies. They do stuff that is extremely painful and at the same time have to look at the camera and beg for more, and they have to be believable. I admire these women for their strength. I think it’s really complex, and it’s not an easy subject to just have one opinion. It was the complexity of that that I wanted to show in the film.

Jenny Hutton stars in Pleasure.

What is the film about?

It’s about a young woman who is in porn, and she hears that another porn actress is going to do a double anal penetration, which is quite hard. The male actors she does scenes with are very impressed with the other porn star. She understands that this is someone who needs to be really strong and tough to be able to perform this kind of thing. One of the things I wanted to show in the film was the people behind the porn stereotypes, because they are so extreme, and they are also dehumanized in many ways. I wanted to make them human. What happens in between takes? How do they rehearse? What do they say to each other in the morning when they meet? How do the directors talk to the actors? I got very curious about those details.

What do you hope to get out of this experience at Sundance? Is the film screening at other festivals?

It had a world premiere in Sweden a year ago, and then it went to Cannes. It already had the international premiere, and it’s been to Europe. Hopefully, because this is the American premiere, it will be screened at other American festivals. That would be awesome.

What’s next for you?

I’m developing a feature-length film script, which is also about porn. It’s not really an extension of the film, but that was the idea from the beginning. I wanted to make Pleasure as a debut. It’s about a Swedish girl who is an up-and-coming porn star in LA. It’s a coming-of-age story.

A scene from the short film Pleasure.


Ninja Thyberg

Place of Birth

Gothenburg, Sweden


Writer / Director