Home Interviews Nordisk Panorama Doc Comp: Prince of Dreams by Jessica Nettelbladt

Nordisk Panorama Doc Comp: Prince of Dreams by Jessica Nettelbladt

Prince of Dreams by Jessica Nettelbladt

When Swedish director Jessica Nettelbladt had the idea for her new feature documentary Prince Of Dreams, she knew it would take time to complete. This wasn’t one of those films in which she dipped briefly into her subject’s life. It was full immersion.


In the film, Erik, the protagonist, is shown walking from Rosengård in Sweden to Camino Finisterre in Spain. At the time Nettelbladt first met him many years before, he was about to begin the process of gender re-assignation. He was then 18, having started his life as a girl.


“I understood that this is going to be a long process making this movie. I remember I thought this will take at least 15 years, but long processes do not scare me. On the contrary. I am curious and interested to understand something or somebody more deeply,” the director states. 


She likens herself to a social anthropologist. 


“I do want to turn every stone, year after year,” Nettelbladt says. “I am filming, doing the interviews and pre-editing all my films, then starting to build the enormous puzzle of art and craft a documentary requires. I like it when a film has a sense of mosaic.”


The original introduction to Erik was made through his high school teacher. “I was extremely touched by his description of how he felt within. And how you can lose the spark of life,” she says of her young and very vulnerable subject. 


“When I met Erik I perceived him as a very shy and introverted [person] nobody would listen to. I saw the other classmates shouting swear words. I wanted his voice to be heard, that someone would listen to Erik. I became curious about who he was and his story.”


Before going ahead with the documentary, Nettelbladt shot some test material. She also spoke to his family to see if they were comfortable with her following Erik at such a delicate and transformative moment in his life. She knew Prince Of Dreams was a very long term commitment.  


“For me it’s important that the film has a lot of different layers, it’s so complex to be a human and it takes time to understand someone’s universe in a profound way.”


The years passed. Erik’s existence was still tough. He had taken sick leave from his work as a cleaner in the local church. It was then that he began hatching the idea for walking the Camino Finisterre. He felt that the journey might be a healing process for him, a chance to reflect on everything that had happened to him. 


“When he called and told me about his idea, I instantly knew that this is going to be the frame of the movie. So I decided to join and walk with him, documenting everything with my camera,” the director explains how she came to be part of the journey too.


This wasn’t a stroll. They were walking between 30 and 40 kilometres a day. It was tough going but the scenery was beautiful and Erik was finding the experience to be deeply therapeutic. 


Predictably, this was a challenging documentary to edit. The director had a decade’s worth of material at her disposal. She talks of the immense amount of time she spent “pre-editing, processing and down-editing.” She knew, though, that the walk – the 800 kilometre pilgrimage to the “end of the world” – would provide the film with its backbone. All the other scenes could be woven around it.


“Erik has gender dysphoria, but that is only a part of his life, there are so many other parts [that are] crucial to show. There is a lot happening in his life – love, trauma, art creation, wishes and dreams, like in all humans. Then he has a deeper knowledge of transgender, he is born in a female body, so of course we get to join that journey as well, but the film is much more than that.”


Erik was the first one to see the completed film. He is very happy with it and has accompanied Nettelbladt as it has been shown to acclaim at festivals starting with CPH: DOX. 


TriArt and Blockbuster are handling distribution in Sweden and Denmark. Nettelbladt’s aim with the film is to “increase the understanding of how it could be to grow up and live with gender dysphoria, but also open up for conversations around identity, mental illness and alienation.”


The director sees Prince Of Dreams as “an urgent and global story. In some countries people can be executed just because they were born in the wrong body. It is a group in society that’s extremely exposed and the suicide rate is way too high.”


She hopes the film raises awareness not only about the difficulties facing the transgender community but the challenges confronting young people in general as they try to “find their own identity and be secure and content with themselves.”