Last week, we announced Vimeo's initiative to take its Staff Picks to the streets with the Vimeo Staff Pick Award. The physical award debuted at SXSW in March and will be expanding to many other festivals around the world as part of the official awards ceremonies. 

In addition to a shiny new piece of hardware, the winning film will immediately premiere on Vimeo’s Staff Picks, providing a valuable bridge from the festival circuit to online distribution. No Film School will also feature each short and a Q&A with the winning filmmaker, beginning today with the second ever Staff Pick Award, which was given to Elsa Maria Jakobsdottir at Aspen Shortsfest for her film ATELIER.

Vimeo's curation team explained what attracted them to the picture saying,  "Atelier is a brave and mysterious film about isolation and the tension that arises when differing expectations clash. In a delicate play of genres, the short’s use of stark locations and bold sound design results in an unsettling aura that beautifully lingers from frame to frame."

No Film School spoke with Elsa Maria Jakobsdottir, whose film not only received praise in the form of the award but from auteur Nicolas Winding Refn who tweeted out a link to the film after it's big win in Aspen. 

No Film School: What was your inspiration for creating this film?

Elsa Maria Jakobsdottir:  Atelier is my graduation film from the National Film School of Denmark and it somehow sums up what I’ve been experimenting with at school. I’ve been interested in telling stories about soul searching and self-helping characters and playing with the minimal Scandinavian interior design tradition and exaggerating it. The minimal settings are so merciless and it’s wonderful to contrast them with my very confused characters and their aspirations to be better and have some control. There was definitely also something about isolation, expectations of others, destructive perfectionism and finding your place.

NFS: Did you face any challenges when making this film?

Jakobsdottir:  A big challenge was to find a house that channels 'Scandinavian minimalism on steroids' as I wrote in my first draft. But after months of location scouting, we wrote a Facebook post that led us to this fantastic modern house on Gotland in Sweden. The house was everything I wished for and so much more. The house is only half an hour from Ingmar Bergman’s island and the Persona location–see the connection here? To me, that was almost creepy!

Film school collaborations can also be quite challenging. I was deeply worried during the making of the film so the rigid use of the camera and the heightened and neurotic soundscape and the oh-so-PTSD sensibility of the film was definitely inspired by challenging film school circumstances.

"Put something of yourself on those pages, in every character."

NFS: What is your best piece of advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Jakobsdottir:To be real and personal. Everything else has been done before. Put something of yourself on those pages, in every character, in the sound, in the frame, in the textures, in the mood.

NFS: What’s the value of displaying your film at a festival versus releasing online?

Jakobsdottir: I love the communal experience of going to the movies that you get at a festival. That is definitely the ideal way to experience my film—in a proper movie theater with a mad sound system. Afterwards, I get to meet the audience and other film professionals and engage with them.

With an online release you let go of the curated movie theater experience, you don’t observe your audience but instead, you get this enormous reach. The film finds a new and different audience that would otherwise never have heard about your film. That is quite thrilling.

NFS: What does the Staff Pick Award mean to you?

Jakobsdottir:  I’d never released anything online before and those past weeks have been wild! Now the film is at 200,000 views and I never thought there could be such an exciting life out there for the film after the festival circuit. This exposure on Vimeo has sparked an interesting dialogue with ambitious film professionals who connected to the film. I´m sure I see some future collaborations there.

The Staff Pick Award also meant cutting the umbilical cord and helped me to move on to my next project. It was actually quite emotional and relieving!

NFS: What’s next? Any upcoming projects?

Jakobsdottir: I’m working on a script that has a lot to do with Atelier but set in Iceland. There is the artist residency and those two conflicting characters forced to live together. Soul searching and existential horrors. The desolate Icelandic landscape and mythical creatures will help tell the story. This time I want to go further in playing with genres.

NFS: We saw that amazing tweet from Nicolas Winding Refn about you and your work—what was that like?!

Jakobsdottir:  I was about to go to bed when I saw it and then, well, I couldn’t fall asleep! I was thrilled that he tweeted about the film. He is definitely a favorite filmmaker that I admire deeply for his boldness and being ever so progressive. He’s an ideal for what you can do and how far you can go as a Nordic filmmaker.

And I don’t think I see this too often—an established male filmmaker bringing attention to the work of women in film. But Refn is of course known for pushing the boundaries!