Although neither one of us can claim Norwegian ancestors, we were surrounded by Norwegian people and culture while growing up in Iowa (Dave) and North Dakota (Christopher). Lutheran church potlucks every Sunday were as common as Sons of Norway lutefisk dinners every Christmas. So when we decided to partner with a group of North Dakota investors to make a film that involved their home state, we didn’t need to think too hard to invent a tale about lutefisk and the Norwegian Mafia.
“The Lutefisk Wars” was initially conceived as a traditional narrative film, but when a satisfying storyline didn’t materialize, we decide to modify our approach. The challenge as it turned out was telling an “unconventional” story in a “conventional” way. Eventually the idea of re-imagining the story as a pseudo-documentary or “mockumentary” took shape. We fashioned the screenplay around a mysterious occurrence in a small midwestern town that is revealed through interviews with the local citizens while using flashbacks of their descriptions to dramatize the events. This method allowed us to tell our mystery/comedy story while providing us the means to capitalize on the documentary shooting style with a limited production schedule and lower budget.
Although we are big fans of Christopher Guest and his films, we decided early on to approach our story with a more realistic documentary tone in the vein of filmmakers like Errol Morris. Our idea was to document an “actual” event and let the comedy aspects arise from the characters. To accomplish this realism, we shot our interviews in a “single camera” style and limited our cut-aways to re-enactment inserts or B-roll type material. We also wanted to avoid the approach now overly familiar in recent television sitcoms: the jerky hand-held cameras and confessional asides, and the “documentary” crew present as characters that influence the action. This stylistic decision presented a challenge with regards to the film’s momentum since integrating the characters and their relationships to each other had to be balanced with the drive and development of the underpinning mystery.
Certainly one purpose for us as filmmakers is to engage the viewer with the world we created, to look, listen, laugh and participate in the story, but not in a manner forced or false. When all is said and done our ultimate goal is to simply entertain and leave the audience with the same genuine amusement and joy we experienced while making this film. Perhaps the final words spoken by our main character Karl with regards to his own cooking might also sum up our desire for those who experience “The Lutefisk Wars”:
“… if it makes you happy, gives you pleasure, who really thinks what made it that way. You just eat it.”