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Sundance Documentary ‘A New Kind of Wilderness’ Tracks Family Whose Dream Life Is Marred by ‘Devastating’ Loss

Norwegian documentary filmmaker Silje Evensmo Jacobsen wanted to follow a family living the dream. Instead, she witnessed them going through a nightmare.

“Maria Vatne had this blog called ‘Wild+Free’ and I was fascinated by it. I discovered it 10 years ago,” the director of “A New Kind of Wilderness” – which has its world premiere Friday at Sundance Film Festival – about the mother of four who, alongside her partner Nik, decided to live on a farm, surrounded by nature.

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“I called her up, saying I wanted to make a series about it. It didn’t work out and then she wrote she was sick.”

Maria died shortly after.

“I was devastated, even though I didn’t really know her. She was someone I admired, because I also had, and still have, this dream: What if we just decided to reinvent our lives? That’s what Maria and Nik did.”

Despite the tragedy, she still decided to film the Payne family, now going through grief. On Friday, they will reunite at Sundance for the world premiere.

“It became a different movie: about Nik holding onto their dream, even though it’s impossible to realize it without her, about kids dealing with the loss of their mother,” says Jacobsen.

“We never really started to shoot when Maria was still alive, but when I contacted Nik again, he knew she would have wanted it. It was difficult – it was the worst time in his life – but he understood I admired what they had done.”

In the end, Jacobsen combined Maria’s blog entries with depictions of her family trying their best to move on.

A New Kind of Wilderness
“A New Kind of Wilderness”

“Her voice had to be the backbone of this story, but I had to kill so many darlings. That’s why we made a special booklet, so that people can read everything she said,” she explains.

“I read her blog so many times and picked the lines that really spoke to me. Now, they are also referencing what is happening to them. When the kids go to school, we hear her talk about institutions and why she wants them to be homeschooled instead. You understand how hard it is for Nik.”

Or for Maria’s children: Ulv, Falk, Freja and oldest girl Ronja.

“It felt crucial to be with this family in the present. Children are very intuitive; they live in the moment. They would talk about missing their mother and then go: ‘What’s for dinner?’ I had to follow their lead,” she notes.

“They were used to Maria taking their pictures and being honest about their life, so maybe that’s why this leap wasn’t that huge? Still, when Ronja moves to the city and desperately wants to reconnect with her step-siblings, no one is helping them. Perhaps this film can guide people who navigate loss.”

Their unorthodox childhood has changed them, says Jacobsen.

“From my point of view, yes. I really think so. They are reflective, concerned about respecting nature and people. It’s not for me to judge what is the ‘right’ way and they still behave like kids sometimes, but this lifestyle has clearly given them something.”

Although life in accordance with nature, far away from everyday hustle seems appealing to many, Jacobsen didn’t want to idealize their existence.

“We have all seen these sun-soaked images [online]. So many people think all you have to do is just go there and make cheese,” she smiles.

“After reading Maria’s blog, I knew how hard it was. Living off the grid is not always the answer. I think that people need people, so maybe we can at least have a slower paced life and start being more self-sufficient?”

“I have children as well and I rush them to daycare. I enjoy my life, but Maria made me realize that when we are with our children, we should really be with them. She reminds us all what’s really important.”

“A New Kind of Wilderness” was produced by Mari Bakke Riise for A5 Film and executive produced by Kim Christiansen. DR Sales and Cinetic handle sales.

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