Photo: Malin Lövkvist /

I’m deeply appreciative of Lovisa being so willing and open to talk about her career from its inception, which started with her first short in 2013 – Himalaya – to first feature in 2021 – Maya Nilo Laura, and beyond.

Lovisa Sirén is a rising talent from Sweden – her directing, writing, and editing work in film embodies someone with an incredible talent, destined for well-deserved recognition on a global scale. In the past 10 years she has been very busy, releasing 4 short films, 1 feature, and directing in both television and film – as well as a number of other side projects. These projects tackle a variety of important themes and issues present in the film industry, and society as a whole – from the often exploitative pre-production process of film, to the balance of gender roles and perspectives in creative pursuits. Through her masterful storytelling and directing, she has addressed these topics with the nuance and respect that they warrant – which has been recognised at Sundance, GIFF, The Swedish Academy Awards and more.

I’m deeply appreciative of Lovisa being so willing and open to talk about her career from its inception, which started with her first short in 2013 – Himalaya – to first feature in 2021 – Maya Nilo Laura, and beyond.

Lovisa’s path to directing is the product of her forays into all aspects of film, from producting, script writing, production assisting, editing, etc – the progression of an interest which was born as a teenager. “I used to borrow the schools video camera and do films with my friends … when I became an adult and didn’t know what to do, I knew that making films was something I really enjoyed. So that was a dream I had”. Quickly this interest grew into a passion which she pursued, partly due to the birth of her first child – “I realised I needed to do what I love, I can’t waste my time doing things that aren’t important as her”.

Getting into directing or working in film altogether is often ‘who you know’ – which seemed near impossible to Lovisa, who had no contracts in the film industry or artist pursuits. But through her ambition and the support of the people around her, she found a place in the industry – initially through a variety of small editing and production assistant jobs. Knowing that to progress further, she needed to have more practice and have a body of work to show, Lovisa wrote, directed, shot and edited her first short film “Himalaya” in 2012.

Still from 'Himalaya' (2013)

 “I just wanted to edit something interesting, I had the idea to make a short film where the sound is always from the last scene… the story is something that people go through, they aren’t present, they’re dreaming”.


Himalaya tells the story of a young woman and her struggle with depression – going through life essentially on auto-pilot and never being present as a result of that. Interestingly, this is not only shown through the dialogue, acting and cinematography – but also the sound design, where Lovisa purposely had the ‘wrong’ audio playing, the audience hears audio from wherever the previous scene took place, to represent that the protagonist is always in another world.

As a debut short film, Himalaya is obviously a very impressive work – a sentiment which was shared at the November Festival in Trollhättan, Sweden – where Lovisa won the award for best film. “More than a year after finishing, it won the prize. I was already working on my next short so I got boosted by the fact that important people thought it was a great film… it gave me trust to continue working”. But along with this boost also came pressure to meet the expectations people now had for her next work – “I had to remember the purpose of my film, it’s not to please someone or for everyone to love it, I have to do what I think is interesting, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to do anything”.

Following this philosophy to appeal to her artistic intentions rather than the masses, Lovisa moved onto her second short film, “Pussy Have the Power” in 2014 – which is an interesting and authentic look ‘behind the curtain’ at the reality of creative projects and the tension that collaboration often causes. Alongside this, the film explores the intricacies of gender roles in art, music and film – wherein the influence of a man on an entirely female led project can causes a divide between the group.

Still from 'Pussy have the Power' (2014)

In the film, a group of friends are in a recording studio all singing their parts in a song “Pussy have the Power”, until creative differences around the tone of the song arise – do they continue with the grungy feel of the song as it stands with an all-female creation? Or do they allow the male influence of a more experienced producer who promises to turn it into a club hit? Interestingly, this story is almost completely based off an experience Lovisa had with her friends. “It was really fun, and a bit problematic to write that film because it is based on a true event… it was like it happens in the film more or less.” – “We had many conflicts making this song, we played it at a party when it wasn’t complete. We met this music producer guy who said, ‘this is a hit, let me produce it for you’. The music producer for us got really upset, she thought ‘why should he be the one to produce a song called Pussy have the Power?’”.

Still from 'Pussy have the Power' (2014)

To add onto this, the conflict that the film was based on was still going on when the movie was in the final editing process – “The conflict continued as I did the film. It came to the sound mixing stage, there was a conflict again – ‘who is going to mix it?’ – this guy or our girl? The song wasn’t completed but I really needed a song for the film. In the end it ended in a collaboration between the guy and the girl – but they have both made their own solo versions too… it was a mess.”

The brilliance of this film is how Lovisa captures what isn’t being said – on the surface it is a disagreement between creatives, but it is so much more than that. The dynamics of male and female collaboration and the influence of that in what has been a male-dominated industry for so long, is an incredibly nuanced issue that requires a lot of reverence to give it the respect it demands. “I was certain that I didn’t want to make a film that is political in a way that says ‘guys aren’t allowed to help women’ – I didn’t want to make that conclusion. I just wanted to investigate it because it’s so complex.” As with all art that comments on societal issues (or art in general), the response from some people was quite divisive – with some viewers missing the point of the film altogether and writing hate comments. The majority – who did understand the film – loved it – a whole new audience was watching Lovisa’s work and it received critical acclaim, continuing the trend set by ‘Himalaya’. Notably, it won the award for ‘Best Swedish Short Film’ at the Gothenburg Film Festival (GIFF) and received nominations in various other film festivals. “I felt very lucky and privileged, and that I had to continue. But also it remained a hard struggle economically, to continue.”.

At this point in her career, Lovisa had released two highly acclaimed short films – and while recognition can manifest a negative pressure to perform or live up to expectations, it helped instil confidence in her for her next film – “I had won that prize, and I knew that I had the funding, so I felt sure that I could make it and have fun.” Working with long-time collaborator (from ‘Himayala’ until ‘Maya Nilo Laura’), Peter Modestij, she began work on ‘Audition’ – which shines a light on the nature of the audition process through gender reversal. “I was interested by the power dynamics in that situation… I have heard from actresses that they are pushed over their limits in auditions. The original thought or idea was ‘what if I were to take the biggest actors and macho males in the industry and push them, what happens in that situation?’”

This half-joking idea evolved into an idea for a film, where it shifted to a look at a female director pushing male actors to their limits – playing with the dynamics of what audiences have heard or have come to expect about the audition process in film. Again tackling a poignant issue in art – specifically the film industry, Lovisa created such an authentic feel to the film that forces the viewer to deeply consider the (still often) unheard human cost of the audition process. Especially insofar as you contend with your own morality towards art – namely whether requiring vulnerability from a creative collaborator (actor/actress in this situation) can be undertaken without a power imbalance, and where the line should be drawn in this process.

Still from 'Audition' (2015)

As a part of the pre-production of the film – the auditions for ‘Audition’ – another real-life event inspired a scene in this film, when the ‘famous’ actor is on the phone to the director: “That actually happened for real, he was so rude to me I felt I had to use it in the film. After we called, he actually wanted to do the film, but he eventually bailed out.” Interestingly, a lot of the successful actors in these auditions saw parts of themselves in the characters, pretty macho guys who resist even the initial gentle opportunities to show vulnerability.

The most powerful scene is the result of these initial appropriate requests reaching a wildly inappropriate level, with the director berating the actors, bringing up events from their personal lives, making them take off the clothes, and so on. What is unfortunately an experience that many have faced in the film industry, the actor breaks down and essentially falls apart emotionally – eventually agreeing to do the part in the project he is auditioning for. “It wasn’t easy writing that film, I needed to be balanced. But you needed buy it, I needed him to breakdown for real. It was difficult.” What is so unique about this film is that, through a role reversal, it shows the full complete cycle of exploitation that many face in this process – wherein being broken down so much only leaves them with the option to agree to continue with the project, therefore the director has essentially ‘won’.

Again handling sensitive topics with the respect they warrant, Lovisa garnered even more recognition from her peers and audiences worldwide – earning a well-deserved spot at the prestigious Sundance Festival in the US – as well as being nominated at the Guldbagge Awards. “Sundance was a really great experience, I felt very happy with the final project, more than I ever had… I was a bit surprised [by the recognition] because people outside of the film industry don’t know how it works, but they could still relate to the situation even without an insight.”

Still from 'Audition' (2015)

“I like films that take place in a short amount of time, and I have strong feelings about summer nights in Sweden…” These two were the catalyst for Lovisa’s most ambitious project to this point – Baby – a short film about a friendship between a young guy and a middle-aged woman on a night out. A chance encounter in the city leads to 8 or so hours with these characters, who develop a strong connection as both confront their inner turmoil – “It was more about sensations and feelings than the plot”.


The setting is a completely different shooting environment to Himalaya, Pussy have the Power and Audition – an unplanned and noncurated setting where the extras are normal people who could impact every shot. But the nature of it was key to the film itself – the city is almost a character too – “When you are out partying on a summer night in Stockholm, it’s so ugly, but also beautiful at the same time… it’s a special state of mind and sensations become stronger.” Capturing things like seagulls on the street, people passed out vomiting, the first signs of light from the morning and the chirping of birds all contribute to the reality of this setting, which feels (and is) like you are right there with them. Alongside this inherently comes a lot of more potential challenges in comparison to shooting on a set – namely the natural occurrences of rain, lighting changes, and drunk people “We had the idea to do it as ‘rock and roll’ as we can… we had to have a small crew and be discreet as possible. The production assistant had to take care of all the drunks who were disturbing the shots.”

Still from 'Baby' (2016)

The film itself, starring Bahar Pars (Emma) and Patrik Buraas (Joel) tells this story of an unlikely connection between two people of completely different circumstances – who are able to entrust deep seeded insecurities and anxieties within the other person. Casting wise, it includes both Bahar and Zhala – who are the main leads of Lovisa’s debut feature film.

Portraying such an unconventional and unlikely relationship between these two characters, Lovisa’s writing shines to convince the audience of this stories’ legitimacy – and we believe it. Certain scenes specifically contribute to this – like the party scene in the laundromat. Knowing that many films’ party scenes feel staged and forced, Lovisa went through several iterations of the scene – eventually shifting from a party under a bridge to one in a laundromat – “The location felt so special and perfect, so it felt right to throw in random people who don’t look the same and are all different ages – because it was so random it felt authentic.”. In such a short run time (and the time constraint of the plot), the connection between Emma and Joel still feels real – “The situation in itself makes it possible, they meet late in the night and it feels like anything can happen… he has something that he doesn’t get from anyone in his life and shows her something that she doesn’t get from anyone in her life – that’s why they can be so open with each other”.

Still from 'Baby' (2016)
Still from 'Baby' (2016)

In a shift from the topics she had previously focused on, Lovisa was at first apprehensive about the expected response – “It wasn’t as ‘edgy’ as the previous films, so I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t be received as well. I felt a bit of pressure to do something more political… but I knew I should do what I want to do.” The pressure to pursue a certain subject matter or appeal to an audience was balanced out by her own self-confidence to follow the original idea, which was built partly upon the success of Lovisa’s other short films. As it turned out, ‘Baby’ received praise and acclaim as her previous shorts had – winning Best Short at the Uppsala International Film Festival and being nominated again at the Guldbagge Awards. “After that film I was like I’m not doing any more short films, I knew I had to make a feature. It was also a great learning experience, a longer process, bigger team – I felt like I could do a feature.”

The culmination of Lovisa’s decision in her early 20’s to pursue her passion, her struggle to shed pressure and expectations and follow her own artistic vision, economic and countless other barriers, is her feature debut – Maya Nilo (Laura). What was a continuous schedule of releasing one short film each year would become a much longer stretch between the end of ‘Baby’ and the release of ‘Maya Nilo (Laura)’ – around 5 years. In fact, a lot of the production process learned over the past 4 projects Lovisa had directed were completely different for her debut feature – especially with the impact of the pandemic.


Following the release of ‘Baby’, Lovisa began work on the writing process for what she knew would be her first feature film – “The writing was very tough, I had the idea, but I didn’t just have one main character, so it all had to connect. It was very difficult to go between all the main characters equally for such a long runtime, it’s not just 30 minutes like ‘Baby’… it was a huge process to get the story together.” Working from her original idea of two sisters with a rocky relationship on a road trip to Portugal, it eventually evolved into the final product – a complex story about two sisters, Maya (played by Zhala), Nilo (played by Bahar) and Nilo’s teenage daughter Laura (played by Nadja Rosenberg), on a road trip through Europe to see their mother and retrieve Maya’s son. As opposed to how she had written before, she had already cast the two sister roles to go to Bahar Pars and Zhala, who she previously worked with.

Alongside these troubles with writing, the logistical nightmare that would come out of a film set over multiple countries became every present, “This time it felt really impossible, but it was what I wanted to do and I had to make it work” – “I had this idea that we could just ‘go on the road’ but the further I got I realised we needed to find and scout all of the locations”. 

As this directly impacts the budget of the film, Lovisa had to contend with the financing process with such an ambitious idea, one which a lot of people weren’t receptive to – “It wasn’t easy to finance it, some financers told me ‘this is too ambitious, we can’t give you money’”. This was only exacerbated by the unconventional nature of the film, which focuses on three main characters almost equally – “it wasn’t a simple story to pitch, especially to describe the style and tone. I couldn’t find any references or other films to relate it to… saying that, you also have to be smart and ‘sell’ the film. In one way it’s a healthy practice, but it is also weird.”

Photo: Sloan Laurits

Once this process was finalized and she had a budget, the only next step was “a desperate need to get it shot, it was like life or death – it was that important to my life. It had to be done as soon as possible, so I had so much drive to get it done. I didn’t know how, and I couldn’t get a grip of how the production would be… it felt like an impossible project.” Just as the pre-production led into shooting, the pandemic ruined their plans, delaying the project indefinitely. After all this initial struggle to even get up to this point, now a seemingly immovable setback had been placed in front of the film (and basically all others in the industry). The iron will that Lovisa had and her drive to get it shot no matter what the circumstances was waning due to the unknown aspect of the pandemic – “I felt like I was going to die, like ‘what the fuck do I do with my life?’… I knew I couldn’t give up but eventually it felt like I should stop doing this and start doing something different for a while.”

Photos: Sloan Laurits

The only possible solution for continuing with shooting was being flexible and ready to shut down or start up production on very short notice – at the whim of restrictions. Initially none of the actors got sick and when shooting was able to go ahead, it went ahead almost without a hitch – until the Jeep that brings them along for a small part road trip during the movie broke down. Along with other complications, this begun what would be a roughly six-month hiatus in filming, with many of the final scenes in Portugal left unfilmed. But during this time, with the majority of the film already shot, Lovisa was editing and piecing together all she could. After another small delay due to one of the actresses getting Covid, they filmed the last scenes – at this point the film had almost completely been fully edited.

After the shooting had completed, Lovisa then had to finalise the film and begin post production, which brought a set of new challenges that are too be expected for a film that is three times as long than her previous, with so much more variety in the scenes and their locations. “The difficulty with the editing was mostly the travelling scenes, at first I edited scene by scene until I had the first cut. I watched it and felt that it didn’t fit well with the travelling shots. I wanted to show that they are going through different countries but didn’t know how long those parts should be.” On top of this is the fact there are three main characters, and all of them have to be introduced well enough to where the audience feels familiar with them by the time the road trip is really underway – “The first part of the film I had to work with a lot, because I am presenting three different characters. It felt like you are jumping from person to person and not understanding the scene, I had to work with that first part more than any of the rest of the film.”



Every step of the way for this film, from the first idea of writing to putting the final touches of the editing, seemed like an insurmountable task – to the point when the film was done, Lovisa was completely sick and tired with the film itself. Luckily the film was completed, which can be attributed to her undying motivation and drive (and of course, that of the crew and actresses/actors) – and released to a great reception, but more on that below.

An aspect of the film that has too been highly regarded is the soundtrack, an original composition by Per Störby Jutbring which is very synth heavy and fits the film perfectly. This was a first for Lovisa’s films, and added another layer to the editing process – “That was a long process as well, I spent a lot of time looking for music and not being sure, I had to try so many things. It was an interesting experience to have a composer – before the film, I had an idea for a soundtrack, but it sounded completely different. But when I heard the material, I knew it felt right.” 

Photo: Sloan Laurits

The film centers around these three main characters and their own internal struggles, specifically Maya and Nilo who, as we find out over the films runtime, have a very complex relationship as a result of their family’s turbulent history. Alongside these three, the Volo that they drive almost serves as a character itself, serving as a stage for many of the film’s most memorable scenes. “It took me 9 months to find the right car, I knew it had to be a black Volvo but was very tough to find the right model… and one that works”. The production of the film, also with the pandemic looming over its head, was essentially at the whim of the car and its ability to run, “It wouldn’t start most of the time, it wasn’t really reliable at all.” Within the film, the car is very important to the development of characters and our understanding of their relationship – a key moment that reflects this is a conversation between Maya and Nilo about their mother, who Laura hasn’t met yet. Their completely different views of their mother in this short clip perfectly encapsulates their relationship with each other. This setting of the car creates the authenticity that we have come to expect from Lovisa’s films, wherein the viewer is essentially placed in the car with the three characters – “We wanted to have an organic feeling, we didn’t want drone shots, we didn’t like the feeling that you get from it, even though its luxurious. It had to be raw and not so perfect.”

Photo: Sloan Laurits

On top of this setting, the moving aspect of the film is the great script and incredible performances from the actors/actresses – they feel like real people who we are lucky to be along the ride with for what is a week or so of their lives, and about two hours of ours. The chemistry between the three main characters contributes to this heavily, with a few great moments being completely improvised or born purely out of their dynamic during filming – they feel like sisters rather than two actresses that met a few months earlier. The humour of the film essentially hinged on this chemistry – some scenes worked so well (obviously because of the script) but also a major part was how comfortable the actresses were with each other – especially the bar scene in France. What is even more impressive about it is that Zhala (apart from her 30 second cameo in ‘Baby’) had never acted before, “she was nervous from the start and really excited for the part, but she was insecure… on set I tried to make her feel confident and comfortable, so did Bahar who gave her the tools she needed.” Her performance wouldn’t suggest anything other than an experienced actress, with her mentor, Lovisa and Bahar aiding her, Zhala put on an incredible performance that is equally as impactful as Bahar and Nadja.

Photo: Sloan Laurits
Photo: Sloan Laurits

The way that the characters were written by Lovisa essentially betrays the audiences first impressions of them – which makes them feel so much more relatable. While Maya comes across as this free spirited, spontaneous and artist person, she is deeply insecure and harbours a lot of anxiety around her son, her mother and her sister. Initially, Nilo seems like the direct opposite of Maya, she is stricter, set in her convictions, and fairly uptight – but Nilo is struggling too with her husbands infidelity, the unresolved issues with her mother, and her daughter – the sisters are a lot more alike than we think at the start of the film. “The characters were developed along the way of course, but I was inspired by how I am, and how people in my life are. I wanted to show those sides which we don’t see often in films, everyone is so complex and their images of themselves aren’t really who they are. I tried to make them as complex as how people are in real life.” Similarly to ‘Baby’, this complexity in the characters essentially makes it feel as if we are a fly on the wall in someone else’s real life. When the movie starts, we feel like they have lived real lives up until that point, and when the movie ends you can feel as if they are real people who will continue their story without us knowing about it.

The release of the film was an unprecedented response that was well earned – it played in many more cities than her previous short films had – including Sydney, London, Seattle, etc. “It’s been really good, I’m a bit sad that I couldn’t go to some cities, but London and Seattle were great. When we had the premiere in Stockholm, I felt like ‘wow, it’s really out there’.” Critically, it has seen a lot of success, and a lot more discussion, with more and more eyes on her film than ever before, “The response I get from other parts of the world makes me really happy, people who know nothing about my life or about the industry in Sweden who still managed to see and like my film.”

Photo: CawaMedia

The film is currently streaming on select services:

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After finishing ‘Maya, Nilo (Laura)’, Lovisa directed 4 episodes for a popular television series in Sweden – ‘Thunder in my Heart’. Whilst different in many ways to her work in film, there are many similarities that remain; “You always have to go with your intuition and find what is inspiring and joyful. To see the project as almost a person and struggle to make it great.” Working in a larger group, with more resources and involved parties compared to her films is an obvious difference – as well as the fact that the creative decisions aren’t purely hers – “With television, more people have strong opinions and I have to adapt to that. But I’ve learned a lot from it.” It will be releasing soon.

A commonality amongst Lovisa’s career is the unwavering ability to push for what she wants her art to be, from Himalaya doing everything with little technical knowledge, to economic constraints throughout her films, to the ultimate test of filming a feature film during Covid. Without this intense drive, it is likely Maya Nilo (Laura) never would have been completed – like many films attempted at that time that were abandoned. To create a debut feature film under the hardest circumstances, over multiple countries and held down by so many constraints, is a testament to Lovisa as a person and her crew/cast. Because she conquered what seemed like an impossible task “It makes it easier to think I can do something hard again… it was a big step for me personally to accomplish this film”.



As for what’s next, she has just begun writing her next feature film.

Photo: Sloan Laurits

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