Mika Gustafson ‘Takes Kids Seriously’ in Venice Premiere ‘Paradise Is Burning’ as Intramovies Drops Trailer, First Clip (EXCLUSIVE)

Mika Gustafson’s “Paradise Is Burning” – sold by Italy’s Intramovies and previously known as “Sisters” – has debuted a trailer and exclusive first clip ahead of its premiere in Venice Film Festival’s Horizons section.

Set in Sweden, it sees young sisters Laura, Mira and Steffi trying to get by on their own after their mother leaves.

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When social services call, Laura comes up with a plan: in order to avoid foster care, she needs to find someone to impersonate their mom. Intriguing stranger Hanna (Ida Engvoll, recently seen in Lars von Trier’s “The Kingdom: Exodus” and Netflix’s “Love & Anarchy”), who keeps breaking into empty houses with her, might be just the right fit.

Nima Yousefi produces for Sweden’s Hobab, joined by Marco Valerio Fusco and Micaela Fusco (Intramovies), Denmark’s Maria Stevnbak Westergren (ToolBox Film), and Finland’s Venla Hellstedt and Jenni Jauri (Tuffi Films).

“I am interested in taking kids seriously,” Gustafson tells Variety.

“When I started out 13 years ago, I already knew I wanted to tell stories from their perspective and create young characters with a rich inner life. When I was a child, I also used to think about all these existential issues. Or even about death.”

She spotted non-professionals Safira Mossberg (Steffi) in a subway and Dilvin Asaad, who plays Mira, in a school.

“When I first met her, she said: ‘I am Mira. I heard you are the director and I wanted to tell you that.’ I think Mira would say the exact same thing,” she laughs. But it was her co-writer Alexander Öhrstrand who came across future lead Bianca Delbravo.

“He heard her voice one Sunday morning. She was yelling at someone on the phone. At first, he refused to ask for her number. He was playing a cop in a movie set in the 1970s, he had this weird moustache and wore tights. He was so nervous he got it wrong and we didn’t see her again for a year. Until he heard her voice again on the street.”

Making sure they would feel safe on set was a priority, she states.

“Actors can make things hard for each other, but they can also make things easy. It’s a team sport. They had to trust me and trust each other. I wanted them to get close and just have the best summer together. I think you can see this bond in the film.”

With Öhrstrand, they were trying to recall their own childhood as well while developing the script.

“We collect places and memories,” she admits.

“We visited places where we grew up, we talked to the people we used to know and built these characters gradually, like Frankenstein’s monster. Once, when we were walking around, Alex said: ‘When rich people went on vacation, we used to jump over their fences and swim in their pools.’ We started to think what would happen if you would come inside of their houses, too. One person’s memory is another one’s fantasy.”

But gender stereotypes were also on her mind.

“When there is a girl living alone, we go: ‘Oh no, she is so vulnerable.’ When it’s a boy, we say: ‘He will learn.’ It was something I was thinking about quite a lot.”

“It was the same with Hanna, even though she is older. At first, I wanted to explain everything and say why she does what she does. But it felt much more intriguing to just let her be curious. It felt important to let them be and do what they want,” she states.

“Life can be hard, but I wanted them to find their way without the audience seeing them as victims.”

Or without looking down on their environment, full of people struggling with addictions or simply down on their luck.

“They are really there for these girls. Everyone is struggling, but they are struggling together and, in a way, they also form a family. They are connected,” she says.

“I guess it’s also about pride. Even when you find yourself in that kind of situation, you don’t want to be pitied. You want to be treated as a human being, experience joy. I don’t know if it always has to be about characters becoming ‘better’ people in the end. Maybe it’s just about realizing that things change all the time, so how do you deal with that?”

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