Freia Titland is a modern-day skald
A teller of tales/strong>
The art of storytelling is ancient. Humans have used this craft to explain natural phenomena, mark heroic deeds, immortalize ancestors and tribal heroes, and pass down history. Poetry enhanced the language. Troubadours added melodic tunes to the words. They, along with bards, were highly respected in medieval society.
One modern day storyteller is Freia Titland, who as an actor has performed in off-Broadway productions and award-winning independent films, modeled in Milan Fashion Week, guest-starred on shows including Orange is the New Black and The Perfect Murder, and dabbled in voice acting and audiobook narration.
I had the opportunity recently to interview her about her craft and her journey as a teller of tales in all forms.
Victoria Hofmo: How did you get interested in being an actress?
Freia Titland: I had a very creative upbringing. Both sets of grandparents were very musical, and I grew up listening to my Norwegian grandfather singing all of the time. My Irish grandfather is a storyteller and performer. I fondly remember performing in community productions with him. I believe that is where my love of the performing arts began to grow.
I always knew I wanted to be an actress. I remember thinking there was nothing else I’d rather be. So I went to school for acting, and the rest is history!
VH: You have also worked behind the camera. How did that decision come about?
FT: The desire to perform and be creative in between bookings is very strong! I wanted to learn the different aspects of the film industry and how to work collaboratively with others on set. I thought the best way to do that was to get some experience on the other side of the camera.
I also wanted to produce work that wasn’t necessarily mainstream. I’m fascinated by mythology and nature and all things magical and mysterious. I started with projects that mixed film and photography and moved on to strictly film projects. Woman of the Wood, Ophelia, and A Mermaid’s Desire were all projects that received recognition and awards. The success of those niche projects gave me the confidence to pursue the creation of stories that centered around the themes that I loved.
VH: In your short film Sunflower Fields, set in the aftermath of the Utøya massacre, you chose to focus on a daughter who never returns home and her father’s loss. Why did you focus on that aspect?
FT: Sunflower Fields was adapted from an original theater script I wrote entitled The Last Dance. Both stories focused on the intimate telling of a father’s loss of his only child. I chose to focus on that aspect, because I believe the loss of a loved one is something we can all relate to on some level. Seeing or hearing about a huge tragedy on the news is always terrible, but sometimes we feel a bit removed from that situation if it doesn’t directly affect our lives. I wanted to tell a story that even people who might have known nothing about the Utøya massacre and Oslo bombings could relate to.
VH: How difficult was this film for you to make? Why did you choose to make it in English rather than Norwegian?
FT: Sunflower Fields was difficult to make for a few reasons. At times I felt like a bit of an impostor as an American and not a native-born Norwegian making a film about such a tragic incident. But it was a story that never left my mind since experiencing the event firsthand in 2011. I was in school at the International Summer School at Oslo University when the attack took place. It was a terrifying experience, but the aftermath of the attack filled me with feelings of hope and community. The way that the Norwegians came together in light of such a tragic event was beautiful and inspiring. Making the play first, and then the film, brought me back to those moments, making it both difficult but necessary to do.
I chose to do the film in English because it’s actually a film about an American girl studying in Oslo who never comes home. I wrote and rewrote the script many times, because I wasn’t sure from which angle I wanted to approach it. I ended up telling a dramatized version of my own story. When I was writing the script, my mother asked me, “What if you had never come home?” That question stuck with me. My parents sent their child off to study in a country where they knew I would be safe and surrounded by extended family members only to wake up one morning and wonder if I was still alive. Luckily, I was.
My Norwegian background played an interesting role in this film. We shot much of the film in my own house, so set dressing was quite easy. My house is basically a museum for Norwegian Christmas!
VH: You are also a founder of the Midnight Film Festival in New York in 2018. How and why did that come about?
FT: The Midnight Film Festival (MFF) was founded in 2018 out of the need to create a sense of community. As a creator, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to produce any work of art from conception to completion. I wanted to provide a platform for indie and student filmmakers to showcase their work and celebrate their own achievements and the achievements of others. We were so fortunate to have a sold-out event this past January and have been able to expand our categories and screening options for next year!
Submissions are open until November with soft deadlines at the end of each month. You can learn more about submitting at www.filmfreeway.com/TheMidnightFilmFestival.
VH: There are many film festivals in New York. What is unique about yours?
FT: Attendees and festival winners have said that MFF is unique in the following ways: We provide a platform to not only showcase your work but to discuss the inspiration behind your creation. MFF provides fantastic networking opportunities, and our communication and online presence really makes you feel welcomed and appreciated.
VH: What are your future plans?
FT: While I am always auditioning, my immediate plans involve a special animated film I’m working on right now. Asta’s Journey is a short film that tells the tale of a young Norwegian girl on the eve of her ninth birthday. Asta has always been fascinated by fairytale creatures and has often wished to go on a magical adventure. She gets exactly what she wishes for as she embarks on a journey riddled with obstacles and creatures belonging to Norse mythology. Beyond Asta, I’ll continue to run the festival and write.
VH: How do you balance it all?
FT: Finding balance can be very difficult. Aside from acting, modeling, writing, directing, and the like, I also work as a professor of film and the performing arts. I actually think teaching grounds me, because it forces me to adhere to a set schedule and interact with other people! I also really enjoy hot yoga and meditation. Moving meditation has been wonderful, as it helps me to breathe and take a step back from all my responsibilities; even if it’s just for an hour.
Norwegian Americans can brag that they have their own modern day skald in Freia Titland. Her work harkens back to storytellers of the past in her exploration of folklore and myths in her movies Woman of the Wood, Ophelia, and A Mermaid’s Desire, and she serves as chronicler in her documentation of modern-day tragedy in her film Sunflower Fields.
She is also carrying the torch for other spinners of yarns, giving them a venue though the Midnight Film Festival. I am eager to see where her saga will lead.
This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.