Among the SMLC students of UNMC, Dag Yngvesson is that one professor that stands out for his eccentricity and unique approach to film culture, becoming something of an icon for his students. Of those that enrol in his classes, there is hardly anyone that has anything bad to say about him or his classes. Dag is a man that works hard to make his work the best version it can be, as well as something that he can look back on and be proud of. The knowledge that he’s gained from his experience is something that he strongly desires to impart onto his students, hoping that they can feel as inspired as him whenever they make films!
A photo of Dag Yngvesson: the early years
The Storyteller’s Story
A University of Minnesota graduate, Dag had originally majored in anthropology, a subject that he piqued his interest the most and felt fit him best at the time. Although he had grown up with both of his parents influencing his love for film, he didn’t actually think he would pursue a career in film, but the spark of crafting his own work had started when he was a freshman in high school when he had made a charming, teenager-centric video for one of his classes. From that point in his life, Dag’s love for film continued to grow as he grew into a university student, where he became inspired to create documentaries because of his anthropology classes.
This eventually led to him creating a documentary for a class project at the end of his semester! Of course, he wasn’t without his reservations as the project proved to be much more difficult than taking an easier and more conventional approach. After he created this piece, he decided to do a minor in film, a course of action that would soon develop into a life-long passion and lengthy career.
Like many youths in the 80s in the United States, Dag was a big fan of skateboarding, a hobby that he still engages in to this day. When on a student exchange program in Russia, this aspiring filmmaker met a group of Russian students who had agreed to take part in a documentary about skateboarding. As part of this documentary, Dag gained the unique experience of being in a factory that manufactured skateboards of excellent quality. Although communicating with them was difficult and they didn’t quite understand the process of “acting” in a documentary, Dag firmly believes that creating this documentary amplified his love for filmmaking. After having graduated from university, Dag almost immediately got a job in an old skateboarding magazine called Big Brother, which was published in 1992 and stopped publication in 2004.
If you’ve heard of the Jackass TV series, you’ll know that it was a big hit on MTV back in the early 2000s. Before the TV series was serialized, the creators had worked with Dag for Big Brother and made a video compilation of bad skateboarding fails. When that video had gained the attention of much of the target audience of Big Brother, it quickly became renowned amongst the youth of the United States and even gained international traction. However, when the show was about to air, Dag graciously declined to be a part of the franchise. “This show was something I felt I could be proud of,” he states and sought to move on to other projects while Jackass made its mark for as long as it could in MTV.
The First Step
“Rated X: A Documentary” (movie poster)
Success is defined as a concept where other people acknowledge the hard work that you have put into something that you love, or something that you have a passion for, and for this reason, Dag identifies “Rated X” as a stepping stone to him refining his craft.
As a first real project, Dag had decided to make a documentary about the pornography industry titled “Rated X”. While the prospect of him making a pornographic documentary might seem interesting in a whole different way, Dag actually feels that personally, his growth as a filmmaker began to rise here. This project was completely his own, one that made his mark, where the director personally felt that he had done incredibly well and at his most inspired.
Once this documentary began receiving attention and critical acclaim, Dag was offered a job in Indonesia, where he spent much of his time researching and understanding Indonesian cinema. It was only after this that Dag decided to continue his studies and did his Ph.D. in film. During this time, he had begun a new project called “Banyak Ayam Banyak Rejeki”, which essentially tells the story of a man with three wives and his considerably successful business in Yogyakarta, arced by commentary on how polygamy is perceived in Indonesia. However, while he was working hard and studying, Dag had no choice but to put this project on hold for eight years. It was only recently that he picked up from where he left off, and began editing and putting the documentary together.
Dag with William Margold, a porn film actor and director
Love in the Time of Polygamy
Work in Progress: Banyak Ayam Banyak Rejeki movie poster
In the original construction of the Banyak Ayam Banyak Rejeki story, Dag, along with his co-director Koes Yuliadi, had tried to interview the actual man with a fried chicken business in Yogyakarta who married three different women at the same time, but was given the subtle signal that they shouldn’t ask about these things: by being ignored.
Polygamy, while legal in Indonesia, is still an incredibly touchy subject as it is seen as a violation of women’s rights, which, without a doubt, has become a feminist issue amongst Indonesian society. Men who engage in polygamy are very obviously (sometimes) ashamed of the fact that they know it’s wrong, and in cases such as these, refuse to comment on their multiple wives’ wellbeing, happiness, or anything in general that is related to the matter.
Arjun, the protagonist, portrayed as a teacher before he started his fried chicken business
Still wanting to make this mockumentary, setbacks like this wouldn’t stop Dag. With what information he could gather, he crafted a story about a man named Arjun, who is portrayed as a pious man, save for the fact that he truly believed that polygamy would solve his business problems. Not only did Dag want to show the social condition of Indonesia when it came to polygamy, but he also wanted to show that there is a historical aspect to polygamy becoming a legal marriage practice and that reason was: war. Dag explains that during times of war, men sometimes were enlisted and were, unfortunately, unable to return home to their wives. As a result, men who did make it back alive, or men who weren’t enlisted, would marry up to four women in an effort to support them if they lost their husbands during the war. However, somewhere along the way, the idea of polygamy got lost in translation and some men interpreted it as a way of permission for them to mess around with different women, so long as they ended up marrying them.
Still: Arjun with his first wife
Still: Arjun with his second wife
Dag & his co-director Koes Yuliadi
Lessons for An Aspiring Filmmaker
Dag shooting a scene for Banyak Ayam Banyak Rejeki with an entire audience surrounding him
My conversation with Dag about the process of filming Banyak Ayam Banyak Rejeki, was filled with excitement and pride about the hard work he has put into his pieces, ensuring they are films he can look back on and be incredibly proud of. It’s very evident that he had a ton of fun filming this mockumentary, which is an incredibly important aspect of any kind of art, particularly filmmaking. That’s the only way that a person can know that they’re doing something they love!
Without a doubt, each director and filmmaker is inspired by different things, different sounds, and most notably, different films. While some of us might say that we love the visual effects that a director incorporates into his films, or the soundtrack that plays in the background of our favourite indie or action movies, Dag’s favourite aspect of other people’s films and work is the sound design. This is, of course, different from what a soundtrack is, as what is actually being referred to here is all the background noises and the sound effects that we hear whenever we watch a film. The reason that this happens to be Dag’s favourite aspect of a film is because he says that through sound, an entirely different world than what we know can be created. Films like A Swedish Love Story (1970) is a perfect example of films that are right up his alley, because while it tells the story of a cheesy teenage couple, the plot is laced with different frequencies of intricacy in relationships between other characters, and you can feel displaced while watching it while sounds that feel like they don’t belong will throw you off.
It’s films like these that inspire Dag the most to craft documentaries that remain inspired, eccentric, and unique. Without these influences in his life, he wouldn’t be making the kind of films that he loves and enjoys making now, and where’s the passion if you’re not eating, breathing and living for the thing you love?
Written by Qistina Azman