Shooting an imposter: Longyearbyen newcomer living under another’s identity faces still-unwritten fate in filming of ‘Tourist’

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What defines us and makes us know, we are ourselves?

Jean Louis Schuller confronts his audience with that question in “Tourist,” a movie being filmed here featuring a protagonist who slips into somebody else’s identity after his suitcase mysteriously disappears. But how long can he live in this masquerade until his past live catches up with him?

This article was written by staff writer Katharina Beutner. Like it? Donate!

Schuller describes it as: “A melancholy of human needs and primal instincts that we often cannot achieve because we no longer live in the present.”

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A scene for “Tourist” is filmed Sunday night at the bar inside Gruvelageret. Photo by Katharina Beutner/Icepeople.

Schuller spent roughly two years preparing for “Tourist,” with not only locations but also actions changing rapidly. Originally planned to be a story about the miners of Barentsburg, he changed his mind after some filming tests in 2015 and decided to move the main set to Longyearbyen, a town that had always left fond memories although he only had seen it as a transit point on his way from his home in London to Barentsburg. With the change in sets the whole story changed as well. Not to mention identifying with a tourist character instead of a coal miner from the Ukraine is easier for the producer .

So far, the location and community are serving Schuller and his two-person crew well, but he already knows the next filming session during the polar night will take its toll on both man and machine. In his aim to include the local community of Longyearbyen, he carefully tried to film around the daily life of those he was filming, creating an appreciated atmosphere of respect towards the personal schedules of the people he’s working with so far.

During his most recent stay in Longyearbyen, coinciding with Oktoberfest, he managed to produce a couple of scenes in Colesbukta, Gruvelageret, the Arctic Tapas bus and what will be the opening scene for his film at Svalbard Hotel, where Luc – the protagonist – spends his first week in Svalbard.

I was able to join the team for a day of filming at Colesbukta (when I also played an extra) during a on a different night in Gruvelageret, both of which are experiences I recommend for any filming enthusiast. One not only gets a unique “behind the scenes” experience, but gets to see how the movie is being developed, since the script is not fully written and is being adapted to fix the town’s current situation.

One might ask themselves why a movie called “Tourist” would be produced up here in the Arctic and not at a more popular holiday destination – and probably also a warmer one. But picking a location with ideal scenery as abundant and hostile as Svalbard – a place where you can only go back, but never further – is the most appealing factor and emphasizes the protagonist’s wish of “escaping his day to day life in a contemporary metropolitan city,” Schuller said. The producer grew up in a small community in Luxembourg and therefore Svalbard – and especially Longyearbyen – reminds him of the security and comfort such a place has to offer.

The team of “Tourist” will return to film the next scenes from Oct. 27 and Nov. 7 and are still looking for actors who, rather than acting, want to play themselves to give the movie an authentic feeling and therefore allowing the crew to show the real Svalbard, an island of beauty, strong social bonds, solitude and connection to nature.

Those interested can contact Schuller at jeanlouis.schuller@ gmail.com.