Skip to Content

2017 SBIFF Movie Spotlight: “Bokeh”

It’s either the vacation from hell or the most adventurous one yet, but either way you look at it, a couple is tasked with an unexpected journey in their newfound life after waking up one morning to discover they are the last two people left in the world.

The film was directed by Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan and stars Maika Monroe and Matt O’Leary.

Without a typical Hollywood ending, “Bokeh” is sure to keep your attention from beginning to end as you’re put in the passenger’s seat of Jenai (Monroe) and Riley’s (O’Leary) quest to survive in a world devoid of human life.


On a romantic getaway to Iceland, a young American couple wake up one morning to discover everyone on earth has disappeared. Their struggle to survive and to reconcile the mysterious event lead them to reconsider everything they know about themselves and the world.

BOKEH, a cerebral science fiction drama, was shot entirely in Iceland This meditative, delicate fable is about the values of life and living. The story balances the universal theme of love while displaying the loneliness that exists with being in love.

Q&A With Filmmakers Geoffrey Orthwein & Andrew Sullivan

Why did you choose “Bokeh” as the title?

Bokeh is a photographic term for the out-of-focus area of an image. In life, we choose what we focus on and what we blur. Our story is about two people who continue to change their priorities, their ideals, their focus based on an altered world.

Riley, one of our main characters, is a photographer, he uses a twin reflex camera to capture moments in life. He literally frames the world through his lens instead of just lifting his head up and experiencing the world as it actually is. One of the features of the twin reflex camera is that you look through one lens while the second lens takes the photo. Riley’s view through the lens and what the camera captures are slightly different, always a little off.

Once their world changes, they have to make some big decisions, and their new world is defined not just by what they focus on, but what they choose to blur.

Why was Iceland your ideal location to make this movie and be the central spot for the only remaining two humans on earth?

Visually, Iceland is a tremendous canvas to build a film on. It’s a gorgeous country; the lighting, colors and textures are unique in the world. We wanted to use those landscapes as a way to tell our story. The colors and light and land change as the story progresses. We used some of the extreme, alien-looking locations to emphasize certain parts of the narrative, a world that is both our own and foreign simultaneously.

Additionally, Iceland’s power is generated through geothermal plants. We took that, along with a little presumed
automation, and it let us have the end of the world without apocalyptic destruction. With the infrastructure intact, Riley & Jenai are caught in a bubble, in suspended animation. Their struggle is not strictly physical survival, thus their concerns are more metaphysical.

Please talk about the challenges you and the crew faced in making this film, particularly the work that went into essentially making an entire city devoid of human life.

Iceland has around 325,000 residents and in the summer another 250,000 tourists – that can make it hard to tell the story of an empty world when life is around. We shot our “empty” Reykjavik exteriors in the early morning or middle of the night to avoid the activity of Iceland’s largest city. Even when we could clear the shot of people, microphones would pick up cars driving or a lawn mower a couple of blocks away. We were a small production, we didn’t have teams of PA’s to lock down streets. A lot of our challenges involved removing visuals and cleaning audio in post.

Some of our locations in the rural interior of Iceland we’re quite literally off the beaten path. The cast and crew had to cross rivers with no bridges, carrying heavy gear cases across slippery rocks. One location, the closest bathroom facility was a 20 min walk back to our RV. Racing to make your day is even tougher with a 45 min roundtrip bathroom break.

How is this film different from other “post-apocalyptic” movies out there?

We love the old Twilight Zone series; an odd and uncanny premise given a very personal, emotional treatment. These cerebral, science fiction stories where the conceit may be extreme, but the stories are still just about people that are put into intense situations and how they choose to handle those moments.

We didn’t want to tell another monster story when Lo-FI Sci-Fi has the ability to be more relatable; it asks the audience to envision what they would do if they were in this situation. We also realized that a lot of films are shot in Iceland, but they treat Iceland as another planet or another time. Few use Iceland as Iceland. We wanted “Bokeh” to have that feel of otherworldly, while still firmly being on planet earth.

Talk about the casting process to find the two actors that play the lead roles perfectly.

With the majority of the film being placed on the shoulders of two characters, we needed two very strong leads. We were blessed to have Emily Schweber and Mary-Margaret Kunze assist us in this. They did a brilliant job of not only finding incredible talent, but evolving our vision for the film.

When we wrote “Bokeh”, Jenai was going to be a little older than Riley, but when Maika walked in she had this incredible mix of strength and vulnerability that let us re-envision that character. Maika worked hard on this and she does a masterful job balancing those extremes throughout Jenai’s journey.

When we first met with Matt, he had such a great take on Riley. He knew that Riley would be both someone you believe in and root for, and yet blind to his own flaws. Matt surprised us every day. For an actor whose characters are often charismatic and larger than life, it was amazing to see how potent he is in the quieter moments. He’s often cast as the misfit or the broken friend, but in “Bokeh”, he is the romantic, leading man and it was thrilling to watch him own that.

What about the process of making this film was the most enjoyable for you?

Summer camp in Iceland is a great thing. We were a small crew, small cast, and we spent five weeks in a country most had never been to. We shared AirBNB houses for crew lodging, and in some cases, our sets. Our production transportation were our picture cars and everyone was charmed by the people we met there.

The people of Iceland were great, we shot at sixty locations, most of them with no more than a handshake as an
agreement. They supported our small production and allowed us to shoot in amazing, isolated areas of Iceland as well as downtown Reykjavik. Also, in June, Iceland has 23 hours of daylight per day. Since we were telling the story of the last two people on earth, we could shoot at 3:00 am on the empty streets of Reykjavik and it would look like morning.

Beyond the amazing experience we had on location, it was gratifying to see everyone working at the top of their game. Whether it was seeing new discoveries with our cast, our DP Joe Lindsay capturing the amazing country in a gorgeous and dynamic way, all the way down the line to the sound department winning out over the ever present winds.

What does it mean to you to have “Bokeh” screen at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

We’re thrilled to be premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. In addition to Santa Barbara being
Maika’s hometown, SBIFF is an unabashed cinema lover and that is exactly what we as filmmakers are.

Why should people watch this movie?

We wanted to create a delicate fable about the values of life and living. When we wrote it, we were reacting to some of the discord in the world, which seems to be growing. The tensions, just in our own country, whether they be political or philosophical, are driving people apart.

We wanted to look at the choices that define our relationships and where we stand in life and the world. By looking at that on a very personal level, perhaps we can gain some understanding of how we as a society are functioning and where we are failing.

Anything else you would like to add?

After SBIFF, “Bokeh” opens on March 24th in theaters and VOD (Video on Demand).


Feb. 3 – 2 p.m. – Metro 4 Theater Feb. 4 – 7:20 p.m. – Fiesta 5 Theater

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

News Channel 3-12

Email the News Channel 3-12 Team


News Channel 3-12 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content