New Danish Documentaries to Message to Man

“GlobalDoK: Danish Film Institute Present” is the title chosen for a presentation of new Danish documentaries in St.Petersburg at the Message to Man festival (September 20-27). In collaboration with the DFI and with me as a helper for the programmer Mikhail Zheleznikov the following films were chosen: 1. Ai Weiwei The Fake Case by Andreas Johnsen (2013) 2. Sepideh – Reaching for the Stars by Berit Madsen (2013) 3. Ambassador by Mads Brügger (2011) 4. The Will by Christian Sønderby Jepsen (2011) 5. Armadillo by Janus Metz Pedersen (2010) 6. Burma vj by Anders Østergaard (2008) 7. The Good Life by Eva Mulvad (2010) 8. The Ghost of Piramida (photo) by Andreas Koefoed (2013). Andreas Johnsen, Andreas Koefoed and Anders Østergaard will meet the audience and the Danish Cultural Institute will host an afternoon seminar on Danish documentaries. I will be there to introduce and moderate. For the festival catalogue I wrote the following promotion text: 

GlobalDoK… well, the selection for this series of new Danish documentaries includes films that are shot in China, Iran, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Burma, Portugal, Norway/Russia – and Denmark/Germany. So to call it GlobalDK with a small o between D and K seems to be a good choice by the organizers.

Global, but is nothing interesting happening in Denmark? Boring country? No stories to find? Or do the Danish documentarians just love to travel? Or are the Danish film people engaged and committed in a way so they have to deal with the troubles of the Chinese world famous artist Ai WeiWei, the dream of the Iranian girl Sepideh, the international diamant mafia and its

corrupt players in an African country, Danish soldiers in Afghanistan, the courageous freedom fight of video journalists in Burma… Mother and daughter also fight, each other, and to make ends meet to have a good life in Portugal, whereas the Danish Band Efterklang is looking for sound inspiration in the abandoned Russian mining town Piramida in Spitsbergen. And then there is the story about the Danish family, where a son inherits money from his grandfather…

I am not the one to answer the questions. You better ask the filmmakers who attend this retrospective of important Danish documentaries from the last 5-10 years. But what I can say is that the Danish support system, channelled mostly through The Danish Film Institute, is rich and has established the basis for the big budgets needed if you want to shoot abroad. On top of that a strong part of the Danish documentary culture is formed by producers, who are able to find coproducers in the other Nordic countries and the rest of the world.

The directors

Three of the directors have graduated from The National Film School of Denmark: Christian Sønderby Jepsen (”The Will”), Eva Mulvad (”The Good Life”) and Andreas Koefoed (”The Ghost of Piramida”). Andreas Johnsen (”Ai WeiWei – The Fake Case”) is autodidact, Berit Madsen has attended Ateliers Varan in Paris, whereas Anders Østergaard (”Burma vj”) and Mads Brügger (”The Ambassador”) both have a journalistic background, the latter being head of programming at a radio channel.

Storytelling

You will be disappointed if you expect to find classical observational documentaries in this selection from Denmark. What we agreed to bring to St.Petersburg are films that break the rules of the documentary genre and in some cases actually provoke the tradition.

”The Ambassador” is at the foreground in that respect in a film where the director takes upon himself a role far from what you expect from an objective investigative journalist, who wants to look into fraud and corruption. It has the touch of a comedy as has ”The Will”, set up in the style of a feature film with wonderful characters. The intention of ”Armadillo” was the same and to everyone’s pleasant surprise the film, built as a feature drama, sold around 120.000

tickets in Danish cinemas, provoked a public debate and – many say so – changed the public opinion about the Danish participation in the war in Afghanistan.

In terms of ”Burma vj” it definitely had an impact on the public opinion around the world – with a huge distribution and with more than 50 awards at festivals, and an Oscar nomination. The way this film was made is a fascinating piece of journalism itself with the director creating a story from the material smuggled out of the country.

The intimacy of ”The Good Life” – mother and daughter – is conveyed by Eva Mulvad like a tragi-comical chamber play, whereas Andreas Johnsen’s film is a scoop in itself. Where Ai WeiWei said no to all international news agencies, when he came out of prison on bail, Andreas Johnsen came in, became friends with the artist and followed him for a long period in his forced isolation. A question of getting access as it was for Berit Madsen to get into Iran close to the girl Sepideh, who wants to become an astronaut.

Andreas Koefoed made his film about and with the band members of Efterklang, sketchy it is, with great music and characters who up there in the North are so clearly as far away from Denmark you may come.

You will not be disappointed if you look for new storytelling in this series. Call it docu-fiction. Or hybrid documentary. Or staged documentary. Or docudrama. It’s all there and it is not boring. If it is good, judge for yourself. Enjoy!

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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