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Stranger Than Fiction

Mads Mikkelsen, co-curator of Copenhagen documentary festival CPH:DOX, 
selects three Scandinavian filmmakers revolutionising documentaries

From the December issue of Dazed & Confused: 

Forget the popcorn, the limousines, and the champagne: talking about films is the best thing about working at a film festival. But although our last name is short for “documentary”, we don’t so much talk about documentaries when we sit around our office kitchen. Instead, we talk about films with a reference to the real. And it is exactly this reference – be it aesthetic, political, performative, narrative – that we have made it our full-time jobs to explore. The other half of the job is showing people what we find. Showing films in cinemas, bringing filmmakers in to engage with audiences, causing debate and controversy — everything that is vital to film culture and film’s future. But in line with our modest ambition of being a contemporary film event, we’re always on the lookout for new paths of exploration and discovery. Does film have a future? Yes, and participation is key. 

Maja Borg’s Quest to Find the Truth
Young Swedish filmmaker Maja Borg’s work fuses documentary and fiction, Super 8 and animation, interviews and poetic narration as a way of unearthing the truth of her subjects. Her latest, Future My Loveinvestigates the crisis of capitalism through a fictional love story, 3D printing and a visit to Floridian utopian visionary Jacque Fresco.

"During my teenage years, when I wanted to hide away from the world, I spent a lot of time in a darkroom. I set up in the basement. I shot black-and-white photography and started to create soundtracks for my photographs, which were already a cross-platform idea. 

When I went into film, they became hybrids because I never actually wanted to be a filmmaker. I need film to express and understand different things. But the subject or the story has always been the core. How to express it is secondary. 

Both fiction and documentary have their possibilities and their limitations. But together you create greater possibilities. In documentary, finding some kind of honesty has always been the key. 

Honesty doesn’t always mean ‘non-fiction’. We, in this culture, are incredibly well-trained liars. We do it all the time, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Can you imagine a social situation where everyone was completely honest? We’d be very badly equipped for that. Sometimes you can find a greater truth with a little imagination."

Text Hannah Lack

Future My Love is out now

Anna Odell Blurs the Boundaries between Reality and Re-enactments
Stockholm’s Anna Odell blends documentary footage into fictional re-enactment to unpick the power structures within social groups. Her most notorious work unfolded one pitch-black evening in 2009, when she paced back and forth across a bridge, throwing her jacket, shoes and bag into the churning water below. Eventually her disturbed behaviour caused a passerby to call the police; she was handcuffed and taken to hospital where she was forcibly restrained and heavily sedated. The next morning, when Odell revealed the psychotic episode was her graduation project — a filmed re-enactment of an identical experience she had on the bridge ten years earlier, when struggling with mental illness — there was an outcry as politicians and hospital staff vented their anger to the Swedish media. 

“The head doctor told a journalist, ‘If she thinks this is art, she can come to me and I’ll shoot her full of Haldol’ — an anti-psychotic medicine — ‘and then we’ll see how funny it is’,” Odell remembers. Unknown Woman became the subject of a court case and the most controversial work in Sweden in a decade, partially inspiring The Knife’s “Full of Fire” video and neatly dividing critics into those who scoffed and those who hailed it as a 21st-century masterpiece. 

Her debut feature, The Reunion, screens at CPH:DOX this year. It evolved from her experience of being bullied as a child. “I’d just started to write the idea, and I knew it was time for a 20-year reunion with my old class,” Odell explains over the phone from Stockholm. “I’d planned to go and make a speech, but I saw on Facebook they’d already had the party and everyone was invited but me. I was curious about what they were afraid of.” She filmed a recreation of the reunion, made her speech and then tracked down her old classmates to play them the footage. “They did everything to avoid me,” she says, “but this isn’t about revenge. I’m interested in how group hierarchies work.” 

Text Hannah Lack

Andreas Johnsen: Where There’s a Will There’s a Weiwei
The self-taught Danish filmmaker is passionate about discovering stories on location — travelling light, keeping an open mind and adapting as he goes. From destitute but determined musicians in east Africa to women fighting for their right to choose on abortion in Nicaragua, Andreas Johnsen is drawn to protagonists fighting systems they cannot control. His latest documentary, Ai Weiwei: The Fake Casepremieres this month at IDFA in Amsterdam.

"It’s difficult to make a film about someone who is already overexposed. It’s easy in a way for the western media to use Ai Weiwei as a spokesperson for what’s going on in China. He speaks English and lived in New York for over a decade, so people turn to him; he constantly has to speak, speak, speak. He uses this attention as a tool of course, but he’s also tired of it. In the film we tried to show silence and atmosphere, show him just thinking. 

A lot of things were very difficult about being in China. The police following Weiwei everywhere, I couldn’t film in public and I was there as a tourist. So I had to find a way to tackle these obstacles and tell the story. 

My films reflect what I value in life. I need music, humour, joie de vivre — all the good stuff. And whether they are musicians, artists or reporters, or anyone else, my films are about people doing things their own way. 

Because of the internet the old way of releasing films is becoming obsolete. I believe we should make films available simultaneously on all platforms for everybody at once. I have my own app that allows people to watch all my films and I love it." 

Text Ananda Pellerin

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case
 is out on November 25

Watch our documentary with Jela here