Nordisk Panorama 25!

Written 30-09-2014 11:58:32 by Tue Steen Müller

Nordisk Panorama 25! - a documentary tour down memory lane. Yes, the first one was in Grimstad, this idyllic and romantic spot on the South coast of Norway. I was there and so was she, with whom I have shared my life since then. Grimstad 1990, unforgettable, a place in my heart... I was there on behalf of Statens Filmcentral (National Film Board of Denmark) and as part of the group that was to set up Filmkontakt Nord the year after. Therefore, a thank you for asking me to write about what has happened to Nordic documentaries in the quarter of a century that has passed. I have chosen to primarily go back to focus on directors and films, which I remember and which have made an impact on the Nordic and/or the international scene. You will probably miss some, especially ”newer” ones, I can’t cover it all. You will agree that nothing is so boring as extensive name- and title-dropping. I will try to control myself. And of course it is a personal choice that I have made.


There was a pretty strong line-up of documentaries in 1990. When I look at the list of films and directors in competition (there were no films from Iceland and only one from Finland!), in my view, three stand out and have indeed put their mark on Nordic documentaries.

Sigve Endresen was there with ”For your Life” (”For harde livet”), 98 minutes of strong social documentary on drug addicts, a film that reached a huge audience in the cinemas of Norway and opened the door for the director to make another critical statement on how the society treats its outsiders – ”Big Boys Don’t Cry” (”Store gutter gråter ikke”) on young prisoners taking part in a rehabilitation project. It was at Nordisk Panorama (NP) 1995, followed by ”Living Among Lions”(”Leve blandt løver”) at NP 1998, on three young people who suffer from cancer. In 2002 he took part in NP with the portrait of singerKari Iveland, named ”Weightless” (”Vektløs”). The style of his films is direct, mostly with no sentimentality.

I remember that we Danes were jealous on the Norwegians, who could get documentary films reach the cinema. And also have them used in educational contexts - here we touch upon a typical Nordic issue that I have always highlighted at workshops abroad: the non-theatrical use of films for public education and debate. 

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Categories: Festival, Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

Nick Read: The Condemned

Written 29-09-2014 17:18:55 by Tue Steen Müller

Filmen vises i morgen tirsdag den 30. september på DR2’s Dokumania kl. 20.45. Den kan stærkt anbefales. Den danske titel er forklarende, ”Ruslands værste fængsel”, en direkte oversættelse af originaltitlen ville være ”De fordømte”. Her følger en kort anmeldelse på engelsk, da filmen har haft og vil have et bredt internationalt liv.

You can choose to make a film about life in a Russian prison by picking one character as did Alexander Gutman years ago with his ”17 August”, a masterpiece, or you can do like Nick Read, director and cameraman - put the focus on a gallery of inmates (and one guard) and have them talk about what it means to be locked up, for most of them, for lifetime for the murders they have committed. (In 1996 death penalty was  not practised any longer).

The cinematography and editing of the film creates a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere with a strong sound score of doors being locked, keys put into the keyhole, with voice-off’s of Maxim, Vladimir, Temirov, Albert, Sergei – whatever their names are. They talk well, they regret, not all of them, they put words on what it means to be in a 5m2 cell and very rarely see the light of the day. They are given the opportunity to express themselves.

The film is informative. It tells about the difference in the prison - in sitting alone and being with others. It lets the man who has been locked up for 40 years of his 62 year life describe the rules that the older inmates set up to avoid trouble and fighting. The hierarchy is outlined, those lowest are the rapist and pedophiles.

Two times the film leaves the prison (260 men, 800 murders, situated far away from everything in a forest big as Germany…) to accompany the wife and son of one of the inmates, as well as a mother for the short visits (3-4 hours) they are allowed to have. They meet their husband/father/son and the camera catches some small emotional moments before it retracts to let them have privacy.

An honest work, away from the many tabloid prison films that are just looking for trouble. A quote: It’s not hard to kill a man, it’s hard to live with it.

UK/Russia, 80 mins., 2013


Categories: TV, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

Message2Man St. Petersburg/ 4

Written 28-09-2014 17:26:36 by Tue Steen Müller

Politics. Freedom to say what you want. In films as well. The Message2Man – that had its 24th edition this year – and its organisers are of course backing this basis for any film festival. Nevertheless the festival cancelled a screening of ”Pussy against Putin”, made by the anonymous group called Gogol's Wives. Without any explanation I was told. The festival jury – read by the member Philip Gröning (”Into Great Silence”) – presented a statement raising this question but it was unfortunately wrapped into enigmatic and metaphoric language so the protest message did not come through. Why not say it directly that this is wrong... Even if the minister of culture and his entourage was present? Was it wrapped to protect the festival?

I talked to a jury member of the national competition and asked if he had found any critical or controversial films in the selection. Not really, he said, even if (my words) you can indeed say that the winner of the national competition deals with politics. The title says it all, ”Cardiopolitika” (photo) by Svetlana Strelnikova, who has a skilled surgeon as main character, who enters politics hoping it will help his profession to have better facilities. (See below).

We talked politics in St. Petersburg. Of course. At a moment where there is a war going on

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Categories: Festival, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

Message2Man St. Petersburg/ 3

Written 28-09-2014 10:03:56 by Tue Steen Müller

It was a Swedish documentary that got the Grand Prix at the Message2Man 2014 festival: Forest of the Dancing Spirits (photo), directed by Linda Västrik (104 min. | 2013 | Sweden, Canada).

I copy-pasted a description of the film from a festival catalogue: In the deep jungle of the Congo, untouched by civilisation, live the Aka, a tribe of pygmies. Linda Västrik lived among the Aka from 2005 to 2012, and captured the fascinating life of this hunter-gatherer tribe. It is a life governed by magical rituals, myths and traditions just as it was centuries ago. Against the background of the personal story of couple Akaya and Kengole, whose greatest desire is to have children of their own, is a depiction of the harmony of human coexistence with the jungle, the source of all life and death. But thanks to the plans of the state forestry company, this coexistence will probably be short-lived.

In the short film category two films shared the award: the documentary Beach Boy by Danish Emil Langballe (28 min. | 2013 | UK, Denmark) and the short fiction Sunny by Barbara Ott (30 min. | 2013 | Germany)

In the national competition the winner was Cardiopolitika by Svetlana Strelnikova (64 mins., 2014). At a press conference in connection with the

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Categories: Festival, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

Laura Poitras Opens DOKLeipzig

Written 27-09-2014 08:19:37 by Tue Steen Müller

A scoop for DOKLeipzig. Read the festival’s press release: The 57th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film will open on 27 October 2014 with the long-awaited film “CITIZENFOUR” by Laura Poitras. In the last instalment of her 9/11 trilogy, the multiple award-winning director shows how the United States’ so called “War on Terror” is directed against their own citizens.

In January 2013, Poitras received a number of encrypted e-mails from an anonymous sender who identified himself as “citizen four” and claimed to have evidence of massive covert surveillance operations of the NSA and other intelligence services. In June 2013, she flew to Hong Kong with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Edward Snowden. She brought her camera. The resulting film is a documentary thriller in which events unfold minute by minute before our eyes.

“CITIZENFOUR is a film that leaves a lasting impression”, says festival director Claas Danielsen. “Laura Poitras succeeds in making us feel the totality of modern surveillance almost physically. At the same time, she gives

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Categories: Festival, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

Helena Trestikova Free Online Retrospective

Written 26-09-2014 07:01:14 by Tue Steen Müller

Yes, she is a documentary superstar, Helena Trestikova. Filmkommentaren has had many posts about her films, which are shot over decades, always with a warm heart for its protagonists, and a social perspective. Now the DocAlliance gives you an offer you can not refuse:

From September 22 to October 5, 2014, the documentary portal presents (FOR FREE) the first world online retrospective of unique Czech director Helena Třeštíková under the telling title “A Long Journey”. The works by the popular documentarist who has won a whole range of international awards, including Europe’s highest film award Prix Arte, are introduced on the portal in the form of more than 25 films made since the mid-1970s. Moreover, Czech viewers can vote for their favourite film by the filmmaker at and win an invitation to an exclusive film meeting with Helena Třeštíková… A quote from what we have written about Trestikova:

About Helena Trestikova at the Magnificent7 Festival 2013: ...a masterclass with a very well prepared presentation with 11 scenes from her films, through her work of long-time observation. She showed us clips from ”Marcela”, ”Katka” and ”René” (Best European Documentary in 2008) and talked about the ethical questions connected to being so close to her characters, helping them ”outside” the film as well, to get on the right track in their lives. Trestikova said that she did not really consider herself as a filmmaker, more as a chronicler, who has new films coming up this year and has plans to continue to film René and maybe also the family in ”Private Universe”. Deep respect for Trestikova for a constant non-tabloid humanistic focus on people outside the celebrity spotlight.

Categories: Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH, Web

Russian Censorship Debate

Written 25-09-2014 07:58:56 by Tue Steen Müller

Well, I was definitely away from my comfort zone… Around the table were Russian critics, journalists, a writer of a book on the banning of films in Soviet Union – and some younger filmmakers, who were there to say something about censorship today. They did not deliver many words, the old boys took the floor and kept the word for long, arguing with each other, quite dramatic sometimes. I was the last one to speak, told the story that I had heard a couple of weeks ago from Uldis Brauns, whose ”235.000.000” was censored and re-cut after a meeting between him and Goskino in Moscow in 1967. Otherwise I could talk about self-censorship and advertise films in the Danish series at Message2Man, a couple of the films deals with suppression of the free expression like ”Ai Wei Wei” and ”Burma vj”.

I have the feeling that the rest of the table did not understand what I said – the interpreter was not a professional – or were not really interested or were exhausted after the long arguments.

Andrei Smirnov (photo), film director and actor, was the first to speak. He did so passionately, arguing that hundreds of films, in Soviet time, were taken away from public screenings in most cases without any explanation. And if there was any, it was mostly pretty absurd why they were censored. Some photocopies of historical official letters banning films and film directors were distributed – they dealt with the fate of Klimov and Parajanov and were sent by the ”Committee for the State Security of the Council of Ministers of the USSR”. Critic Victor Matizev linked to the current situation saying that we ”are close to the formal installment of censorship”. Another critic, Andrei Shemayakin, pointed out that the censorship today was mostly of an economic nature, there is little money for documentaries which was confirmed by the couple of young filmmakers at the table, one of them made a film about gay and lesbians through crowdfunding.

Towards the end of the two-hour session a journalist started to talk politics, Smirnov got angry and left. Have to confess that I did not really get what the journalist said – but he was pointing at Russia being more advanced than France and Germany, where censorship is more in practice…

Categories: Festival, Film History, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

The Future of DOX Magazine?

Written 24-09-2014 09:01:29 by Tue Steen Müller

My wise advisor asks me to de-personalise the important debate about whether DOX has a future or not. I will do my best to suppress my frustration. Starting with a concrete, constructive proposal: Don't stop DOX and - inspired by what they do at the Danish Film Institute - make a print issue to come out when the festival idfa is on and one when there the festivals/markets Sheffield/Sunny Side take place. That can attract advertising and you can have ad hoc editors/writers (and not a full-time employed editor) to contribute. Publication costs are not high in several countries. The paper editions are for longer, deeper texts, the online activity can include shorter contributions.

But does EDN want to continue DOX? Director Paul Pauwels is not clear in his communication. In the last printed issue of the magazine, that just came out, he writes:

“EDN will spend a lot of energy on defending the documentary genre in the ultra competitive (but often under-financed) media landscape and on becoming an advocate of its members and their interests. This added objective – approved by the EDN Executive Committee – calls for a new strategy and adapted tools, and in all honesty I had to conclude that DOX Magazine doesn’t fit with this new objective..”

… and in EDN Weekly 37, he says that the future of DOX will be discussed internally. One of his staff members has expressed that there will be an online DOX, an EC (Executive member) of EDN told me some days ago that this is doubtful.

Anyway, above is a proposal, there are probably many others. I will ask EDN to put this text on their Facebook page. This is where a letter to the members from Paul has been published stating that he does not want to respond to “a facebook campaign”. He refers to the debate on and the connected comments on FB that I use to bring readers to the blog. All debate on DOX should take place on EDN territory according to Paul. Which should not prevent you readers to contribute on this blog, all are welcome – EDN members and lovers of DOX – and come up with other proposals to continue the magazine.

Categories: Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

Message2Man St. Petersburg/ 2

Written 24-09-2014 08:11:41 by Tue Steen Müller

Second day in St. Petersburg started with a lovely tour to Russian Museum downtown at the square where a statue of Pushkin stands, always with birds resting on his stretched-out arm. The newly renovated rooms with the Russian avant-garde I had not seen before – what a pleasure to revisit masterpieces of Malevich, Filonov, Kandinsky and Tatlin.

After that off to Velican theatre where we watched young Danish Emil Langballe’s graduation film from the National Film School in England, ”Beach Boy”, a well balanced, cinematic non-moralistic portrait of a young black man and his relationship to a middle-aged British woman in Kenya. The young man makes a phone call to his girl friend, who is pregnant but is aware of his profession. The film is light and pretty much less demonstrative than the feature of Ulrich Seidl.

And then to Gare du Nord in Paris guided by veteran director Claire Simon, whose ”Human Geography” (104 minutes) appealed strongly to me, both because it is a very well made film but also because Gare du Nord is very familar to me. I have arrived there several times at 8am in the morning after 12 hours in train from Copenhagen, I have welcomed my mother when she visited us on vacation in ”la ville des villes”, and – alas – in November last year this was the place where co-editor of, Allan Berg, had his computer stolen, when we got out of a taxi…

Claire Simon is behind the camera, her friend Simon, of Algerian origin, is there with her to help her ask questions to people passing by. Small stories with people before they enter a train, observations, and talks with people working on the station. It becomes a film on Life and Love, superficial, what else could it be, but small stories placed in the heads of the audience for us to work more on. The focus is on people who ended up in France coming from all over the world, happy or not happy, with fine educations from back home, but apparently useless in the European country they have arrived to. IN that way the film is also a portrait of Europe of today.

Categories: Festival, Articles/Reviews ENGLISH

Færøske Biodage

Written 23-09-2014 14:28:05 by Allan Berg Nielsen


Ludo (2014)

Festivalen Færøske Biodage i København (25. september til 2. oktober) begynder på Nordatlantens Brygge med premiere på Katrin Ottarsdóttirs helt nye "Ludo" og skifter 30. september om aftenen til Cinemateket, hvor ”Ludo” vises samtidig med, at en ældre, interessant tysk filmatisering af ”Barbara” præsenteres på Nordatlantens Brygge. Den tyske instruktør Frank Wisbar lavede den i 1961 med Harriet Anderson i titelrollen. (Denne overlapning skal man lige være opmærksom på, ellers er det sådan en rar lille festval, hvor man kan nå det hele.) Programmet byder på en sjældenhed mere, en norsk film optaget på Færøerne i 1953, Leif Sindings ”Selkvinden”, som introduceres af filmhistorikeren Jan Erik Holst. Programmet omfatter i øvrigt blandt andet Ulla Boje Rasmussens ”1700 meter fra fremtiden”, som er velkendt fra bibliotekernes distribution, men som i denne anledning kan ses på det store lærred, hvad dokumentarfilm som den fortjener. Festivalen har en kortfilmaften den anden dag, og den slutter med en kortfilmaften, begge gange introduceret af instruktører og festivalarrangørerne.

1700 meter fra fremtiden (1990)

Programinformationer og billetsalg på og 

Om Ulla Boje Rasmussens film

Jeg er dokumentarist af Allan Berg Nielsen

Om nogle af Katrin Ottarsdóttirs film

Categories: Cinema, Festival, Artikler/anmeldelser DANSK

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