NEW:VISION AWARD is a quite important part of the Documentary Film Festival CPH:DOX sustaining contemporary artistic production. But some of the documentaries are quite shocking and controversial. Talking about Untilled for instance, by Pierre Huyghe, there have been a lot of criticisms about the use of the greyhound dog with a pink leg, and about his health at large. How do you react to this and where is the limit between challenge and provocation?
Mads Mikkelsen: The arts in general have the autonomy to challenge notions of what is politically and ethically right or wrong. Political correctness is useful as a standard for any exchange of ideas, of informations and of communications. I haven’t heard of this specific criticism, of Pierre Huyghe’s Untilled (Editor’s Note: presented in world première, directed by Pierre Huyghe, France, 2013, 15m.) and the very skinny dog, and of course there are limits to how far you can take things and and still call it art. But imits are not fixed, and I obviously don’t think that Pierre Huyghe is overstepping any limit, but of course is something that we think about, because so many of this films are intervening in reality. We didn’t want to be controversial for the sake of controversy but controversial for the sake of the so called Thought Provoking.
The films that have an interventionist strategy or that are based on an interventionist premise, are something that we are going to see much more in the coming years, it is a tendency that is coming, is starting in these years, maybe it is a sort of counter reaction to the tendency towards Observationalism and what is called Slow Cinema, James Benning (Editor’s Note: Stemple Pass was presented at CPH:DOX, US, 2012, 121m.) is an excellent film maker and we are still screening his films, we have been following that tendency very closely, great work has been made. But we also see how that specific mode of filmmaking, the static observing long takes of the flat surface of the hearth, that sort of mustism has come to an end, or at least is changing into something new, and what we see now is a new movement, or a new body of work, which is based on intervention.
I would suggest the film The Reunion by Swedish artist Anna Odell (Editor’s Note: directed by Anna Odell, original title Återträffen, Sweden, 2013, 82m.) to that group of films. Her work is also based on simply interacting with the situations that she is depicting, she is a sort of agent provocateur, she goes into situations, interacts with it and then she documents the outcome, which is an approach that compares almost to a scientific approach, like the definition of experiment: you have a given, you have a frame, you have a method, you have a strategy, but the outcome is out of control, you don’t know what is going to happen, and I think that that practice is something that is coming now and I think this year selection of CPH:DOX reflects it and I am very happy about that.
Special Screenings section is including films presented by various cultural institutions. How did you ended up choosing them and did you have any special partnership with cultural institutions?
Mads Mikkelsen: Our mission at the festival is to present works by visual artists, in NEW:VISION award, from the art world, from galleries and biennales and so on. It is something we have been doing for years, and is very unusual in that context, but it is a major part of what we do. We are not only screening those films but also to trying to build a platform between the world of cinema and the world of art where professionals and artists can exchange ideas and contacts, and where the actual production of new works is also facilitated through CPH:FORUM (Editor’s Note: CPH:FORUM is the international financing and co-production event, dedicated to supporting creative, visual and auteur-driven films). Special Screenings section presents films that we wanted to highlight, and not only films, because Alberi by Michelangelo Frammartino (Editor’s Note: presented in European première, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy, 2013, 33m.), for instance, is an installation. While the Dazed and Confused program is a compilation program of young visual artists, they are launching a new video platform, and we are one of the creative partners for that, and we invited them to launch the new site and celebrate it with an evening of screenings.
Niklas Engstrøm: The term describing the kind of films we have been striving to promote as a festival is “Hybrid”. Alberi by Michelangelo Frammartino (Editor’s Note: presented in European première, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy, 2013, 33m.) is and installation by a filmmaker that made a hybrid film three years ago, Le Quattro Volte, which ended up winning the main award at CPH:DOX, and afterwards we had a beautiful video sent by Michelangelo Frammartino where he said that he was “Surprised to win the award at Copenhagen documentary festival, because he didn’t know that his film was a documentary”! We are serving this hybrid area, whether it is hybrids of fiction and documentary or hybrids of art and cinema, or hybrids of cinema and the real world, and that includes the whole trans-media projects that are evolving now in the documentary cinema, and that has so much great potential. For us it is really a core value to transgress borders in all these areas.
Everything is Under Control is this year theme for the Documentary Film Festival CPH:DOX and it sounds like a very Nordic state of mind. Are the films in the NORDIC:DOX AWARDS related to this concept, or should we just define the section as a fresh presentation of Nordic producers?
Niklas Engstrøm: The films in the competitions haven’t been selected with that concept in mind, but Everything is Under Control concept is related to the Nordic state of mind and to the Nordic way of producing films in at least two ways, it is actually one thing we also really wanted to work with and work against for years. The way that Nordic films are produced is very much under control, they are produced by a system that works really smoothly and, in Denmark, Sweden and Norway as well, we have this amazing support systems for films through the film institutes, the television stations, so it is really made it possible for Scandinavian documentaries filmmakers to go out into the world with this very well produced films, and win awards at many different festivals, and that’s why Danish documentaries have been so successful. But the other side of that coin is that in our minds, they really go in the same direction, in this very controlled direction and you get some films that are smooth, that are nice and well produced, and in lot of ways they are very good films.
But we would like to see films that are out of control in Scandinavia, and you don’t see too many of them so we have been working for years trying to inspire Scandinavian filmmakers to get out of control, to go out into the world, throw security nets and just make films. It is the first time that we have used an overall theme, it’s more common in the art world, and art biennals, but in film festivals is not really something common, but we were discussing this in spring and it was such a great concept that we tried to make it the idea behind the whole festival. It is also important for us not to just stay inside the form and the aesthetics of the films, but also to say that when you talk about aesthetics and form the discussion would most definitely have a relation to reality, so to distinguish these two elements is just too easy, it’s a working definition, it has its limits.
In 2009, we started a program called DOX:LAB, where the concept is to try to make people loose control: we selected ten filmmakers from Europe, ten filmmakers from the rest of the world, then we paired them, and of course, just the notion of making a film with another person, is interesting because is experimental. As film director you are used to have the control and decide, and suddenly you have to share responsibilities with someone else and, beyond that, when you ask a Danish filmmaker, who is used to make films in the way that I just described, then you suddenly pair him with a filmmaker from the Philippines, who is used to go out into the street and filming anything, there is this clash which is really inspiring. That has really been something we have been thinking about for a long time, control is good but loss of control is better.