CPH:DOX: «Our festival keeps a sense of being that kind of girl in class, asking the questions that provoke the teacher,» – Niklas Engstrøm, Head of Program Department at CPH:DOX
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: March 19, 2019

– Speaking about the 2019 festival, can you tell us what the themes are of the 2019 edition?

One is what I would call the «new feminist wave», which we didn’t curate but surfaced through films that approach different but connected subjects. An example is Searching Eva (2019, Pia Hellenthal), about a young diva – a model, poet, feminist, bisexual, addict and also a sex worker. A different example is The Edge of Democracy (2019, Petra Costa), covering the last 30 years of political changes in Brazil. It is a film with a broad view but also a feminist angle on how the coup was very much against a female president. And there are also films about women entering areas formerly known as «male territory», like Khartoum Offside (2019, Marwa Zein), made by a Sudanese filmmaker.

– Another important theme this year is Europe. As Brexit is going ahead and in two months we have European elections, we are going through a time where we have to discuss what the whole concept of being European is and how it relates to the idea of democracy.

– Can you provide some insight into the selection process of CPH:DOX?

The female presence at CPH:DOX has always been strong, but after the 50/50 Manifesto, this year we looked at the numbers: 45 per cent of the 66 films in competition are made directly by female filmmakers. Of course gender is not a criteria in itself, but it is an overall criteria of diversity. We also look for diversity in perspective, for originality and for quality of course. Eventually, the guiding tool is our sense of what the profile of CPH:DOX is – a mix of a young feeling with an urban feeling, and even though some of us who started the festival are now 50, we keep a sense of being that kind of girl in class, asking the questions that provoke the teacher.

– Do you have a documentary that was seminal to your interest in the genre?

– I had a big seminal experience in the beginnings of CPH:DOX. I was 23 in 2003 and I was doing my civil service at the Danish Film Institute, where I met Tine Fischer. She asked me if I wanted to start a documentary festival with her. I was very interested in cinema, but in fact I didn’t know much about documentaries. I always saw cinema as fiction, and so a whole new world opened up for me, one I didn’t know existed. It was amazing because suddenly I could see that the cinematic tools could be used in different, but always immediate ways to deal with reality.

«Gender is not a criteria in itself, but it is an overall criteria of diversity.»

– Can you think of a film that had political or social impact in recent years?

– When we screened Citizenfour (2014, Laura Poitras) it became clear that the film had the potential to create a social movement. During the festival, we agreed to distribute it in Denmark and it had a huge audience, creating a public debate on how our local political institutions and intelligence were treating our privacy.

Another film that is not as internationally known is Violently in Love (2017, Christina Rosendahl), about domestic violence, both physical and psychological. The team was very intent on creating a public debate and on changing the laws on domestic violence in Denmark. The law was not addressing psychological violence but only physical violence and that changed a few weeks ago.

– Where do you see the documentary landscape progressing in the next decade?

– There are days we face questions related to questions regarding fake news and misinformation. And that awakens a consciousness about the message that documentaries convey and a so-called contract between filmmaker and audience. In the past, we went through a golden age where the boundaries were blurred, documentary filmmakers had an open playground and we, at the festival, believed everything was allowed. But now, the idea of misinformation and fake news makes it urgent for filmmakers to be more aware of what they do and how they do it.

– On the market side, VOD platforms are increasingly taking over from public service. I think this will become an important debate, one about content but also about a market increasingly owned by a few big corporations.