Skip to main content

Danish Dox: Copenhagen Fest Makes its Mark in Nonfiction November

By Cynthia Close

Sandwiched between the Sheffield Doc/Fest (November 4-8) and the industry giant, IDFA (International Documentary FilmFest Amsterdam, November 19-29), the CPH:DOX Copenhagen (November 6-15) has had to fight for its place on the international circuit of "must attend" events for those of us engaged in the business of docs. While still a young festival, founded in 2003 (the industry component was only added in 2006), CPH:DOX is well worth our attention.

This year I was lucky enough to have been invited to participate in the Forum section (November 11-13) of the program, as a representative on a panel that focused on the current distribution scene in the US, and to serve on the industry side of the table during the pitch sessions, where 14 filmmaking teams were given the opportunity to present their projects to an eclectic group of panelists. This was a chance to mingle with old friends and colleagues like Debbie Zimmerman from Women Make Movies and connect with folks like Emily Russo from Zeitgeist Films and Richard Lorber of Lorber Films and Alive Mind. Th e funding side of the table included Patricia Finneran of the Sundance Documentary Fund and Adella Ladjevardi from Cinereach, with Thom Powers, programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, ably serving as moderator. Mark Atkin of Crossover Labs/Documentary Campus Masterschool and Karolina Lidin of Toronto's Hot Docs Forum moderated the project presentations for the pitch sessions.

The Forum was an intimate, invitation-only affair hosted with panache by the Danish Film Institute, which provided impressive physical spaces and served as the activity hub of both the festival and the forum. The film screenings, requisite parties and events took place at various sites across the city, all easily accessible by foot or by bike--given that there are few gas-guzzling vehicles that dared to make their way across cobblestone streets whose names seem to change without warning. This was normal for me, being from Boston, but confounding, I'm sure, to most others from out of town.

Of the 14 projects pitched, there were two that really knocked the ball out of the park:  Armadillo, a unique film (especially in the light of so many films about Middle East wars) about the psychological effect of war on a platoon of young Danish soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, by the talented team of Janus Metz and Ronnie Fridthjof. Their extraordinary footage brought me to tears. This project has the potential to be one of those transcendent films about man and war like Apocalypse Now. As of this writing, it looks like my second-choice pick, Enemies of the People, an intimate and poetic approach to understanding what happened on the Killing Fields of Cambodia, by the very experienced director Rob Lemkin and his collaborator Thet Sambath, one of Cambodia's best investigative reporters, has been singled out at IDFA. A Free Mind, by the noted Danish producer Phie Ambo (director of the 2007 Joris Ivins nominee Mechanical Love), also generated significant interest.

Like all good hosts, CPH:DOX treated guests well, with ample food and free flowing alcohol to grease the wheels of industry and assist in helping filmmakers to connect with those who could help them get their films made and distributed. There were many events packed into the schedule, along with a series of one-on-one meetings with producers.

It is rare on these occasions that I get the chance to see films in their entirety, and with more than 200 films at eight theaters and nearly a dozen additional venues, that was indeed the case for me at CPH:DOX. To compensate, the festival offers most titles available for viewing at the DOX:MARKET, a digital VOD lab situated on the 4th floor of the Danish Film Institute. Here, a distributor has the option of shopping around and making the best use of limited time to sample what the festival has to offer. It was a pleasure to use, and certainly as well organized as any digital market I have encountered before. It is here where we can get a good overview of the films and a sense of what distinguishes CPH:DOX from the rest of the pack.


From Vincent Moon's La faute des fleurs, which won the Sound + Vision Award at CPH: DOX.


Logically, Danish filmmakers have a strong presence at both the forum and the festival. Anders Ostergaard's Burma VJ premiered at last year's CPH:DOX and has helped raise awareness of the great talents coming out of Denmark. In addition, if you are looking for films that expand the boundaries of the documentary genre, then this is the festival to attend. With featured artists like Nathalie Djurberg, whose sexually macabre claymation films were showcased at the 53rd Venice Biennale; Vincent Moon, with his approach to the music documentary; and Philippe Grandrieux, with  his philosophical explorations on the meaning of making images, there is plenty of  intellectual meat to chew and digest.   

There is also no shortage of cash awards and competitions, with six categories vying for attention. This year's top DOX:Award went to Harmony Korine's envelope-pushing Trash Humpers. While I hadn't seen it during the festival, Korine's off-the-wall video acceptance speech certainly made me wish I had.


From Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers.


Funding for such grand events is never easy and is getting more difficult, even in places like Denmark, where there is strong government support for culture and the arts. CPH:DOX has recognized that challenge, and by joining in the Doc Alliance with its sister organizations--Dok Leipzig, Jihlava Internaitonal Documentary Film Festival, Planete Doc Review Warsaw and Visions Du Réel Nyon-the Denmark festival is presenting greater opportunities, collectively, for filmmakers now and in the years to come.

Thanks to festival director Tine Fischer, and especially to forum organizers Tine Mosegaard and Riina Sporring Zachariassen for a really wonderful experience.

Cynthia Close is executive director of Documentary Educational Resources.