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Why Danish Docs Rock the Festival Circuit (and the 7 You've Got to See)

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 15, 2011 at 12:14PM

Despite a population of just over 5 million, Denmark has a long tradition of cinema greater than its size should allow, from pioneer of the medium Carl Theodor Dreyer, Jr. to more recent examples like Bille August, Susanne Bier, Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Lone Scherfig and Nicolas Winding Refn. Over the last decade, that tradition has extended into documentary -- in large part, thanks to the Danish Film School's flourishing documentary program. Some of the past few years' most award-winning docs have come from Denmark, including Anders Østergaard's "Burma VJ," Janus Metz Pedersen's "Armadillo," Mads Brügger's "The Red Chapel," Eva Mulvad's "Enemies of Happiness" and Pernille Rose Grønkjær's "The Monastery." Many of those began their festival lives at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (aka CPH: DOX) and went on to win awards at IDFA, Sundance and dozens of festivals thereafter. This year should prove no different, as numerous documentaries that premiered at CPH:DOX will find their way into heavy rotation on the coming year's doc festival circuit. Indiewire will be profiling three of the filmmakers behind these films in the coming days (all of whom will see their films have international premieres at IDFA, which begins this week). Until then, take a look at these seven Danish docs to watch out for:
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CPH DOX 1
Courtesy CPH:DOX.

Despite a population of just over 5 million, Denmark has a long tradition of cinema greater than its size should allow, from pioneer of the medium Carl Theodor Dreyer, Jr. to more recent examples like Bille August, Susanne Bier, Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Lone Scherfig and Nicolas Winding Refn.

Over the last decade, that tradition has extended into documentary -- in large part, thanks to the Danish Film School's flourishing documentary program. Some of the past few years' most award-winning docs have come from Denmark, including Anders Østergaard's "Burma VJ," Janus Metz Pedersen's "Armadillo," Mads Brügger's "The Red Chapel," Eva Mulvad's "Enemies of Happiness" and Pernille Rose Grønkjær's "The Monastery." Many of those began their festival lives at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (aka CPH: DOX) and went on to win awards at IDFA, Sundance and dozens of festivals thereafter.

This year should prove no different, as numerous documentaries that premiered at CPH:DOX will find their way into heavy rotation on the coming year's doc festival circuit. Indiewire will be profiling three of the filmmakers behind these films in the coming days (all of whom will see their films have international premieres at IDFA, which begins this week). Until then, take a look at these seven Danish docs to watch out for:

Danish Docs To Watch

  • CPH:DOX
    1 of 8

    1/2 Revolution

    "1/2 Revolution"
  • CPH:DOX
    2 of 8

    The Ambassador

    Mads Brügger's "The Ambassdor" is likely to be be the most discussed Danish doc on the festival circuit. The film -- which will open the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) this week -- is Brügger's follow-up to his internationally acclaimed doc "The Red Chapel." The film follows Brügger (through hidden camera footage) as he poses as a Liberian Consul in the Central African Republic by simply purchasing a diplomatic passport. The film is already courting controversy as a Dutch businessman depicted in the film (helping him get the passport) has since gone on to the Dutch media (unsuccessfully) asking to have the film removed from IDFA. Indiewire will have an interview with Brügger up this Wednesday.
  • CPH: DOX
    3 of 8

    Au Pair

    Directed by Nicole Horanyi and Heidi Kim Andersen, "Au Pair" takes on a considerable issue in Denmark today: The exploitation of au pairs. Following three Filipino women -- Mattet, Theresa and Roselie -- the film powerfully depicts the low salaries, poor working conditions and homesickness that people in their positions are forced to face.
  • CPH:DOX
    4 of 8

    Ballroom Dancer

    Danish duo Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed make their directorial debuts with "Ballroom Dancer," which had its world premiere opening CPH:DOX (and heads to IDFA this weekend). Accessible and charming, the film follows the former world champion in Latin American dancing, Slavik Kryklyvyy. A decade after being one of the most celebrated dancers in the world, Bonke and Koefoed's subject now struggles with an aging body and an intense anger management problem that keeps scaring off dance partners. But with a new partner (who is also his girlfriend), "Dancer" depicts Kryklyvyy as he attempts to make a comeback.
  • CPH:DOX
    5 of 8

    Love Addict

    For her follow-up to 2006's hugely successful "The Monastery" (which won a major award at IDFA, screened in competition at Sundance, and was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award), Pernille Rose Grønkjær chose to take on a little known epidemic: Love addiction. In "Love Addict," Grønkjær explores the all-consuming obsession to obtain and arrest the love of others. Set in America (where groups have started being set up to help love addicts), the doc follows seven personal stories of those hopelessly obsessed with ideas that are simply unattainable.
  • CPH:DOX.
    6 of 8

    Turning

    In 2006, Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) and Charles Atlas took their collaborative performance tour 'Turning' -- described as "a sensual and moving exploration of femininity and the basic desire of belonging" -- to major cities in Europe. Five years later, the film depicting the tour made its debut as a work in progress as the closing night film of CPH:DOX. A Danish-American co-production, it blends concert footage and behind-the-scenes footage to create an affecting portrait of Antony and his team's artistry and camaraderie. Antony (right) and Atlas (second from left) were on hand for the screening, which followed the festivals' awards ceremony.
  • CPH:DOX
    7 of 8

    The Will

    A deserved winner of the top prize in the Danish competition in CPH:DOX, Christian Sønderby Jepsen's hilarious, downright unbelievable "The Will" is yet another Danish doc heading to IDFA after premiering in Copenhagen (and is likely heading to every documentary festival it wants from this point forward). The film follows three down-on-their-luck brothers who inherit a considerable amount of money from their grandmother. The aftermath of said even contains more twists and turns than that of the most outlandish mainstream narrative film.

This article is related to: Festivals, Documentary, Mads Brügger, The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel), Armadillo