Why He’s On Our Radar: Following in the footsteps of a rather remarkable amount of recent documentary filmmakers to come out of Denmark, Daniel Dencik won the Reel Talent Award this past weekend at the closing ceremony of CPH:DOX, his country’s most premier documentary festival. The award — given to a “Danish documentary director who has shown an exceptional cinematic vision in his first films” — was certainly warranted. Shot with Super 8 and a raw helmet-cam, Dencik’s impressive first feature “Moon Rider” — which screened at CPH:DOX — follows the struggles of young bike rider Rasmus Quaade to become a professional rider. And not to be outdone, the festival closed off with a work-in-progress screening of Dencik’s incredibly ambitious second feature “Expedition to the End of the World,” an extraordinary look at a group of scientists and artists that travel to the Northeastern fjords of Greenland, which are accessible for the first time due to melting ice.
More About Him: Accepted in to the National Film School of Denmark at a young age, Dencik made friends with Icelandic filmmaker Dagur Kari. One of his first professional jobs was editing Kari’s films. “It was, and still is, a wonder that you’d get paid to just hang out with a friend,” Dencik said.
Let’s talk “Moon Rider,” your first feature film that is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit. Perhaps start by describing it in your own words.
‘Moon Rider’ tries to get inside the head of a young man. I want the spectator to actually be Rasmus Quaade, the talented bicycle rider. I followed him from he was 18 till he was 22 and shot the entire film on Super8 and helmet-cam. There is no sync sound, no scenes. But it is Rasmus who does all the talking, thinking, breathing and it is the sound of his heart beat that sets the pace for the film. The storyline is very straightforward: Quaade wants to be the best bike rider in the world. I was lucky enough to be around when that idea popped up in his head, and I was able to follow him all the way to The World Championships.
What were some of the biggest challenges of getting that film made?
Well, Super8 turned out to be a very stupid format. Beautiful, but stupid. Since I was doing a lot of shooting from motorcycles it took a certain level of acrobatic skill to change rolls at 50 mph. At a race in the backroads of Northern France, I got my own police officer to drive the motorcycle — so I taught the officer how to prepare the spare camera while I was shooting and the riders were racing next to us.
Your next feature, “Expedition To The End of The World,” screened as a work-in-progress at CPH:DOX this past weekend to a very warm response (my own included). It’s an incredibly ambitious film sure to be all over the festival circuit soon enough. Tell us a bit about that.
We are still laying down the final touches to that film, it’s not quite finished yet, but hopefully you are right. I am invited on board an old wooden schooner that set sails for the Northeastern fjords of Greenland. Everything is melting now, and new land appears under the ice. It’s a no-man’s-land in a very literal sense: no man has ever sat foot here, and no film camera has filmed these parts of the world before. I thought it was going to be an apocalyptic film about the end of the world, but I ended up just wanting to celebrate life, the immensity and variety of it. The expedition members are artists and scientists, so it’s a really old-schooI expedition in a way – but at the same time very contemporary, they listen to Metallica while they discover new species of life. The main character is the astro-biologist who tries to define what life is. I think the film is an essay upon what life is, how strong it is and how fragile we are.
From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like the Danish documentary filmmaking community is a really incredible, nuturing place to work within. Am I right?
We are blessed with a great team-spirit. A success for a colleague of mine is a succes for me. We are all really involved in each other’s projects. I think a lot of it comes from The Film School, but there’s a generosity and a naïvity all around the place – from the Danish Film Institute to the local festivals – which is a good base for making dreams come alive. If you are weird and twisted, you are not looked down upon – on the contrary: if you are weird, twisted and talented you are the king of this country.
Who have been some of your filmmaking influences?
I think I have an eclectic and rather random taste. If it works, it works. Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Passenger” stands out as a masterpiece for me, as does “Lost Highway” by David Lynch, “Scarface” by Brian De Palma, “Tree of Life” by Terrence Malick, “Grizzly Man” by Werner Herzog, “The Idiots” by Lars von Trier, or “Noialbinoi” by my friend Dagur.
Do you have any advice for folks that want to become filmmakers?
Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Your pace is the right pace. Never complain. There’s no problem you can’t shoot yourself out of.
So what’s next for you?
I am also a writer. So I am off to a bungalow in Asia now to write my next book, which will be my fifth. So far I have mostly published poems and short stories. Now it’s time for that novel, I guess. I also have an idea for a fiction feature about the Danish slave trade of the 19th century. So I am probably going to do some sketching on that as well, if I don’t get lost in the Cambodian highlands. By the way, “Apocalypse Now” is also a masterpiece.