UPDATED: A new statement from Zentropa has been added at the bottom of this post.
Producers from 11 nations claim they are “shocked and upset” by “the brazen display of toxic masculinity” they witnessed at an event hosted last month by Zentropa, the Danish production company founded by Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Lars von Trier. Their concerns, detailed in a November 28 statement, are connected to a producers workshop that occurred last month at Film City, Zentropa’s headquarters in Copenhagen. The October 26 workshop happened after singer and actress Björk alleged that von Trier had sexually harassed her while directing their Oscar-nominated 2000 film “Dancer in the Dark,” and before nine women shared with the newspaper Politiken similar experiences they’d endured at Zentropa.
According to the statement, 70 producers from the international film community attended the workshop, where they were greeted by Zentropa’s female producers, and directed to watch a concert by Jensen and a cover band. Yet the venue also featured a naked photo of Jensen, where his penis was on full display.
Next, a short film chronicled the early history of Zentropa, which has become Scandinavia’s largest film production company since it was established in 1992. The film included footage of Jensen and von Trier swimming nude, plus talk about how Björk made “Dancer in the Dark” shoot more “difficult.” After the presenters made “crude” jokes about sexual harassment and Zentropa’s recent unflattering press, the company’s interns were asked to stand so the visiting delegation would know who to ask about possible workplace harassment. Guests were then invited to dine, drink, and enjoy the facility’s pool and sauna. It it unknown whether von Trier was present; he is currently in post-production on “The House That Jack Built,” out next year, starring Matt Dillon as a serial killer.
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“We had started the evening intrigued but conflicted to be at Zentropa,” wrote the 12 producers who signed the statement (Stéphane Hueber-Blies, Rosie Crerar, Cait Pansegrouw, Jérémy Forni, Alba Sotorra, Julia Tal, Federico Sande Novo, Muge Ozen, Sabine Gruber, Karen Harnisch, Juan Pablo Richter Paz, and Alba Sotorra). “A place that has been portrayed as an alternative, liberated film institution. A place that claims true creative innovation. What we experienced could certainly be classified by some as alternative, but it was anything but liberating or innovative. Instead we encountered a brazen display of toxic masculinity.”
The statement continues, “That evening at Zentropa, we felt trapped. We were in a room with colleagues and industry professionals, and suddenly, in this warm and welcoming place, we began to feel afraid. Afraid because we were absolutely infuriated by the mockery and disrespect that we witnessed, but that our shock immobilised us from confronting it.”
Its authors also praised Björk: “Her testimony is neither trivial nor simple. It required courage and dignity. Björk freed up her voice. We, as a group of film producers, were shocked and upset by the disrespect displayed at Zentropa that night. Not least to Bjork, but to all victims of sexual harassment, assault and abuse…It’s our responsibility to lead the change in our work environments, on our film sets. We stand for zero tolerance of any form of discrimination and harassment. We stand with the victims.”
Staff members at Zentropa’s Copenhagen and UK offices did not respond to requests for comment by press time. Following Björk’s mid-October Facebook post where she originally spoke out against von Trier (without naming him), Jensen responded on the director’s behalf, telling another Danish newspaper, Jylannds Posten, “As far as I remember, we were victims,” as Björk “was stronger than both Lars von Trier and me and our company together.”
When the nine woman came forward on November 11, alleging they’d endured everything from teasing to having their breasts groped at Zentropa, Jensen again provided the company’s rebuttal: “There have been plenty of times when I’ve been over the top or gone too far. And I stand by that fully. But the question is whether you are an adored leader or not. And I am an adored leader.” Two days later, Deadline confirmed that Danish authorities are investigating reports of sexual harassment and workplace bullying carried out by Jensen.
Read the producers’ full statement below:
On 26th October, as part of a delegation of 70 international film producers & industry in Copenhagen for a producers workshop, we were invited to Film City, the home of Zentropa, Denmark’s most celebrated independent film production company founded by Peter Aalbaek Jensen and Lars Van Trier.
The week before Icelandic musician Björk had issued a statement accusing Lars Von Trier of sexual harassment during the filming of Dancer in the Dark in which she starred. This was the first instance of its kind to be attributed to a European filmmaker in the wake of Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein revelations. However, the full magnitude of these revelations were not yet known, not yet at the epidemic proportions we know today.
The evening commenced with the usual pleasantries as we were welcomed by one of Zentropa’s female producers. On stage Aalbaek Jensen and band preformed cover songs, above them a wall of the most esteemed of industry accolades and awards sparkled down at us.
Aalbaek Jensen smiled benevolently, whilst introducing us to his penis, which is displayed in a naked picture of himself on the walls of the premises on a poster.
First came a film—a short film of about ten minutes opening with a swimming, naked Peter and Lars—recounting some highlights and idiosyncrasies from the first 12 years of Zentropa, including tales of Bjork’s ‘difficult’ behaviour on Dancer in the Dark.
Then followed numerous crude jokes, on sexual harassment and its recent association with Zentropa.
The producer MC called on the interns – who all stood up and waved to identify themselves – and mockingly invited us to approach them over the course of the evening, to reveal to us their experience of Zentropa, whether they had any personal experience or insight into sexual harassment there. We were then invited to indulge – in their food, drink and hospitality, to swim in their pool, to sample their sauna.
We had started the evening intrigued but conflicted to be at Zentropa. A place that has been portrayed as an alternative, liberated film institution. A place that claims true creative innovation. What we experienced could certainly be classified by some as alternative, but it was anything but liberating or innovative. Instead we encountered a brazen display of toxic masculinity.
That evening at Zentropa, we felt trapped. We were in a room with colleagues and industry professionals, and suddenly, in this warm and welcoming place, we began to feel afraid. Afraid because we were absolutely infuriated by the mockery and disrespect that we witnessed, but that our shock immobilised us from confronting it. Individually we questioned ourselves, “Is anyone else seeing this?” “Am I over-reacting?”
Sexual harassment is a sequence of hostile actions of a sexual nature. The actions—as well as their repetition and intensity—weakens the victim on a psychological level. Harassment seeks to intimidate the victim or to dominate. Sometimes, the aim is obtain a sexual act. Sexual harassment also refers to solicitations of sexual favors at work under threat of sanction. We believe it is important to work on a process of verbalisation, to be able to use words to describe the bad things. Sexual harassment is violence that we can’t minimise or deny.
By mocking sexual harassment we minimise the voice of the victim. It becomes a mopping up of the situation. It’s what perpetrators do to all of their victims. They don’t exist anymore. They are disparaged and mocked in a sort of soulless objectification. And then the victim falls apart. All victims fall apart as their stories are disparaged.
And Bjork? Her testimony is neither trivial nor simple. It required courage and dignity. Björk freed up her voice.
We, as a group of film producers, were shocked and upset by the disrespect displayed at Zentropa that night. Not least to Bjork, but to all victims of sexual harassment, assault and abuse.
So we started to rise up. First with a discussion amongst some of us on the night, growing over the days and weeks that followed. We returned to our home countries, our own film communities and spoke about what we saw there.
We then heard of the further claims of sexual harassment, degradation and bullying by 9 former staffers at Zentropa disclosed by Politiken
Today, we refuse to be quiet: in keeping quiet, in ignoring the voices of victims and letting the perpetrators speak, we risk being complicit. The example of Zentropa’s denial only perpetuates a culture of inequality.
We don’t accept what we saw and heard the night of October 26th on their premises. We don’t accept what we see and hear in our own countries, in our own film communities.
We want to say to victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence that we are listening to them and we hear them. That the world is changing. As film producers, we believe it’s our responsibility to listen, to hear and to understand. It’s our responsibility to lead the change in our work environments, on our film sets.
We stand for zero tolerance of any form of discrimination and harassment. We stand with the victims. Stand with us.
Stéphane Hueber-Blies, a_BAHN, France / Luxembourg
Rosie Crerar, barry crerar, Scotland
Cait Pansegrouw, Urucu Media, South Africa
Jérémy Forni, Chevaldeuxtrois, Belgium / France
Alba Sotorra, Alba Sotorra SL, Spain
Julia Tal, 2:1 Film, Switzerland
Federico Sande Novo, Le Tiro Cine, Argentina
Muge Ozen, Solis Film, Turkey
Sabine Gruber, FlairFilm, Austria
Karen Harnisch, Film Forge, Canada
Juan Pablo Richter Paz, Bolivia
Alba Sotorra, Alba Sotorra SL, Spain
UPDATE: Zentropa’s head of administration and legal, Anders Kjærhauge, responded to a request for comment with the following email:
“We hosted the event, and our wish was to make a nice and good evening for all the participants. We have done these kind of events with success a lot of times often using self-ironic statements. It was never our intention to make fun of victims for sexual harassment. We made some jokes about ourselves in the situation, but soon after we became aware that it had been an unpleasant situation for some of the participants. We apologized the same evening and we informed the organizer of the event that we had hurt someone by what we said. We asked them to apologize to other participants that felt the same way.
We are very sorry and had we had the knowledge we have today, we would never have made fun of the situation.”