Cph Dox – Bringing British Documentary Film to Denmark
Mads Mikkelsen is Head of the Selection Committee for Denmark’s most exciting documentary film festival, CPH Dox. Now in its 15th edition, the 10 day festival consistently offers a platform for British film-makers working today. He talks to British Council Denmark about the event and why films from the UK are so popular in his home country.
How did you get involved with Cph Dox in the first place?
This year marks 10 years since I started working for the festival as a programmer. It was my favourite festival before I started working there, so in a way, it was like joining my favourite band! Because I also knew some of the people who started the festival, it was also akin to joining a group of mates embark on a new enterprise. At the time, I was arranging different film clubs around the city, so I was already showing films several times a week for anyone who wanted to come.
Could you briefly summarise the festival?
The festival started in 2003. Now it is one of the largest of its kind in the world. But our modest ambition is not to be the biggest, but to be the best in, and for, the world. We also aim to be inclusive so that the festival is for everyone, whilst keeping a high level of integrity and quality in the programming.
What’s been a highlight so far since you started working for the festival?
Film festivals are about the meeting of films, filmmakers and audiences. I have had too many highlights to mention, so here's a different one from last year's festival: We try to keep the award ceremony not so "ceremonial", as it were, so we decided to do a karaoke session with everyone in the room. I got to pick one of my favourite songs, 'Lola', by the Kinks, and had 300 people get up and sing along. That was really great!
There is a large amount of British content. Why is that?
That’s right, but it’s especially large this year. The London group The xx has accepted our invitation to guest curate a programme which is awesome. The overall programme is also heavy with premieres of new films. One of the reasons is that we have very good relations with the film industry in the UK. I also believe that Cph Dox provides an attractive platform for British and English-language films, especially as the Danes have English as their second language. But what really matters to us is the artistic quality; British documentary film has that in spades.
So is the UK well known in Denmark for producing good documentaries?
Yes, very much so. And not only in the present century; but historically speaking too. Whether it is on TV or on the big screen, Britain is known for creating arresting cinema that Danish audiences consistently relate to.
Have you got a favourite British documentary?
That's a tough question! Too many to mention, I suppose. But I am very fond of Kim Longinotto's groundbreaking work (which spans decades) and I am looking much forward to welcome her back this year with two films in The xx's programme.
What do you think Danish film-makers can learn from British film-makers?
There is often political and social commitment in British documentary and filmmaking that I think is admirable. Not that it is absent here, of course, but it is inspiring to me as a programmer. I hope Danish filmmakers will be inspired by that aspect, as well.
What about British film-makers learning from Danes?
Over the last 10-15 years, Danish documentary has become known for its strong artistic and cinematic qualities. This has a lot to do with the way in which films are funded and the way in which the artistic freedom and integrity of the filmmaker is a great priority. If anything, I hope that the British funding system will find inspiration to cultivate and support the kind of filmmaking that essentially sees documentary as an art-form.
Are there any Danish films that you would like to have seen win an Oscar this year?
I had my hopes up for the Danish film Last Men In Aleppo which won the main award at our festival last year. This was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year. The film is extraordinary. It is about the horrors of the war in Syria and was our opening film in 2017. For 2019, let's see!
What’s going to be the highlight of the 2018 festival? For a lot people, it will probably be something from the UK. I am not saying that because the question comes from you! The xx are an obvious highlight, and will hopefully turn new and young audiences on to documentary cinema as a means of expression and political commitment. But for me the highlights always turn out to be the ones least expected, so maybe you will have to ask me again in April.