By Jeppe Kondrup Adelborg.
All facts and all specific years in the text are based on research and have been tested and proven as far as possible.
Two decades after the end of World War II. Around Europe's bombed-out countries, the free art of film was being examined and defended in response to the Nazis' attempts to unify culture, language, and humanity. The film festival in Cannes took place for the first time in 1946, and several festivals quickly followed, just as several film schools were also established. The French film school La Fémis was established during the war. The Łódz Film School in Poland opened right after in 1948. In 1956, among others, the London Film School followed. And in 1966 both the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin in Germany and the Danske Filmskole in Copenhagen opened.
The decision on a Danish film school was made in 1964 when a new film law was passed. The law meant that film was now considered an art form in line with the classical art forms. The Film Act was a copy of the Swedish Film Act, and the Swedes had a film school, so the Danes must too.
Another incentive for the establishment of the film school was that during the 1950s television gained more ground and put pressure on the Danish film industry, as the population could now get their entertainment in the living room instead of in the cinema. Therefore, people started to think about alternatives and whether films other than folk comedies and other commercial films that were primarily produced and shown in Denmark at this time might be able to lure people back to the cinemas.
The National Film School of Denmark was located in Store Søndervoldstræde in Christianshavn. There were 15 students, nine instructors, three photographers, and three sound designers. The documentary film director and film theorist Theodor Christensen was employed as artistic director and head teacher. It was he who set out the school's working style and the school's theory of education. But his political and social affiliation to the far to the left of the centre meant that they did not dare to install him as the leading principal. Instead, they placed Master of Art and film promoter I. C. Lauritzen in that position. He was described as kindness itself, a classically handsome man, known from TV, the perfect complement to Theodor Christensen.
At the same time, the film world outside of Denmark was in the process of being flooded by one cinematic wave after another. After the bloody murder of the world war, common to all mankind became more attractive, which first caused Italian neorealism to sweep over the film world. Later, the French New Wave began in the late 1950s. And in the aftermath of the French wave, Cinema Novo was happening in Brazil and Neue Deutsches Kino in Germany, while New Hollywood was also beginning to stir in the United States, and Cinema Verité was just on the verge of releasing its most important films. And it was therefore out of the rolling landscape that the National Film School of Denmark came into existence.
Films must be “an act of images” and not “images of an action”, Theodor Christensen said, thus emphasizing that images, editing, music, and the other elements of the films must be independent expressions. He used phrases like 'the extension of reality' and talked about 'narrative fascism' about the danger of editing and misuse of documentaries for political and propagandistic purposes. But he wouldn't be allowed to do that for very long, because the day before the school's second school year started, Theodor Christensen died. Thus, the National Film School of Denmark's artistic director was gone after only one year.
Christian Braad Thomsen, who started at the school the day after Theodor Christensen's death, remembers that the students were completely devastated by it and that it meant that they had no teacher on the director programme.
“What we learned was that we had almost free access to the camera and tape recorder, so we could do pretty much whatever we wanted. We learned how to make movies by making movies. It was a fantastic thing to be able to discover the film language from the ground up because there wasn't really anyone to teach us", says Christian Braad Thomsen.
The great Danish filmmaker Carl Th. Dreyer died on March 20. Thus, he didn’t experience it when the film festival in Cannes was shut down early in May. With new wavers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Léaud among others at the helm, the festival closed in sympathy with the French workers and students blocking trains and striking in factories across the country.
When the festival tried to show Carlos Saura's film Peppermint Frappé anyway, Carlos Saura and the film's protagonist Geraldine Chaplin jumped onto the stage and hang onto the curtains to prevent the screening. Godard and Truffaut joined them on stage and it ended in a physical confrontation with the audience who wanted to see the film.
The rebellious atmosphere from France found its way to the National Film School of Denmark when the school was stormed and occupied on January 17 by a group that called itself the Film Communards. Most of them were members of the collective underground film company ABCinema, which mostly consisted of different artists and included people like Jørgen Leth, Ole John, Per Kirkeby and Hans-Jørgen Nielsen. They wanted to share the school's communication and production funds with “the people” and believed that more people should have access to the school's expensive, exclusive equipment. The occupiers had allied themselves with film school student Christian Braad Thomsen, who lent them a key to the school so they could enter.
There are two things from the occupation that Christian Braad Thomsen will never forget. One is that the painter Peter Louis-Jensen had brought an axe with him, which he used to smash the locked door in to get to the cameras. But when the door was smashed open, he had no idea what he was going to use the cameras for. The second is that when he told the occupation's informal leader Hans-Jørgen Nielsen that the school's principal, I. C. Lauritzen, had said that 'the people' could well be allowed to use the cameras when the school's students did not use them, the response from the informal leader that the occupiers refused to negotiate their terms.
The occupation lasted two days. Then the police came and carried the occupiers out of the school. But the incident emphasized the need for a place where others could gain access to film equipment, and the occupation became an important episode in the creation of the Film Workshop, which opened in 1970 under the name 'Workshoppen'.
During the occupation, a 17-year-old young man also came by the school to make a report for DR's youth television. His name was Poul Nesgaard, and later he became the principal of the National Film School of Denmark.
But it would be a few years before Poul Nesgaard became the principal. First, I. C. Lauritzen resigned as the rector of the Film School. At first, the director and producer Bent Christensen took over the post, but in 1972 he was replaced by Jens Ravn. At that time, the school had disappeared from the form in which it had existed so far and had been converted into a course business with shorter, technical courses of two, four, and eight weeks for people in the film and television industry.
A new Film Act would also be drawn up, and with it, films would come directly under the Finance Act for the first time, and the Film Fund would become the Danish Film Institute.
The Film School remained a course business until Henning Camre became the principal of the school. He was in the school's first year of cinematographer students, an education that throughout the school's history also includes people like Ole John, Bille August, Dan Lausten, Manuel Alberto Claro, Anthony Dod Mantle, and Maria von Hausswolff.
Since his school days, Henning Camre had been in and out of the Film School as a teacher. But when he saw an advertisement in which the school was looking for a new rector, he decided to apply for the position and wrote a declaration. In the declaration, he wrote that he wanted to restore a multi-year education at the school and that he would continue doing courses on the side.
He got the job, and the first thing he did was to offer the course students who had attended 20 weeks of courses together, that they could stay and get a whole year at the school. Among them was the director Jon Bang Carlsen as well as the sound designer Niels Arild.
In his declaration, Henning Camre also wrote that the school should no longer be considered only as a craft education, but that something new and something different from what already existed must be produced, and this would require more than just craftsmen.
"The craft for me is a matter of course. It is not the goal, but one of the means we can use to practice the things we want to do. If there had been a film industry operating at the time, we could well train some craftsmen who would fill the industry. But my vision was that you had to make something different from what already existed, and how can you do that with the help of those you want to be different from? So I started to find people abroad", Henning Camre said.
One of the people he found abroad was scriptwriter Neville Smith, who had worked with, among others, Ken Loach. He started teaching at the school, and in his first lesson with the students, he told them to start all scenes by writing: "We see".
This 1976, the first group of students started at the new version of the National Film School of Denmark. But before they did, MA Mogens Rukov arrived on a summer day at school in shorts and sandals. He had an interview with the rector about a job. Henning Camre had been looking for someone he could talk to about building a school, and through a friend of a friend, he heard about Mogens Rukov. He got hired and started teaching the instructors. One of those he taught in his first year was director student Arne Bro.
"Mogens Rukov eventually became an excellent teacher, but he was quite impossible at first. He had no experience in making films and arrived with university theories about literature and met a group of practical collectivists who were used to creating everything in discussion and without money, so he stopped teaching after two days and was gone for a few months because he could not participate in the practical discussion. At the Film School, there are always some gifted, well-articulated students who neither can nor will take over a finished theory about how films should be created, so if that is what you offer as a teacher, you will be rejected. Because they have to create different films than those that already exist", says Arne Bro.
But despite the peculiar start, Mogens Rukov ended up teaching, setting up and being the head of the Film School's scriptwriter programme, which opened three years later.
The year before, Henning Camre had it implemented that the education was extended from two years to three years after discussions with the school's students, who were now allowed to stay an extra year. And the Film School was generally having growing pains at that moment. Four people came in and become the school's first scriptwriter students and came under the leadership of Mogens Rukov. His teaching was based on the theory that rules and restrictions had a positive influence on creativity. He was helping to introduce pen-tests, where you try your pen and examine the film language by being given a very firmly defined task that you must solve. And then he talked about “the natural story”; that a screenplay must alternate between the natural story, which is rooted in reality and is recognizable because it creates engagement with the audience, and then the scandalous, which breaks norms and therefore surprises.
Over the years, the scriptwriter programme has trained people such as brothers Peter and Stig Thorsboe, Rumle Hammerich, Søren Ulrik Thomsen, Nikolaj Scherfig, Charlotte Sachs Bostrup, Charlotte Sieling, Dunja Gry Jensen, Kim Fupz Aakeson, Søren Sveistrup, Rasmus Heisterberg, Mette Heeno, Maya Ilsøe, Tobias Lindholm, Maren Louise Käehne, and Anna Emma Haudal.
And elsewhere at the school, the first two film editors started their education, which was led by film editor Christian Hartkopp. One of the first two film editors was Tómas Gislason and later people like Kristian Levring, Camilla Skousen, Pernille Bech Christensen, Jesper W. Nielsen, Vinca Wiedemann, Åsa Mossberg, Nanna Frank Møller, Mikkel E. G. Nielsen, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm also attended the programme.
But according to rector Henning Camre, it wasn't about the school just getting bigger and bigger.
"It was about saying that we must have all the main functions of the film at the school because they do not exist. And our students must speak the same language, they must have deep insight into each other's areas. Because there is no time for that on a film crew. Because if all your main troops don't speak a common language and don't understand each other and can't share ideas, then nothing will come of it. That's probably the formula behind the success because you can see how the year groups stick together when they get out of school because they can talk to each other", says Henning Camre.
The rector of the Film School, Henning Camre, had convinced the Film Institute that there was no one to accept the school's students when they have finished their studies, and they must therefore create the basis for it themselves. Therefore, he was allowed to set up a producer programme at the school. There had been producers at the school in the past, but that was when the school was still a course business. The head of the programme was producer and cinematographer Ole John, who was part of the ABCinema group that occupied the Film School in 1969. The start of the producer programme would also be the start of several important Danish producers who graduated from the school, such as Peter Aalbæk Jensen, Thomas Heinesen, Louise Vesth, Lars Kjeldgaard, Katrine Vogelsang, Bo Ehrhardt, Birgitte Hald, Jacob Jarek, and Caroline Blanco.
During their training, Henning Camre repeatedly told the producer students that when they finished their training, they must go out and start their own new production companies.
1983 was also the year that the school's education was extended from three years to four years.
Seven Danish films were produced throughout this year. This was an alarmingly low number. But at the Film School, the first class of producer students completed their education. One of them is called Peter Aalbæk Jensen, who followed principal Henning Camre's advice and started his own production company as soon as he was out of school.
"In the producer landscape I entered, most producers were upgraded production managers. It was mostly about if the crap could be financed, then we went ahead, and not about the producer's opinion about the content. So it was a quantum leap and very radical thinking when the Film School decided to train creative artists and merchants in the same place. But based on that thought, a few years later, quite a few new companies arise, which are based on strong friendships between creatives and merchants. It is the symbiosis that has lifted Danish film both artistically and commercially. And that is a direct result of the Film School", says Peter Aalbæk Jensen, who started at the school as a sound designer student.
The National Film School of Denmark comes under the Finance Act and becomes an independent part of the Film Act. As a result, the school is now under the Ministry of Culture and is no longer subject to the board of the Danish Film Institute, nor will a new board be appointed for the Film School.
16 years after he completed his training as a cinematographer at the Film School, director Bille August won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for ‘Pelle the Conqueror’. The year before, he also won the Palme d'Or for the same film. The sound for the film was made by two former sound designer students at the Film School, Niels Arild and Lars Lund. In addition to the two, the sound designer programme at the school also included students such as Per Meinertsen, Hans Møller Nielsen, Rune Palving, Kristian Eidnes, Per Streit, Peter Albrechtsen, Anne Gry Friis, and Catrine Le Dous.
The 19-year-old Thomas Vinterberg received his acceptance letter from the Film School. In his nervousness about the contents of the letter, he couldn’t decide whether to open the letter or pee first and in his fevered state, he ended up peeing on the letter before he got it opened and read that he had been accepted to the school. Thomas Vinterberg thus became part of The Golden Year, which refers to that year's four Danish director students, which in addition to him included Ole Christian Madsen, Per Fly and Peter Flinth.
Thomas Vinterberg later said:
"The 4-5 tricks I use when I make films, they come from my days at the Film School".
Do you remember the 17-year-old young man who made a spot report from the occupation of the Film School in 1969? The one called Poul Nesgaard? He had become a grown man and a well-known program employee at Danish Broadcasting Corporation, and now he took over the position of rector of the Film School. On his first day as rector, Poul Nesgaard knocks on the rector's door before entering the office. He was that surprised to have been given the position. Two months later, the school's money was spent, and with Mogens Rukov at the helm, the school's teachers got their new principal to go to the Ministry of Culture and say that he would resign if the school was not given some more money.
"The atmosphere was a bit chaotic. There was no money after two months and there was no communication in the teaching group, everyone was in their own corner of the world. So I dismissed them all and told them to apply for their own positions again", says Poul Nesgaard about his beginnings at the Film School.
"But at the same time, there was a lot of freedom at the Film School to create a film school, because there was almost nothing about it in the Finance Act. So, one of my main tasks was to create a place that was so attractive that the best in the field and the ability to communicate the subject and the ability to see the student, would see it as an honour to be a teacher at the Film School. And then I would otherwise have to get that whole wayward circus performance of people to play the same symphony.”
The reason why the money disappeared after two months was that together with the new rector, two new programmes were also new at the Film School. One was the animation programme, which was led by Gunnar Wille and over the years has had students such as Anders Morgenthaler, Martin de Thurah, Esben Toft Jacobsen, David Adler, Amalie Næsby Fick, Lowe Haak, and Mark Iversen.
In addition, the TV programme was also launched with the former student and teacher Arne Bro as the head of the programme. Over the next several years, that programme would train people such as Max Kestner, Pernille Rose Grønkjær, Mikala Krogh, Eva Mulvad, Michael Noer, Phie Ambo, Christian Sønderby Jepsen, Maya Albana, Simon Lereng Wilmont, Andreas Koefoed, Sun Hee Engelstoft, Anita Hopland, Eva Marie Rødbro, Anita Beikpour, and Jesper Dalgaard.
New things were also happening elsewhere in Copenhagen. In Ryesgade, former fiction director student Lars von Trier and former producer student Peter Aalbæk Jensen founded a new production company. They called the company Zentropa and thus named it after the train company in Lars von Trier's film ‘Europa’ from the previous year.
Outside Ryesgade, outside Copenhagen, outside Denmark, down in the south of France, Bille August once again won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival for the film ‘The Best Intentions’.
The European Film College was built in Ebeltoft. And in Nørrebro, another important Danish production company was established, as Birgitte Hald and Bo Ehrhardt, who earlier that year both graduated as producer students at the Film School, had also listened to their former rector and set up and started Nimbus Film.
The two former director students at the Film School Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier, as well as the former film editor student Kristian Levring, and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, whom both trained at the film school in Prague and as an electromechanical, designed and signed the Dogme 95 manifesto and its vow of chastity. And in March, the manifesto had been printed on red flyers, and the four dogma brothers threw it out to the audience at the Parisian Odéon theatre, where there was a conference in connection with the 100th anniversary of the first public screening of the Lumiere brothers' La Sortie de l'Usine Lumiére à Lyon.
The threads from the red Dogme 95 manifesto to the National Film School of Denmark were obvious. The manifesto talked about obstructions, restrictions, rules, and limitations, and it was as if taken out of the smoky mouths of Jørgen Leth and Mogens Rukov and reminded of a further development of the pen-tests, which the school called the tasks the students were exposed to. Later, Thomas Vinterberg said that large parts of the dogma movement were born at the Film School.
Copenhagen was awarded Capital of Culture status by the EU two years earlier, which meant that the EU pays half of the funds the city invests in culture. The Film School had used this to convince the Minister of Culture that the art schools should be moved to an old military area on Holmen. And on 1 February 1998, the Theater School, the Royal Danish Academy, and the Rhythmic Music Conservatory moved together with the Film School to Holmen. The Film School, which until now had been spread out like small satellites in different Copenhagen addresses, now got one new address for all the school's 96 students at Theodor Christensens Plads 1 and went from a school of 700 square meters to one of 4,000 square meters.
But in June, however, tremors were sent through the newly located film school, when Thomas Vinterberg's film ‘The Celebration’ was released and became the first film based on the dogma manifesto from 1995.
“At that time, the school was extremely confused about the subject of directing and what it meant to be a director. Prompted by our teacher, Lone Scherfig, we tried to find out if there was a director's craft, and we were on the track that you had to be able to do something with the actors. But there were no tools. And when the ’The Celebration’ was released, I was just like: ‘Fuck man, that's what it's all about, that's what I want'. I wanted to stand there with the actors and trust them and trust that the story has a backbone. The honesty, authenticity, and acoustics, dogma represented, and the showdown with the nice, it was pure existence juice for me", says Pernille Fischer Christensen, who was a director student at the school at the time.
"The transfer from dogma was not so direct, but when a huge plane flies into the Twin Towers, there is just a before and an after. And that was the feeling we had creatively – what the fuck is going on now? You couldn't just keep going. You had to deal with it. You can say you don't want to do the same thing, but it's also about dealing with it”.
Also, in the year group after Pernille Fischer Christesen's, they related to the dogma films. They were the ones who attended the Film School, while dogma made its shocking victory march all over the world. Christoffer Boe was a fiction director student at the time. He remembers that their teacher Mogens Rukov, who helped write the script for The Celebration, suddenly came into money, and that his ideas about rules were validated and crystallized in the dogma films.
"The Film School is very connected to the industry, so when there is a boom in the industry, it has a knock-on effect on the school, especially when one of the main architects of this new wave is one of the school's teachers. We had the feeling that many people around us, whom we know and have access to, are suddenly involved in some of the most interesting film art being created right now", says Christoffer Boe.
"But in terms of film, we would rather do something different in our year group. I had an aesthetic confrontation with Danish film, and in that way, the dogma films were a nice starting point for all the things I didn't want to do. And Nikolaj Arcel wanted to introduce the traditional genre-film in Denmark, and he has been the standard bearer for that for the last 20 years. I wouldn't call it a backlash, but the fire was fueled in relation to the fact that we shouldn't make dogma films. But we could take advantage of the attention dogma created and the professionalization of Danish film it started there. Suddenly, it was all Danish films that were interesting out in the world".
The film school Super16 was founded as an alternative to the National Film School of Denmark.
Lars von Trier won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his film ‘Dancer in the Dark’. The film's sound is the work of the former sound designer student at the Film School, Per Streit. The team behind the film also included former producer student Peter Aalbæk Jensen, who was executive producer, and former fiction director student Anders Refn as assistant director.
And then the dogma brothers also got their first dogma sister, when Lone Scherfig's film ‘Italian for Beginners’ premiered. The film would become her big breakthrough and one of the most-watched Danish films in recent times, with 828,000 cinema tickets sold. The following year, the film won the Silver Bear at the film festival in Berlin which emphasized that the world was not yet finished paying tribute to the Danish dogma films. Lone Scherfig, who graduated as a fiction director from the Danish Film School in 1984, had assembled a team of other former Film School students for the film. The film's photographer was Jørgen Johansson, who graduated in 1993. The film's sound designer was Rune Palving, who graduated in 1999. While both Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Vinca Wiedemann, who graduated as a film editor in 1986, were executive producers of the film.
Nine years after the TV programme started at the Film School, nine film school students did not attend the final graduation party and thus did not hear Michala Petri play her recorder at the party. They did not attend in protest of the fact that the TV productions must also be screened in the school cinema, as is the custom for fiction films. They believe that since the TV productions were shot digitally, they would not suffer as much from poor viewing conditions as their own movies shot on film.
It was the culmination of a conflict between TV and film and documentary and fiction. It lasted most of a year and concerned the fact that the fiction directors believe that the TV students were favoured, and the director programme neglected. While the TV students, who were attending the school for the first time in four years, believed that their films were also films with artistic qualities and should therefore also be shown on a cinema screen. This resulted, among other things, in the TV students dressing up in white dresses and candles at a Christmas party and walking in a Saint Lucy’s Day parade. At the front, the tallest boy in the class walked as Saint Lucy, and on a pillow, he carries a videotape, while the whole parade sang a song with a chorus that reads: "We have nine Avids" and refers to the modern cutting computer that the documentary directors themselves cut on, while the fiction directors cut together with the school's film editor students.
One of the television students in the Saint Lucy parade was the documentary director Eva Mulvad.
"I think it was about the fact that we documentarians were a year group that functioned well socially and were very enterprising and had a teacher who was good at giving us attention and providing us with resources. We had some advantages over the fiction directors, who had some more fluctuating teaching resources. That frustration was perhaps never taken seriously by the school, and then we became the ones to be scolded for having some of what they wanted, which then turned into a battle over what the real movie really is. We were kind of like a stepsister who moved in and became friends with all your friends. And, understandably, they were frustrated, and we were also provocative because we did not bend our necks and conform to the existing hierarchy", says Eva Mulvad.
"It was a very frustrating time to be a documentary director. When I started at the Film School, I didn't know much about Anne Wivel, Jørgen Leth, Jon Bang Carlsen and those kinds of arthouse documentarians, but that was the kind of education we got the school; the one that takes the documentary seriously as an artistic expression. So we were in a strange landscape, where the TV world thought we were some strange art poets who made things they couldn't really use, while the other students at the Film School, with whom we wanted to be friends, didn't think we were artistic enough”.
Arne Bro, who was head of the TV programme at the time, says that an art school must have the kind of radicalism embedded in it, so that a discussion of art, expression, equipment, and finances takes place all the time.
"In my eyes, the goal is not to create rebellion but to create a school where radicalism is a natural part of everyday life. A rebellion does not necessarily contain an artistic breakthrough, a rebellion can also be an attempt to hold on to some traditions. The major radical changes at the Film School must lie within the structure, between the major public events. It is an organic movement that takes a long time if it is a good school. And the big question is, how long does it take to understand and change a Film School?", he says.
While the battle was being fought at the Film School, Phie Ambo's and Sami Saif's documentary ‘Family’ won the main award at the world's largest documentary film festival IDFA in Amsterdam. At the time, Phie Ambo was still attending the Film School's TV programme, while Sami Saif graduated in 1997. The film was produced by former producer student Jonas Frederiksen, while former sound designer student Svenn Jakobsen was responsible for the film's sound.
Danmarks Radio’s drama series ‘Unit One’ won an Emmy in the Best International Drama Series category as the first Danish series ever. It would be the start of a year-long wave, dubbed Nordic Noir, of award-winning and praised Danish TV drama series, which would, among other things, offer three more Emmy statuettes and three Emmy nominations over the next seven years. ’Unit One’ was written and developed by Peter Thorsboe, who graduated as a scriptwriter from the Film School in 1984.
The film festival CPH:DOX took place for the first time, and with the festival, a large national window was created, where, among other things, students from the Film School's television programme could show their films.
In the US, former film school student Martin Strange-Hansen won an Oscar for Best Short Subject for his short film ‘This Charming Man’. And that film is a core example of the idea that the former headmaster Henning Camre had when he set up education programmes for all the main functions of the film medium so that collaborations and a common language could be created between the different year groups. The film's scriptwriter Flemming Christian Klem, the film's producer Mie Andreassen, the film's editor Mahi Rahgozar, and the film's sound designer Hans Christian Kock were all from the same year as Martin Strange-Hansen himself and graduated in 2001. While the film's photographer, Kim Hattesen, on the other hand, had graduated in 1984.
Film director Anders Østergaard's film ’Gasolin’ had its cinema premiere and sold 222,418 tickets, which was more than any other documentary film. The film is seen as the final popular breakthrough for Danish documentary films. And in Amsterdam, Pernille Rose Grønkjær, who graduated from the Film School's television programme in 1997, won the main award at the IDFA festival for her film ‘The Monastery – Mr. Vig and the Nun’, which had the former scriptwriter student Jens Arentzen as dramaturg. At the time, they did not know that Anders Østergaard would also win the main award at IDFA in 2008 for his film ‘Burma VJ’, thereby securing the third Danish main award at the festival in just eight years.
Just as film school students in the early 1990s started Zentropa and Nimbus Film and created their own production companies, the four former documentary directors at the Film School Eva Mulvad, Mikala Krogh, Pernille Rose Grønkjær, and Phie Ambo together with the documentary producer Sigrid Dyekjær started the company Danish Documentary in the slipstream on the success Danish documentary films had experienced both nationally and internationally since the beginning of the millennium.
Susanne Bier won an Oscar for her film ’In a Better World’ in the category for Best Foreign Language Film. The film's photographer was Morten Søborg, who graduated as a photographer from the Film School in 1989. While the film's two editors, Pernille Bech Christensen and Morten Egholm, both graduated as editors from the Film School in 1986 and 2005 respectively.
Susanne Bier herself graduated as a director from the Film School in 1987. Thus, she is one on the list of the many important Danish film directors who have gone through the Film School. A list that, in addition to the directors already mentioned, also includes people like Anne Wivel, Niels Arden Oplev, Annette K. Olesen, Lotte Svendsen, Dagur Kári, May el-Toukhy, Ali Abassi, Hlynur Palmasson, Isabella Eklöf, and Ulaa Sal.
The former film editing student at the Film School and head of New Danish Screen Vinca Wiedemann took over the office as rector at the school on 1 March after 22 years with Poul Nesgaard at the helm. 15 years ago, Denmark as one of 29 European countries adopted the Bologna Declaration. It has the task of creating common lines and development for higher education in Europe and getting these interact better. Among other things, the declaration aims to ensure that students and researchers can move more freely across borders and make European education more attractive to students from other continents, and finally, it is a goal to introduce three levels of education: bachelor, master, and PhD. The Film School's new management was beginning a process where the school should position itself concerning that system and the Bologna Declaration – something the school had not done before.
For the first time, six scriptwriter students arrived at the Film School to attend the school for four years. So far, the programme had only lasted two years. But the school's new management had decided to extend the programme by two years so that it was as long as the other programmes and subject lines and could integrate better with them.
The last three multi-camera directors graduated. Up until now, they had been part of the TV programme, but going forward that programme would only admit and train six documentary film directors every two years.
In January, the majority of the school's students issued a vote of no confidence against the management, which according to the students had an exclusionary management style. A month later, the students symbolically buried the National Film School of Denmark. Both parts took place in protest against the management, and the plans to convert the Film School into a bachelor's and master's programme, thus making it part of the rest of the education system as a result of the Bologna Declaration.
One of the protesters is the master's student Andreas Sandborg, who became chairman of the student council that would be set up for the occasion and replace the old student council. He said that the protests were very much about the students wondering what the management wanted and how the new measures were to be implemented.
"We had a lot of questions that we didn't think we got answers to, and we had a really hard time figuring out what this would mean for the school in practice", says Andreas Sandborg.
"Our biggest problem was that we couldn't see how these things could be rearranged without losing very large parts of what the Film School was. In the end, it was a question of whether it was believed that the Film School's art school tradition would survive in a more academicized system. What we fought for was the preservation of the basic structure of the school itself, with year groups that follow each other and leave together, and that the way the school continued to be developed came primarily from people who made films themselves and had the experience of how to teach it because they had been doing it for 20-30 years. But the change of the school was managed by some who had written a PhD in cultural management which didn't seem to take into account what was already working really well in the school, and it just seemed completely absurd to us”.
For some time it was quieter at the Film School. But when the head of the documentary programme, Arne Bro, was sent home by the management, the students' dissatisfaction flares up again. On 15 November, they set up a blockade of the school in protest against rector Vinca Wiedemann, Arne Bro being sent home, and the mission to restructure the education. They entered the school wearing yellow vests and sealed it off with red and white tape and signs and banners. And slowly, large parts of the rest of the film industry joined them and supported the protest.
However, there are also players in the industry who did not take sides. Some of them were the Advisory Board, which is a body appointed by the Ministry of Culture to represent the buyers in the film industry, and whose task is to advise the school so that the school's students are relevant concerning the industry. The panel included, among others, Katrine Vogelsang, who is CEO at Nordisk Film Production.
"In many areas, the measures Vinca wanted to initiate at the school made sense to us. She wanted to develop and modernize the school academically, and we agreed that it needed it. She wanted to give the teaching a quality boost and talked about the highest level, and basically, we on the Advisory Board thought it was a great idea to secure the teaching. Because part of what we problematized was that some professional courses performed well, and then others performed less well. The quality of the programmes was too different, and it depended too much on the individual teacher. Vinca wanted the teaching to have quality and be up-to-date regardless of who was the teacher. And it is fundamentally difficult to disagree that teaching must have quality assurance, which is what accreditation means", says Katrine Vogelsang.
"However, in the desire to develop the school, the school had to a large extent discontinued the practical teaching for the subject lines and weakened the artistic practice, i.e. the actual making of films. In addition, we are an industry which does not have a language to talk about teaching and didactics, and which was met with terms we did not know the meaning of. So a huge number of misunderstandings arose. For example, what does it mean to talk about teaching at the highest level - are we talking about the teacher, the student's learning, or the content of the teaching itself?", she says.
A week after the students' blockade of the school, Vinca Wiedemann stopped as principal of the Danish Film School, and Arne Bro returned to his position as head of the documentary programme.
At the end of April, there was a Danish celebration in the USA, when Thomas Vinterberg won an Oscar for ‘Another Round’ for Best Foreign Language Film and was also nominated for best director. On the film crew were former students from four decades from the National Film School of Denmark. In addition to Vinterberg himself, who started at the school in 1989, there was the co-author, Tobias Lindholm, who graduated as a scriptwriter in 2007, the photographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, who graduated in 2011, one of the film's two editors, Anne Østerud, who graduated in 1995, and the sound designer, Hans Møller, who graduated in 1991.
Furthermore, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, who graduated as a film editor in 2001, won an Oscar for best editing for his work on the film ‘Sound of Metal’, as the first Dane ever.
Five days later, in the middle of the corona pandemic, the Film School got its seventh rector, when Tine Fischer took up the post on 1 May. She came from a position as managing director of Copenhagen Film Festivals, which includes, among other things, the documentary film festival CPH:DOX, which she founded in 2003.
On the documentary director, film editor, and cinematographer programmes, a total of nine new teachers were hired to share the responsibility of the three programmes instead of the previous structure, where only one person led each of the programmes.
It was the new rector's first major, clear change to the school, and it also means that Arne Bro, who had so far led the TV programme, retired as head after 30 years, but will continue to teach at the school.
"For me, the Film School is in a crucially important place right now. We cannot miss that momentum. The Film School is one of the most important institutions in Danish film, it is referred to as one of the best film schools in the world, but it is not a lifelong honour. That role and position must be developed and challenged. The school has intimacy and a space where you can make mistakes, think wildly, and experiment. It must be protected, but the school and the school's students are also so resourceful that we can easily open the floodgates and participate in the world and the industry that exists on the other side of Holmen. We need new voices, new narratives, and a new generation that dares to challenge and rethink the role of film in the world. Not only that of arthouse films but also the broad narratives. The artistically innovative and the socially committed are needed if we are to continue to have a significant film culture, and I am convinced that it exists right here and now. At school", says Tine Fischer.
Thomas Vinterberg's quotes are taken from the book 'At lære kunsten: 40 år med filmskolen', edited by Ole John. The book has also been very useful in the elaboration of the above text.
The author of the text has also been in contact and made background interviews with former principal Vinca Wiedemann. However, she did not want to appear in the text.