Happy People?

Study after study reports Danes the world’s happiest people and Denmark the world’s best country to live in. It’s sometimes tempting to think of our cosy Scandinavian nook as ‘paradise on earth’. Three Danish filmmakers got an itch to scuff up that image a little.

Paradis framegrab

"Paradise" introduces us to a selection of people united by a single fact: they all live in Denmark, in “paradise.” But how much of a paradise is Denmark really? The film follows a mother and father whose son has been stationed in Iraq, a young couple expecting their first child, a family of refugees who have been waiting six years for residence permits with no contact to the world outside the refugee centre. Beyond a strong bond of love, the three families share a feeling of uncertainty and fear for the future.

“The idea for "Paradise" arose at a film festival when we realised how concerned we all were about the turn Denmark was taking,” Sami Saif, one of three directors, says – the others Jens Loftager and Erland E. Mo. “We saw fear spreading through Danish society and we thought it would be interesting to describe that fear in a documentary. We all saw Denmark as heading away from the vision of the ‘paradisiacal’ society.”

THREE DIRECTORS – ONE VOICE

The three directors represent three different temperaments in Danish documentary filmmaking. Each has demonstrated his directing talent separately. What was their premise for making a film together?

“From the beginning, we strove to erase the impression of multiple directors and find a common voice,” Saif says. “We agreed that the film should have a unified look, as if it had been made by a single director with one vision and one outlook. That was our premise. It was liberating to realise a film collaboratively – too often, documentary filmmaking can be a lonely process – and we operated with consensus decision-making.”

ALL SHADES OF FEAR

As the three filmmakers see it, people in the modern world are suffused with fear: fear of not being good enough for society, fear of being excluded from society.

“'Paradise' is about living in a modern society whose leaders go to such lengths to tell everyone how great it is, while the people living in it are struggling to see this paradise. We wanted to convey a sense of the elementary fear slithering like a snake through this paradise, with each story providing a picture of a society that allows itself to be controlled by fear – destructive fear, dividing us instead of uniting us,” Saif says.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

The film reflects a society in change, perhaps even undergoing a kind of identity crisis, but it also describes the comfort found in the things we love most. Gone is the fear of the future when a young one is born. Gone is the war hell of Iraq when you’re in the security of your family. It’s up to you to create paradise.

“Everything depends on the beholder,” Saif says. “A flag is a flag, but people experience a flag in extremely different ways. To some, a flag is a piece of synthetic material chemically treated to be weather resistant, while to others a flag is a warm feeling in the bottom of their heart, a tear in the corner of their eye. We have strived to make a film for everyone – for better or worse, depending on the beholder.”

Facts

Jens Loftager nyt3 foto Steen Tronsgaard

Photo: Steen Tronsgaard

JENS LOFTAGER


Born 1954. Bachelor of Philosophy, University of Aarhus, 1976. Bachelor of Film Studies, University of Copenhagen, 1979. Head of Aarhus Film Workshop 1981-82. Film critic and co-editor of the magazine MacGuffin 1978-85. Graduated as film director from the National Film School of Denmark in 1989. Writer-director on documentary and short films since 1983. Loftager's documentary "Krig"/"War" (2003) won the Danish Film Academy's Robert Award for Best Short Documentary in 2004. His "Ord"/"Words" (1994) received the 1. Prize in Odivelas, Portugal, and Special Mention at Nordisk Panorama in 1995. "Da natten forsvandt – et elektrisk eventyr"/"Edge of Darkness" (1991) was awarded at Rotterdam Festival.ERLAND E. MO
Born 1967, Norway. Studied literature and Scandinavian languages at Oslo University 1986-90, and film and TV at Volda University College 1990-92. Has produced and directed for NRK’s Children and Youth Department and DR’s Children and Youth Department. Among his awardwinning films is "My Eyes" (2006), which won the IDFA Silver Cub Award, the GuldDok for Best Sound at CPH:DOX, Best Documentary Short in Sao Paolo, and Cinematic Vision Short Award at the SilverDocs AFI (Discovery Channel Documentary Festival).

Erlend E Mo foto P Wessel

Photo: P. Wessel

ERLAND E. MO


Born 1967, Norway. Studied literature and Scandinavian languages at Oslo University 1986-90, and film and TV at Volda University College 1990-92. Has produced and directed for NRK’s Children and Youth Department and DR’s Children and Youth Department. Among his awardwinning films is "My Eyes" (2006), which won the IDFA Silver Cub Award, the GuldDok for Best Sound at CPH:DOX, Best Documentary Short in Sao Paolo, and Cinematic Vision Short Award at the SilverDocs AFI (Discovery Channel Documentary Festival).

Sami Saif foto jan Buus

Photo: Jan Buus

SAMI SAIF


Born 1972, Denmark. Graduated in documentary film direction at the National Film School of Denmark, 1997. Apart from working on productions at DR TV Children & Youth Department, Saif has also been engaged as a documentary film consultant at Zentropa Real. Directed the controversial, unpublicized "The Video Diary of Ricardo Lopez" (2000). "Family" (2001), codirected with Phie Ambo, won the Joris Ivens Award at IDFA Amsterdam.

ZENTROPA ENTERTAINMENTS

Founded 1992 by director Lars von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen. One of the largest production companies in Scandinavia. Has established a platform for young filmmakers and veteran directors alike, and covers feature film production as well as a range of services within DVD manufacture, digital communications and concept development. Is greatly acknowledged for having reinvigorated the industry with Dogme 95. In 2008, Nordisk Film bought fifty percent of Zentropa’s shares, thus becoming co-owner. Owned the companies Zentropa GRRR (produced animations) and Zentropa Real (produced documentaries). Zentropa’s international breakthrough came with Lars von Trier’s "Breaking the Waves" (1996). Renown continued with Lone Scherfig’s Berlin winner "Italian for Beginners" (2000). For more about feature films: www.dfi.dk/danish films. Shorts include Oscar nominee "At Night" (2007). Documentaries include Katia Forbert Petersen’s "Von Trier’s 100 Eyes" (2000), exploring "Dancer in the Dark"; and Sami Saif’s "Dogville Confessions" (2003). Trier and Jørgen Leth’s own journey into the phenomenon of filmmaking, "The Five Obstructions" (2003), has been chosen for festivals worldwide and generously awarded.

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Det Danske Filminstitut

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