If you can manage a children's birthday party...

MINI-SURVEY. Danish female documentary producers are making a mark like never before, in Denmark and internationally. Seven out of the nine Danish films at IDFA this year are produced by women.

The film industry is regularly accused of sexual discrimination. At Cannes 2012, for instance, international critics cried foul because not a single woman director was selected.

When it comes to producing documentaries, however, Danish women are very well represented. Seven out of the nine Danish films at IDFA are produced by women (including "My Afghanistan", which has both a male and a female producer). When you look at the rest of the Danish documentary film business, a similar pattern emerges. Women produced 65 percent of all the documentaries that received support from the Danish Film Institute in 2011 and the current rate for 2012 is an impressive 76 percent – as opposed to 53 percent for features.

There's a saying that goes, If you can manage a children's birthday party, you can manage a film production. Do women owe their success to their ability to organise and multitask? Does the maternal instinct come out in the ability to nurse a project and make sure everyone onboard is happy? Or, more discouraging, is it simply that the lack of money and prestige in documentaries has been keeping men away?

Personally, the women producers do not much care to draw any connections between their gender and their professional skills. They would rather discuss the joys and challenges that they face.

FILM asked six distinctive, experienced and internationally oriented women producers about what drives them, their watershed projects and daily challenges, and what they think it is women, in particular, can do.


 

Signe Byrge / Final Cut for Real

Time is one of the most important resources.

Signe Byrge_Robin Skjoldborg sh2

"The real lives of real people hold amazing stories. When you produce documentaries, you have to catch the stories on the fly, and that's a huge challenge.

It has been, and still is, a great joy working on 'The Act of Killing', mainly because of my collaboration with the director, Joshua Oppenheimer, and with people in Indonesia. Also, I'm really happy about the strong statements we've received regarding the film's impact on the Indonesians' self-understanding. I enjoy working internationally, and in the field of documentary, international collaboration is absolutely essential.

My biggest challenge today is the never-ending struggle for time. Time to develop. Time to shoot, time to cut. Time is one of the most important resources in the production of durable documentaries. And time is a very scarce resource in today's media world.

When I look at the women producers I work with every day, they are all skilled, creative, smart, well organised and tough. Whether that's because they are women, it's very hard to say."

Bonus info: Final Cut for Real always have champagne on ice and pickled herring with curry sauce, a true Danish delicacy, on their lunch table. Fortunately, they rarely combine the two.
Films: "The Act of Killing", "Traveling with Mr. T", "The Human Scale", "The Kid and the Clown", "Returned", "Football is God".


 

Mette Heide / Plus Pictures

The biggest challenge is ensuring a continued market for single documentaries.

Photo_Producer-Mette-Heide

"I like the combination of being sparring partner and entrepreneur.

The biggest challenge is ensuring a continued market for single documentaries. In the big international media landscape, documentaries are under enormous pressure. That's why it's important to produce films that explore new storytelling forms and reach a big audience via new as well as existing distribution platforms.

It's important for a producer to strike the right balance between courage and a sense of reality. I definitely do not think that has anything to do with gender. Also, a producer has to know how to communicate with a director, the crew and the people who finance the productions. I don't think that's gender-specific either. Maybe the job as producer has become a female profession, both in documentaries and fiction, because film production has become less financially lucrative. Then most men bail out."

Bonus info: Despite the bone-dry answers above, at Plus Pictures they like to crack jokes, go to the hairdressers, buy shoes, discuss holiday plans in warm climates only, and brag about their children.
Films: "Solar Mamas", "The Record Breaker", "The Queen of Versailles", "The Invention of Dr Nakamats".


 

Lise Lense-Møller / Magic Hour

Experience is an asset – if it's constantly challenged.

lise lense

"I enjoy the process of starting with a 'seed' – whether it is an idea or a talent – and finding out what that particular seed needs and how to make it grow.

I enjoyed working on 'Burma VJ' because I felt that film actually made a difference. I enjoyed working on 'Into Eternity', because it was so difficult, and we were so close to not "solving it," but Michael Madsen and I refused to give up. I enjoy teaching and tutoring immensely – not least for EAVE.

Apart from being understaffed and underfinanced like most independent documentary producers, the biggest challenge is avoiding boxes. Thinking in boxes or being put into one is lethal to creativity. Experience is an asset – if it's constantly challenged.

Of course there are many female producers. Why shouldn't there be? Being a documentary producer does not earn you fame or money. In my experience it requires a lot of perseverance, patience and genuine interest in the people you work with. I believe I have that, but whether it is linked to my gender or not, I have no idea."

Bonus info: Ten years ago, Lise Lense-Møller published a cook-book. Now she has also become a publisher of food for the soul: 96-year-old Sven, who has been running a spiritual bookshop in 71 years and whom Lise Lense-Møller has just finished a film about, has donated his company, The Wisdom Books, to Lense-Møller and director Marie Louise Lefèvre.
Films: "The Visit" (in production), "1989" (IDFA Forum), "My Afghanistan", "Into Eternity", "Burma VJ".


 

Vibeke Vogel / Bullitt Film

It's good to have humour, empathy and persistence in copious amounts.

Vibeke Vogel

"I have an undying love affair with reality. I love to see it spelled out, angled by a skilled director who can turn the flow of human subject matter and impressions of real life into a filmic story. What drives me is my curiosity about the director's wrestling with the subject and the subject itself. My job gives me an opportunity to always get smarter about life.

In the documentary business, I find that the inertia in the representation of the sexes has been exploded. There has been a space where you could clearly make your mark without the rulebook that constricts fiction film production. Women have been supremely good at taking advantage of that, which has contributed to the strong position of Danish documentaries. I'm wary of 'gendering' abilities too much, but I can say that it gives me real pleasure to keep track of many threads at once, that it's good to have humour, empathy and persistence in copious amounts, and that recognition in a partnership is crucial to success."

Bonus info: Vibeke Vogel has known her producer partner Elise Lund Larsen for 23 years. They both worship Steve McQueen (the actor, hence the name Bullitt Film), Joan Wasser, Patti Smith, Jessica 6, Sophie Calle and a Danish band from the eighties named Sneakers.
Films: "Cooper's Challenge" (IDFA Forum), "Harbour of Hope", "Turning", "The Land of Human Beings – My Film about Greenland", "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen".


 

Helle Faber / Made in Copenhagen

My main approach is a really good story.

Helle Faber sh

"I have a deep love of telling stories. That's the main approach for me: a really good story that the director and I work together to resolve in the strongest possible way.

'Enemies of Happiness', directed by Eva Mulvad, has a special place for me because it was the first international film I produced. It ended up going all the way and winning top awards at IDFA, Sundance and Berlin. It gave me so many good experiences and helped me build the international network I draw on today.

My greatest challenge is that too much winds up on my desk. I wish more tasks could be delegated, but that's not always possible.

If my gender gives me any advantages as a producer? I'm not sure, but there's no getting around the fact that a solid maternal instinct is a useful skill for a producer: great love, great patience – and the ability to cut to the bone when necessary."

Bonus info: Every year when attending IDFA Helle Faber buys 200-300 tulip bulbs that she plants in her garden.
Films: "Embracing the Dead" (IDFA Forum), "Putin's Kiss", "Dark Side of Chocolate", "The Samurai Case", "Au Pair", "Shanghai Space", "Enemies of Happiness".


 

Sigrid Dyekjær / Danish Documentary

I wish there were 48 hours in a day and I could work for 40 of them.

Sigrid Dyekjær

"I love to organise, build teams, make them work together and bring out a creative product. The meeting of film and audience for me is the high point. Documentaries give me a special opportunity to touch other people and give them inspiration and perspective on their lives.

I wish there were 48 hours in a day and I could work for 40 of them. My motto is: Where there's a will, there's a way. Sometimes the road is long, winding and tough, but I want to succeed every single time.

Personally, I'm not much involved in the gender discussion. But I would propose that more women than men work in documentaries because women are more patient. A good documentary requires you to spend a lot of time delving into the substance and waiting for the material to open up. Men lose heart more quickly. They usually need to be able to control the process instead of surrendering to the film's natural story."

Bonus info: Sigrid Dyekjær was once interrogated by the secret police in Teheran and found herself, technically speaking, deported out of Iran.
Films: "Free the Mind", "A Normal Life", "The Good Life", "Ballroom Dancer", "Love Addict", "Cairo Garbage", "Mechanical Love", "The Monastery".

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More about women in film

A woman's job. Film editing has been practiced by women since the very beginnings of cinema as it was considered a menial labor, like sewing. It is said that women are actually better editors than men, because they have a greater talent for reading and interpreting facial expressions of emotions.
On the red carpet. In Denmark it has been 12 years since a woman last won at the Danish equivalent of the Oscars, the Robert Awards.
The new generation. The 2011 graduates in documentary direction from the National Film School of Denmark consisted entirely of women. Only 1 out of the 6 graduates from the fiction direction programme was a women, while 4 out of 6 of the graduating producers were women.

Sources: The New York Times 25 May 2012, the Danish daily Politiken.

More Danish women producers at IDFA 2012

Sara Stockmann, Miriam Nørgaard and Vibeke Windeløv form the producer team on Mercy, Mercy. Back in 2010, Sara Stockmann signed one of the most influential Danish films in recent years, Janus Metz's Armadillo, for Fridthjof Film. Today she is running her own company, Sonntag Pictures. Miriam Nørgaard, who trained as an editor, was film commissioner at the Danish Film Institute 2006-10, and is now producer at Fridthjof Film. Vibeke Windeløv, producer of many of Lars von Trier's films, forms one half of Windelov/Lassen Interactive, a company aiming mainly at trans-media content. First release is "Cloud Chamber".
Lise Saxtrup is producer on "Dance for Me". Saxtrup is founder of Klassefilm and also works in trans-media, e.g. "The Cosmic Top Secret Experience" selected as one of 30 international projects to be pitched at the 2012 Pixel Market in London.

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