Stindbergian gravity

IDFA. Mikala Krogh has been "the serious one" ever since she was a teenager and hosted radio shows for children and teens. The same gravity permeates her documentaries, Per Juul Carlsen notes. Krogh's new film "A Normal Life" is about a family in a state of emergency. The film has its first screening at IDFA on Sunday 18 November.

"I'm not exactly known for being funny," Mikala Krogh says self-deprecatingly but also with a good dose of humour. She's right. Krogh was never known for her stockpile of dirty jokes but for her aura of seriousness. A quick glance at the themes of her films confirms it: a man looking for the answer to who killed his grandfather in World War II ("My Grandad's Murderer", co-directed with Søren Fauli), a drug addict and prostitute keeping a video journal of her life in "Beth's Diary" (co-directed with Kent Klich), and now, in her new film "A Normal Life", a mother trying to maintain a normal life with a daughter who has had cancer since she was two.

"Having a child who is so sick that you're afraid of losing her – that's tough. I think it's immensely admirable to insist that that child also do dishes and homework and be a part of the family."

"I'm one of those serious people. People always told me that. Also, it's hard to do a funny documentary," Krogh says. For 20 years and counting she has managed to look like a mature, serious-minded woman. Humour may not be her core competency, but the 39-year-old filmmaker has no doubts about her true skill set.

"Nuanced depictions of people. I keep working with my characters until I understand their complexity," she says.

Overnight stays at the hospital

Nothing illustrates that better than her new film, "A Normal Life", an almost unbearably painful account of a mother trying to maintain a normal life for herself and her family while struggling to save the life of her 12-year-old daughter who has cancer.

"I spend an enormous amount of time with the people I film. And I thoroughly prepare before I start filming, so they know me really, really well. I spend a lot of time visiting them and talking with them, listening to what their everyday life is like, what they are interested in, playing with the little kids, if there are little kids," she says.

Krogh's current method is an about-turn from her background as a reporter for the Danish national radio DR in the late 1980s. Even though the youth station she worked for made a virtue of spending lots of time talking with young people about their problems, she was still practicing journalism with short deadlines, often from one day to the next. When she started in the National Film School of Denmark's documentary programme in 1997, she completed her first assignment by shooting during the day and editing the footage at night.

But that's not how the documentary world works. Now a seasoned documentarian, Krogh tells me how she would stay overnight at the hospital with Cecilie, the girl with cancer.

Of course it takes time to document what happens in a small family with a young daughter who has cancer. Sticking a microphone in the mother's face and getting her to say how tough everything is would be easy. But documenting how hard things are, trying to capture the family's life and convey it to an audience, that's a different, and much more time-intensive, story.

A mother's struggle

"A Normal Life" is not really about Cecilie, the 12-year-old girl with cancer, or her healthy twin sister, but about their mother, Stine, who tries to make the family's routines run smoothly, even as her daughter teeters between life and death. The film shows Stine scolding her spindly, hairless daughter, just back from a harrowing bone-marrow transplantation, because she won't do dishes or homework. It's heartbreaking, incomprehensibly hard, even. But there's a point to it, the filmmaker says.

"'A Normal Life' is a film about how important it is to maintain a normal life, even in a state of emergency. Having a child who is so sick that you're afraid of losing her – that's tough. I think it's immensely admirable to insist that that child also do dishes and homework and be a part of the family, because they believe in life. The film is about handling a crisis," Krogh says.

"A major challenge of 'A Normal Life' is that Stine is such a complex character. She is enormously loving, but she also has a very short fuse and she's a very honest person. She has many facets, which makes her a super interesting central character. But you have to be careful not to tip the scales and make her look like a hard mother, for instance."

So, what we get in "A Normal Life" is insistent seriousness and a real desire to penetrate as deeply as possible into the material. Any documentarian might say this about her films, of course, but very few can muster the same arch-Scandinavian, Strindbergian gravity as Krogh. Where does this seriousness come from?

All this seriousness

"I always invest a huge part of myself in the films I make and I always deal with themes I can relate to. I have twins myself, and I'm very involved in what it feels like to share your love equally between two identical children. That's a conflict I never thought about before I had twins. "A Normal Life" takes that conflict to an extreme, because one twin is in a hospital isolation ward, while the other is at home and about to come out as a teenager. I know this kind of conflict inside and out. I think the mother of these two girls could feel that I recognised her and understood her conflict, that I delved into the details of her conflict instead of just thinking, 'Oh my god, a cancer kid is such a great story.'"

"Everyone has themes in their life that can lead to a documentary. In "My Grandad's Murderer", I empathised with Søren Fauli's trauma (his grandfather was liquidated in World War II – ed.), because I'm Jewish and World War II has been extremely important in my life. My mother was born in Stockholm in 1943 and escaping from the Nazis has cast a shadow over my family."

In Krogh's next film, the personal angle is her father's job as editor-in-chief of the serious (naturally) daily Information.

"I grew up with the paper and the whole discussion of the journalist's role," Krogh says. She will spend the next couple of years shooting in the editorial offices of Ekstra Bladet, a Danish tabloid that, she says, "goes right to the line" in its journalism. Others would claim that the paper goes way over the line, but that only makes it a more interesting subject.

"Just as Andrew Rossi's 'Page One' depicted life at The New York Times, I think it's important to do a nuanced film about a Danish newspaper's offices and get a look into a world that has rarely been seen in a documentary," Krogh says.

News from dfi.dk

/IDFA 2012

Mercy, Mercy and Ghost of Piramida nominated at IDFA

Mercy, Mercy and Ghost of Piramida nominated at IDFA

22 November 2012 | By Freja Dam Katrine W. Kjær's Mercy, Mercy is nominated in the First Appearance Competition, and Andreas Koefoed's Ghost of Piramida in the Music Competition at the IDFA 2012...
Women on Power

Women on Power

22 November 2012 | By Marianne Lentz WHY POVERTY. Can you teach illiterate women from developing countries to build solar panels? That's exactly what a project in India aims to do. Solar Mamas trac...
An excercise in affecting the hearts and minds of millions

An excercise in affecting the hearts and minds of millions

22 November 2012 WHY POVERTY. After half a century of aid, why are so many people still living in poverty? This is the central question driving the ground-breaking documentary series Why Poverty? w...
Scrutinising a Swiss Mining Venture

Scrutinising a Swiss Mining Venture

22 November 2012 | By Marianne Lentz WHY POVERTY. In Stealing Africa, Christoffer Guldbrandsen investigates how multinational companies are draining money out of Africa and into tax havens in the r...
When do we stop caring?

When do we stop caring?

22 November 2012 WHY POVERTY. Some of them make you embarrassed, upset, outraged even, but I think the deepest feeling the 'Why Poverty?' films impart is they make you feel part of a global communi...
Meetings and conversations

Meetings and conversations

14 November 2012 | By Henrik Bo Nielsen EDITORIAL. In early November we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Copenhagen's CPH:DOX film festival, and now IDFA is turning 25. Aren't we lucky to have th...
The other side

The other side

13 November 2012 | By Nagieb Khaja IDFA. Janus Metz's groundbreaking Armadillo showed us the war in Afghanistan from the point of view of the young soldiers entering combat for the first time. Now...
Stindbergian gravity

Stindbergian gravity

13 November 2012 | By Per Juul Carlsen IDFA. Mikala Krogh has been he serious one ever since she was a teenager and hosted radio shows for children and teens. The same gravity permeates her documen...
Picking up the slack

Picking up the slack

13 November 2012 | By Per Juul Carlsen PROFILE. Four filmmakers – Eva Mulvad, Pernille Rose Grønkjær, Mikala Krogh and Phie Ambo – each own a fifth of the Danish Documentary production company and...
Condoning crime in the name of mercy

Condoning crime in the name of mercy

13 November 2012 | By Dorrit Saietz IDFA. Director Katrine W. Kjær had always been convinced that adoption was a compassionate act guided by noble institutions. Now that she has finished Mercy, Mer...
FILM#76 online now

FILM#76 online now

13 November 2012 | By Freja Dam MAGAZINE. Nine Danish documentaries are on show at this year's IDFA. Read interviews with the directors, portraits of the producers, the latest news, and much more i...
Curiosity and wonder

Curiosity and wonder

13 November 2012 | By Susanna Neimann PROFILE. He always brings the same poetry collection, a Navajo silver clip in his right side pocket and a lens cleaning cloth in his left. He says he's autisti...
Deconstructing a genocide

Deconstructing a genocide

13 November 2012 | By Freja Dam PROFILE. Depicting the genocide in Indonesia in 1965 from the point of view of the perpetrators, The Act of Killing has caused an uproar in Indonesia and the West. I...
New Danish trans-media

New Danish trans-media

13 November 2012 | By Jan Fredslund TREND. Trans-media and cross-media have been around since the 1960s, but it has never been surrounded by so much attention as now. In this development, the film...
My slightly dim-witted friend

My slightly dim-witted friend

13 November 2012 | By Per Juul Carlsen IDFA. Phie Ambo started filming her family and the world around her when she was 22. She never looked at the footage, but simply used the camera to help her u...

Factbox

Contact

DFI-FILM Issue 

Susanna Neimann

Editor
Tel. +45 4119 1540
susannan@dfi.dk

Annemarie Hørsman
Editor
Tel. +45 3374 3474
annemarieh@dfi.dk 

Lars Fiil-Jensen
Editorial team
Tel. +45 2032 8121
larsf@dfi.dk

Anders Budtz-Jørgensen
Editorial team
Tel. +45 3374 3528
andersbj@dfi.dk

Det Danske Filminstitut

Danish Film Institute /
Det Danske Filminstitut

EAN-nr: 5798000794085
CVR-nr: 56858318

Gothersgade 55
1123 København K

Tel. +45 3374 3400
Fax +45 3374 3401
E-mail: dfi@dfi.dk

Tickets
TEL. +45 3374 3412