To All the Sylpphids of the World

In her animated short "The Sylpphid", the Danish animation director Dorte Bengtson makes her mark as one of the most original and promising new talents to emerge from the animation programme at Denmark’s National Film School. Unfolding a knowledge of human nature and generous humour, "The Sylpphid" merges simple, cartoony lines and an abyss of symbolic depth. The film has been selected for this year’s Cannes Festival and the Animation Festival in Annecy.

"The Sylpphid" is a skinny little girl with too-big teeth and even bigger dreams of leaving the oppressive four walls of home and experiencing the outside world. Her neurotically anxious mother keeps her locked up, capping her frequent hissy by inflating herself like a balloon and soaring up to the high ceiling.

"The Sylpphid could be me - she could also be my mother".

"The Sylpphid could be me - she could also be my mother".

Her mother wants to squelch the yen for freedom in the playful Sylpphid who, as her name implies, is an airborne soul only too much resembling the butterflies her mother swats and pins to the wall.



Born 1971, Denmark. Graduated in animation direction at the National Film School of Denmark, 2008. Worked with the animation company A. Film on TV series, shorts and features, 1996-2004. Creative Consultant at the advertising agency Ipsen & Partners, 1998-2000. Bengtson’s eight-minute graduation film "The Sylpphid" has been selected for Cinéfondation in Cannes and the International Animation Film Festival in Annecy. In the pipeline is her first feature, "The Dumb People".

One day, the Sylpphid breaks out through the barricaded front door, while her furious mother sucks in so much air that she soars up to the sky. The Sylpphid is free, though the question remains: Does she have the nerve to live by her convictions?
Can she break the pattern?


For Dorte Bengtson, it’s crucial to tell stories that are personal and yet universal. “The Sylpphid could be me – she could also be my mother. The film is based on my personal experiences and some patterns I’ve noticed in my family that I’ve tried to elevate to something more universal. "The Sylpphid" is representative of someone who has to break a pattern and come to terms with herself,” she says.

“I think everyone has the experience of being held back and not being allowed to live out theirdreams. The people who hold you back aren’t necessarily doing so out of cruelty, but because they themselves have been held back from attaining their dreams. That becomes a repetitive pattern. It’s very clear in many people’s lives and I think it’s an important story to tell,” the director says.

The Sylpphid’s story is set in a minimalist universe with a richly detailed symbolism reflecting the theme. “I figured this would be a really small world. The world outside the lopsided house is nothing but a worn path that peters out at the foot of a hill. On the other side of the hill, dreams and wonderful butterflies live. Only, no one in the family ever made it to the other side of the hill,” Bengtson says.

The Sylpphid Framegrab

"The Sylpphid". Framegrab


Bengtson’s enthusiasm for animation is unmistakable. “You can create the freakiest worlds in animation. It’s a limitless medium that way,” she says. “You can make ugly things beautiful. It’s not human to be perfect, and being ugly makes the characters human. Seeing the Sylpphid’s ghastlylooking mother with her saggy breasts and all in real life would knock your eyeballs out. Animation makes it possible without calling undue attention to it or making it gross.”

Bengtson, who trained as an illustrator and graphic designer, graduated from the National Film School of Denmark as an animation director in 2008. “In film school, they teach you to direct your animators, who are the actors in animated film. They train you to be a director, only it’s in the world of animation. Directing is a kind of creative management – I have the ideas and the film inside my head, but I have to manage a whole crew and make them work together to realise my personal vision,” she says.

As "The Sylpphid" proves, Bengtson masters the art of creative management, which is likely a reason why she recently received support from the Danish Film Institute to develop the screenplay for her coming animated feature film with the working title "The Dumb People".

“'The Dumb People' is a science-fiction adventure for children that is about freedom of speech,” she says. “The action is set in a mute town behind a wall of sound. People there have had their lips sewed shut by the dictatorship, so they can’t speak.” Bengtson, who will be writing the script with Tine Krull, a screenwriting graduate of the National Film School, is itching to get the project rolling.

Dorte Bengtson foto Leslie Holm