Danish Film History: 1896-2009

From silent films to the talkies, from escapism to social realism, from family comedies to the Dogme movement, from mainstream to avant-garde, from action flicks to documentaries—the history of Danish film covers it all. Danish film history is an illustrated overview of how Danish films have evolved from the start of the 1890s to the present. By Peter Schepelern, Associate Professor at the Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen.


The first film screening in Denmark takes place in 1896; the following year, in 1897, Peter Elfelt makes the first Danish produced films. The first movie theatres begin to appear in 1904, and in 1906 Ole Olsen founds the Nordisk Film Company. Beginning in 1910 the Nordisk Film Company gambles on producing full-length feature films. This was the beginning of Danish cinema's golden age.

Film at City Hall Square: The first movie showing in Denmark

The first Danish film screening took place on June 7th 1896, just half a year after the Lumière brothers' first public film screening in Paris in December 1895. It was the impresario Vilhelm Pacht who screened a handful of short films, presumably English productions, in Copenhagen's Panorama, a wooden pavilion that had been erected at City Hall Square in Copenhagen in front of the yet unfinished city hall.

Elfelt and Olsen: The first films and movie theatres

The first Danish-produced film arrived the next year, in 1897, recorded by photographer Peter Elfelt, who got the technically adept Jens Poul Andersen, known as "The Man from Nellerød" to build an operational film camera. From 1897 to 1907 Elfelt filmed approximately 100 films, typically no longer than a few minutes, documenting Danish culture, everyday life, and public events; with a particular focus on the royal family (he became the official royal photographer in 1900).

Among his films are Driving with Greenland Dogs (Kørsel med grønlandske Hunde, 1897), which traditionally is considered the first Danish film; also produced were Brandvæsenet rykker ud (1897), Brydekamp mellem Beck Olsen og Poul Pons (1899) and Czar Nikolai II's Ankomst til Helsingør (1901). He also made a single short fictional film Capital Execution (Henrettelsen, 1903, only saved in fragments), which apparently was inspired by an actual French court case about a woman who killed her children.

The first successful Danish movie theatre, Kosmorama on Østergade in Copenhagen, opened in 1904, and was run by Constantin Philipsen, who in the following years established a chain of theatres over the entire country. In 1905 the Biograf-Theater was opened, also in Copenhagen, by Ole Olsen, who would go on to become a central figure in early Danish cinema. He came from humble beginnings and had worked his way up to run, among other things, a Swedish amusement park. To ensure films for his theatre he went into film production and in November 1906 he founded the company, Nordisk Films Kompagni (today: Nordisk Film), that–with the exception of a bankruptcy 1928-1929–has been a central factor in the Danish film and media industry since.

Polar bears and lions: Nordisk Film begins

Nordisk Film, whose logo is a polar bear on top of a globe, received immediate success with farces such as The Anarchist's Mother-in-Law (Anarkistens Svigermoder, 1906), literary films such as The Lady with the Camellias (Kameliadamen,1907), and especially dramatic adventure stories like The Robber's Sweetheart (Røverens Brud, 1907) and the famous The Lion Hunt (Løvejagten, 1907), where hunters chase and kill two lions, filmed on the little island Elleore in the Roskilde Fjord on Zealand.

The films, directed by the company's regular director Viggo Larsen, were 10-15 minutes long. Nordisk Film was also very successful internationally and in the following years established branch offices in a number of different countries, especially Germany, England and the USA.

The company's eye-opening economic results lead to the development of a number of rival firms. It was one of these firms, the small company Fotorama, based in Aarhus, the country's second largest city, that in 1910 released the melodrama The White Slave Trade (Den Hvide Slavehandel), a remarkable film; it was three reels long (around forty minutes) at a time when a maximum of one reel was the norm. Nordisk Film immediately went about plagiarizing the film, releasing their version four months later. It was at this point that Nordisk Film, as the first company in the world, gambled on lengthier films. It marked the beginning of the short golden age for Danish film, which in the following years stood out in the international market.


The Danish cinemas golden age lasted from 1910 to 1920. The period's leading director is Benjamin Christensen, and the two Danish actors Asta Nielsen and Valdemar Psilander achieve both national and international fame.

Age of the melodrama: August Blom and Benjamin Christensen

The lead director for Nordisk Film after the breakthrough of longer films was August Blom.

He expanded into the dominating genre of the time, the melodrama, often with an erotic theme. He made the remake of The White Slave Trade (1910) as well as The Temptations of A great City (Ved Fængslets Port, 1911), and most importantly, the ambitious, internationally oriented epic Atlantis (1913), an artistic melodrama based on the Nobel prize winner Gerhart Hauptmann's novel about an Atlantic Ocean steamship's dramatic shipwreck. The novel was not inspired by the sinking of the Titanic, but the actual event undoubtedly contributed to the company's gamble on the epic and expensive production, which disappointed both artistically and commercially. The movie was impressively filmed by cinematographer Johan Ankerstjerne (whose film laboratory, founded in 1932, went on to be Danish cinema's leading). Other films of note from the period include Eduard Schnedler-Sørensen's circus melodrama The Great Circus Catastrophe (Døds-Spring til Hest fra Cirkus-Kuplen,1912), an example of one of the period's typical ‘sensational films,' and Holger-Madsen's drama of redemption The Candle and the Moth (Evangeliemandens Liv, 1915).

The period's leading Danish director was Benjamin Christensen who, for other production companies, made three striking films. Sealed Orders (Det hemmelighedsfulde X, 1914) was a spy story, which offered outstanding filmic storytelling, especially in the scene where the villain is locked in the basement of a windmill and can't get out. Blind Justice (Hævnens Nat,1917) was a criminal melodrama influenced by Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. The Swedish produced Häxan (1922), filmed in Denmark and one of film history's most original works, was a mixture of cultural history slide show and historical reconstruction of the history of witchcraft from the Middle Ages to the present, but provoked much contemporary indignation.

The first stars: Valdemar Psilander and Die Asta

Notably two Danish actors reached stardom, also internationally, during the silent film period.

The leading male actor was Valdemar Psilander, who excelled at playing the melancholy male who falls for erotic or criminal temptations in melodramas such as Temptations of a Great City (1911) or throws himself into the dark hands of fate in 'sensational films' such as The Great Circus Catastrophe (1912) or The Clown (Klovnen, 1917). He was Nordisk Film's highest paid actor from 1911 to 1916 and was able to establish his own company shortly before his untimely death in 1917.

The most famous actress of the period was Asta Nielsen.

Her debut in Kosmorama's The Abyss (Afgrunden,1910), directed by her later husband Urban Gad, shined with her intense and psychologically realistic acting. It was a melodrama about a young woman, engaged to the son of a vicar, who runs off with a faithless circus entertainer and ends up killing him.

Unfortunately for Danish cinema her success led her, and her husband, to quickly leave for Germany, where she — applauded as Die Asta — had a big career with many varied roles (including the leading part in Hamlet, 1921) all the way through to the late 1920s, She only made four Danish silent films; in The Ballet Dancer (Balletdanserinden, 1911) she co-starred with Psilander.

War and Peace: World War I and Danish film

The First World War meant a drastic change for Danish cinema; access to the European market became complicated. However, there were also benefits; for example, the Germans banned French and English films. Nordisk Film was able to take advantage of this, until they were forced to sell their German assets to the new national film combine UFA, established in 1917.

After this Nordisk Film focused on big, expensive productions that were expected to achieve international interest. They produced a series of ambitious films with pacifist and social themes. This included August Blom's The Flaming Sword (Verdens Undergang, 1916), in which a comet strikes the planet, as well as the pacifist A Trip to Mars (Himmelskibet, 1918), a science-fiction film about a space trip to visit the peace loving Martians, and the politically charged A Friend of the People (Folkets Ven, 1918), both directed by Holger-Madsen.

In 1911 the Victoria Theatre opened in Copenhagen, the first purpose-built Danish cinema. The following year executive manager Sophus Madsen opened Palads Teatret in Copenhagen's former central train station; with its 3000 seats it was northern Europe's largest movie theatre. In January 1918, it was replaced by a new building on Axeltorv, still a major cinema today.


Throughout the 1920's Nordisk Film's decline continues. The company receives strong competition from another company, Palladium, which achieves success with the comedy duo Fyrtaarnet og Bivognen. It is in this period of decline that Carl Th. Dreyer debuts as director.

Post war crisis: Nordisk Film's downturn

Throughout the 1920s Nordisk Film's decline continued, due both to difficult economic conditions and problems trying to find an artistic profile that matched the tastes of the time.

The company's new leading director was A.W. Sandberg who was behind a number of grand screen versions of Dickens' novels. – Our Mutual Friend (Vor fælles Ven, 1921), Great Expectations (Store Forventninger,1922), The Love Story of David Copperfield (David Copperfield, 1922) and Little Dorrit (Lille Dorrit,1924). A.W. Sandberg also directed Mists of the Past (Fra Piazza del Popolo, 1925), based on a colourful Danish classic novel, and the circus melodrama The Golden Clown (Klovnen, 1926, which had already been made in 1917 with Psilander), now in a handsome version with the famous Swedish star Gösta Ekman. The films were respectable pieces of work, but never found their place internationally.

It was in this period of decline, that the young Carl Th. Dreyer made his debut as director.

The great classic: Carl Th. Dreyer

Carl Th. Dreyer was a young journalist when he was introduced to movies in 1912, became a title card writer and later a script consultant and editor for Nordisk Film. His directing debut, The President (Præsidenten, 1919), is a melodrama about a judge who must pass sentence on his own long-abandoned illegitimate. The ambitious Leaves from Satan's Book (Blade af Satans Bog, 1920), told in four stories, from four historical epochs about evil. His most famous Danish silent film was Master of the House (Du skal ære din Hustru, 1925), which, exceptionally, told the story of regular people in a contemporary environment. Dreyer's intense artistic ambition led him to an international career, making films in Sweden, Norway, Germany — for example Heart's Desire (Michael, 1924) based upon Herman Bang's novel Mikaël — and France, where he made his masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) which, in intense, soul-searching close- ups, tells the story of Jeanne's trial and martyrdom.

He continued with The Vampire (Vampyr,1932), a privately financed French-German talkie, which effectively mixed horror material with poetic dream-like photography. A decade of failed projects passed, during which time he went back to working as a journalist. It wasn't until the 1940s that he was able to begin directing again, first the documentary Good Mothers (Mødrehjælpen, 1942), followed by the feature film Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag, 1943), a dark and grandiose drama about the witch trials of the 1600s. Dreyer, due to his artistically uncompromising and un-commercial cinematic style, stood alone in the realm of Danish cinema. In 1952 he received a cinema license for the Dagmar theatre in Copenhagen and made The Word (Ordet,1955), based upon Kaj Munk's play about faith and resurrection, as well as his final work Gertrud (1964), based on Hjalmar Söderberg's play from the beginning of the 1900s about 'lust of the flesh and the soul's irreparable loneliness.' During the last thirty years of his life, Dreyer worked on a film about Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. The manuscript was finished (and published in 1968), but the film was never realized.Dreyer, with his convincing psychological insights and his intentionally abstract style, retains his status as one of film history's greatest figures.

Film posters from the 1920s

Successful Comedies: Palladium and Fy and Bi

During 1920s recession period Nordisk Film received strong competition from Palladium. The company, originally Swedish, acquired the director Lau Lauritzen Senior and the actor Carl Schenstrøm from Nordisk Film. Lauritzen paired the tall, thin Schenstrøm with the short, fat Harald Madsen and coined the comic duo Fyrtaarnet and Bivognen (Lighthouse and the Trailer), shortened to Fy and Bi.

Palladium was run by Danes from 1922, and Fyrtaarnet and Bivognen was the strongest asset in 1920s Danish film, with farces such as Film, Flirt and Film (Film, Flirt og Forlovelse,1921), Sun, Summer and Students (Sol, Sommer og Studiner,1922), He, She and Hamlet (Han, hun og Hamlet,1922) and At the North Sea (Vester-Vov-Vov,1927). The comedians also achieved a large international audience and were especially well known in Germany (as Pat und Patachon), as well as in England (as Long and Short) and Eastern Europe. The duo, which continued after talkies broke through, was just once used in a more ambitious project, Lauritzen's Don Quixote (1926) based upon Cervantes' novel, filmed in Spain.

Early animation: Storm P.'s animations

It was also during this period that Danish animated movies humbly began. Artist extraordinaire Robert Storm Petersen, well known for his funny cartoons, made a few short animated movies, among them were Gaasetyven (1920) and Peter og Ping Trylleri (1922).

Movie theatre law of 1922

From the beginning, Denmark sorted movies and movie theatres as a separate entertainment market under the Police and Justice Ministry. In 1907 movie censorship was introduced; in 1913 the state took control of the censorship. In 1922 Denmark acquired its first movie theatre law, which put steep taxation on movie tickets into effect (40%). At the same time a cinema license system was put into place. Permission to run a theatre relied upon licenses and was in essence put under government control. A cinema license was often used as a type of artistic pension. Also production companies could get access to run a theatre (a so called 'production license'). The system continued under the Film Law of 1938 until the film law of 1972.

In the silent movie era there were approximately 1600 short and feature length films and over 1000 documentary films made in Denmark, about 250 of them have been preserved.


In the 1930s talkies make their way into Denmark and jovial comedies with songs, so- called folk-comedies, became the decade's dominant genre. Poul Henningsen directs the documentary Danmark, which spurs a new filmic conscience that inspires the new generation of documentary filmmakers.

Danish talkies: sound's breakthrough

Nordisk Film goes bankrupt in June of 1928, but is resurrected in February of 1929 under the leadership of managing director Carl Bauder.

He had also acquired the rights to a film-sound system, created by the Danish engineers Axel Petersen and Arnold Poulsen and they presented a demonstration film Den talende Film as early as October of 1923 (precisely four years before the talkies' international breakthrough with the American film The Jazz Singer).

The first sound film in the Danish language, The Vicar of Vejlby (Præsten i Vejlby, premiered in May of 1931. It was directed by George Schnéevoigt, who was now the leading director at Nordisk Film. Actually, Nordisk Film and Schnéevoigt, had already the year before released a talkie film, but the Greenlandic Eskimo (1930) was a Danish-Norwegian co-production with Norwegian dialogue.

The Vicar of Vejlby, a heavy, bombastic screen version of the Danish author Steen Steensen Blicher's classic crime story (1829), demonstrated cultural ambitions, which also characterize Schnéevoigt's tragic nightclub melodrama Tango (1933).

But the decade's dominant genre, one that was better suited to the possibilities of sound, was comedies with songs, the so-called folk comedies with a joyful and jovial view on life.

Danish films for Danes: Comedies with songs

Typical comedies were Schnéevoigt's Skal vi vædde en Million? (1932) and Odds 777 (1932), as well as Emanuel Gregers' Mille, Marie and I (Mille, Marie og mig, 1937), where the leading actress, Marguerite Viby, excelled in a three-part role as the diligent medical student, the down-to-earth maid, and the sophisticated nightclub singer, a key work highlighting the era's view on women's roles. It was composer Kai Normann Andersen, who delivered the pleasing songs.

Where silent movies promoted international distribution, the language barrier stymied sound films, and for small nations such as Denmark, the sound breakthrough meant a violent decrease of market and a sudden provinciality. Danish cinema henceforth was almost exclusively a case for Danes.

The 1930's were also culturally imprinted by the great depression and the imminent confrontation of political ideologies. The old art forms were marked by modernism of different types. This was not the case for movies, which gambled on giving the populace optimism, escapes from reality and traditional entertainment in contrast to the depressing realities. Palladium's Panserbasse (1936), with the plump Ib Schønberg as a police officer of the people, touched upon the depression, but for that same reason was able to keep the humour flowing. Other typical films were Rasmines Bryllup (1935) and Bolettes Wedding (Bolettes Brudefærd, 1938), both jolly folk comedies, as was Lau Lauritzen Senior's Barken Margrethe (1934), which exudes national romanticism and somewhat racist smugness.

Film posters from the 1930s

One corner of the world: early Danish documentaries

A couple of films stand out from the normal style, namely the pseudo-documentary Greenlandic film Palo's Wedding (Palos Brudefærd, 1934), directed by the German Friedrich Dalsheim, and written by the famous Greenland traveller Knud Rasmussen, as well as the controversial architect, author and cultural debater Poul Henningsen's documentary Danmark (1935, also called Danmarksfilmen), which was the seminal work in Danish documentary cinema, produced by orders from the Danish ministry for foreign affairs. 

The film, with its mildly satirical style and jazzy songs, was cut down by critics and re-edited (a reconstruction was made in 1964). But the film proved to be a sign of things to come, it started a new filmic consciousness, a filmic flow, which hadn't been seen before, and was an inspiration to the new generation of documentary filmmakers.

Here the central figure Theodor Christensen, who would eventually play a vital role as mentor in the coming decades. Christensen together with Karl Roos wrote the country's first book on film theory, Film (1936). He directed documentaries such as C – et Hjørne af Sjælland (1938) and was co-director on Iran, det nye Persien (1939) a film about Danish engineering accomplishments.

Cinema Laws of 1933 and 1938

With the Cinema Law of 1933 came a stricter regulation of the license system, to the extent that licenses would be passed out based on qualifications and only one theatre per person. Also the film censors were given a stricter framework. The partially state run institution Danish Cultural Film (Dansk Kulturfilm), started in 1932, was the productive force behind a long string of documentaries as well as a few fiction films in the 30s and 40s.

The law was revised in 1938. At this point Statens Filmcentral was started; it stood for the distribution of informative documentaries. With the founding of a film board and a film fund, the state began backing artistic and culturally valuable films, though in reality with very little effect.


During the German occupation Danish films switch character and become darker, while also putting more focus on the national. Documentary filmmaking is flowering, and it becomes the norm to show documentaries as short films in the theatres. After the war Danish films zero in on a more realistic manner with focus on everyday drama and social problems.

Movies in the Dark: The occupation's film culture

With the German occupation of Denmark in 1940, Danish cinema was placed under the occupier's directives.

The Germans controlled all production companies' access to raw footage and determined the repertoires at the movie theatres. Many more German films were now shown in the theatres (at one point every other film shown at Copenhagen's premier theatres was German), but films from the allied countries were first banned at the end of 1942.

The Danish films produced during this period, it goes without saying, could not put forth a critique of the occupying power, and the films avoided almost all references to the actual situation, but they clearly changed character. Criminality and suspense had up until now been absent from Danish talkies (The Vicar of Vejlby was an exception). But now it was the darker films that succeeded, among them were Bodil Ipsen and Lau Lauritzen Junior's dark psychological Afsporet (1942), produced by the company Apollon-Film at ASA, and the thriller film The Melody of Murder (Mordets Melodi,1944) with traces of French poetic realism and American film noir.

Danish cinema as a whole became more internationally orientated. The comedy genre moved away from the traditional people's comedy and began to follow the more sophisticated American screwball comedy a la Lubitsch as seen in Bodil Ipsen's A Gentleman in White Tie and Tails (En Herre i Kjole og Hvidt, 1942), but especially Johan Jacobsen, stands out as one of the leading directors with comedies such as My Dear Wives (Mine kære Koner) and Som du vil ha' mig -! (both 1943). His elegant episodic film Eight Chords (Otte Akkorder, 1944), about a gramophone record that goes from hand to hand, took its structure from Julien Duvivier's French Un carnet de Bal and American Tales of Manhattan.

At the same time a larger focus was put on national issues. Svend Methling's classic The Joys of Summer (Sommerglæder, 1940), based on a novel by Herman Bang, painted both a touching and satirical picture of a former Danish province viewed via a collection of people; Emanuel Gregers' Sørensen og Rasmussen (1940) jovially tells the story of the Danish King Frederik VII and his unofficial wife's visit to a manor. In addition came Schnéevoigt‘s biographical I Have Loved and Lived (Jeg har elsket og levet, 1940), about the composer Weyse from the 1800s romantic golden age in Danish culture, and Tordenskjold Goes Ashore (Tordenskjold gaar i Land, 1942) about the naval hero from the 1700s.

Dreyer's Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag, 1943), with its portrayal of torture and witch trials in the 1600s, can be read as an indirect commentary on Nazism, even if that wasn't Dreyer's intent. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Hagen Hasselbalch's documentary short The Corn is in Danger (Kornet er i Fare!), which was released in April 1945 shortly before the Danish liberation, while seemingly a regular information film about the battle against the corn nose beetle, was also a subtly witty fable referring to the German occupation.

Film poster from the 1940s

Emancipation and escape: Documentaries and experimental films of the 40s

During the occupation short documentary films became the norm as short subjects before the feature film in movie theatres, where they replaced the unpopular German weekly reviews (an ordinance that the Ministeriernes Filmudvalg, 1944-66, established), and this especially provided opportunities to young directors.

Bjarne Henning-Jensen's Brown Coal (Brunkul, 1941) and Paper (Papir, 1942) and Ole Palsbo's Waste is Money (Spild er Penge, 1942) were instructively modelled after British documentaries. Much like the producer John Grierson, who among other works was behind the trendsetting Night Mail (1936), Danish documentaries gambled on combining information, poetry and aesthetics. For example, in films such as Karl Roos' Under a Thatched Roof (Under Straatag og Lyre, 1942), about the Danish open air museum and peasant life in older times, Theodor Christensen's People in a House (Mennesker i et Hus, 1943), about social problems and the institutions that can solve them, and Hagen Hasselbalch's Shaped by Danish Hands (1948), about Danish craftsmen.

After the war came Theodor Christensen's, controversial chief work Your Freedom is at Stake (Det gælder din Frihed, 1946), which with satirical strokes criticized the Danish government's political collusion with the occupying German power. Dreyer also made a number of documentaries in this period, among them the socially engaged Good Mothers (Mødrehjælpen, 1942), about unwed mothers' situations, his first film after a long involuntary break, as well as Thorvaldsen (1949), a film about the classic Danish sculptor.

It was also in this period that Danish experimental films got their start. Theodor Christensen and Karl Roos wrote a manuscript for the historical adventure story Jens Langkniv (1940), which tried to give Danish cinema a little avant-garde filmic language, inspired by Russian montage, but unfortunately an unsuccessful attempt. Otherwise, like in many other countries, it was the painters who stood behind the experimental short films. Documentary filmmaker Jørgen Roos, worked together with painter Albert Mertz on the short Escape (Flugten, 1942), a modernist study in seven minutes, and Roos continued to make lively short films with the surrealist Wilhelm Freddie such as Det definitive afslag på anmodningen om et kys (1949) and Spiste horisonter (1950).

Everyday life returns: Post-war realism in Danish cinema

Denmark was liberated in May of 1945 by British forces, and before the year was out two Danish feature films about the Danish resistance movement and sabotage were made. Bodil Ipsen and Lau Lauritzen Junior's The Red Meadows (De røde Enge) and Johan Jacobsen's The Invisible Army (Den usynlige Hær), which was followed up by the collaborationist drama Tre år efter (1948).

Henceforth Danish cinema delved into a more realist direction, a critical humanitarian realism with a focus on everyday fate, not incomparable to Italian neo-realism; cultural issues were also focused upon. Ole Palsbo showed sharp social and psychological analyses in Discretion Wanted (Diskret Ophold, 1946), about a sanctuary for unmarried pregnant women, and especially Take What You Want (Ta' hvad du vil ha', 1947) with its portrayal of a cynical climber's career. Bjarne Henning-Jensen‘s beautiful Ditte, Child of Man (Ditte Menneskebarn, 1946), based on Martin Andersen-Nexø's classic and socially indignant novel about the fate of a girl from an aging small town milieu. Henning-Jensen together with his wife Astrid made both the intense psychological criminal drama Kristinus Bergman (1948), and the comedy Those Damned Kids (De pokkers Unger, 1947), the first Danish children's film. In the same vein Astrid Henning-Jensen continued on alone with the short children's film Palle Alone in the World (Palle alene i verden, 1949, first shown in Denmark in 1954), which still stands as a classic.

A chief work was Johan Jacobsen's Jenny and the Soldier (Soldaten og Jenny,1947), which with engaged realism portrays social injustices through the story of two everyday losers' fates, played by the new stars Poul Reichhardt and Bodil Kjer. The movie was produced by the company Saga Film, which was started in 1942 with John Olsen as its leader. The company was also behind the noir-ish film John and Irene (John og Irene, 1949), where Bodil Kjer and Ebbe Rode play travelling dance partners who are dragged into a world of crime and ruin.

An example of an atypical production during the period can be found in the feature length animation The Tinder Box (Fyrtøjet, 1946), the first Danish colour film, based upon H.C Andersen's fairy tale.


In the 1950s the melodrama returns with the popular Morten Korch film adaptations and the Father of Four (Far til fire) family films. Another direction pursued in the 50s is problem-oriented films, especially dealing with youth. Outside the trends of the time comes Dreyer's Ordet (1955).

Back to the folk comedies: 50s feature films

The new realism in Danish cinema ended abruptly at the start of the new decade, which was marked by the return of the escapist, patriotic, cosy culture, which was characteristic of the 1930s folk films.

After the violence and trauma of the war there was an apparent need to get back to traditional Danish values.

It was symptomatic, that Nordisk Film first fired the married couple Astrid and Bjarne Henning-Jensen, followed by Ole Palsbo, who had run afoul of the company during the shooting of a new film (shortly thereafter he committed suicide). The movie, Vi arme syndere (1952), was taken over by the company's new man, Erik Balling, who stood for a more populist style that, however, didn't quite succeed for Nordisk Film in the following years.

The decade's largest successes were produced by Henning Karmark, whose membership in the Danish Nazi party was quickly forgotten. For his company ASA Filmudlejning (not to be confused with ASA), he procured the rights to author Morten Korch, rights other companies had turned down. Korch's popular novels about Danish country life, a kind of heimat-kitsch, were the widest read books of the time, and they lead to the biggest box office success ever in Denmark. The Red Horses (1950), the first of thirteen films in the period of 1950-1967, sold over 2,6 million tickets (for a population of 4,5 million) and cemented Poul Reichhardt's stardom.

The director of the films was Alice O'Fredericks, who undoubtedly is film history's most productive and powerful female director. She also made the popular family films Father of Four (Far til fire, eight films between 1953-1961), which offered up cosy family life from the confines of suburbia, produced by the company ASA, established in 1936.

Other distinctive films were Johan Jacobsen's virtuoso marital comedy My Wife is Innocent (Min kone er uskyldig, 1950); Torben Anton Svendsen's Meet Me on Cassiopeia - USA (informal English title) Mød mig på Cassiopeia (1951), a musical with Kai Normann Andersen's finest music, where a muse (Bodil Kjer) from Olympus visits Earth and despite Zeus's warnings falls in love; Erik Balling's romantic comedy Kispus and the Greenland drama Qivitoq (both 1956), the first Danish live-action color films, Gabriel Axel's social and everyday realistic Nothing but Trouble (Altid ballade, 1955) as well as the comedy Golden Mountains (Guld og grønne skove, 1958), which with friendly satire pitched Danish provincialism against American business.

The period's biggest comedy star was Dirch Passer, who often unfolded his exuberant and subtle humor in partnership with Ove Sprogøe (Det var på Rundetårn, 1955) or Kjeld Petersen (Vi er alle sammen tossede, 1959).

Problems knocking on the door: Other directions in 50s cinema

However, there were also problem-oriented films. Bodil Ipsen's Café Paradis (1950) effectively illustrated the dangers of alcoholism. But much like American cinema, it was especially the troubles of the youth and their lifestyles that were depicted. Films such as Farlig ungdom (1953), The Young Have No Time (Ung leg,1956) and Dregs (Bundfald, 1957), about male prostitutes, were both cautioning and titillating.

Outside the trends of the time, first and foremost comes Dreyer's monumental comeback The Word (Ordet, 1955), which would become his biggest success with Danish audiences, but also Johan Jacobsen's cold war drama Blændværk (1955), one of the few films that makes political themes tangible, as well as his intense drama about the traumas of occupation, A Stranger Knocks (En fremmed banker på, 1959), which caused a sensation due to the first portrayal of intercourse in Danish cinema.

Film posters from the 1950s

Opinions of the time: Documentary cinema in the 1950s

In the documentary world Jørgen Roos is notable with the indignant Slum (1952), Den strømlinede gris (1952), about Danish pig breeding and the H.C Andersen portrait The Story of My Life (Mit livs eventyr, 1955). Bjarne Henning-Jensen made the Greenland film Where Mountains Float (Hvor bjergene sejler, 1955), which was nominated for an Oscar in the category "Documentary (feature)" and Børge Høst portrayed Poul Henningsen in Meninger i tiden (1955). Theodor Christensen's Bare en pige (1959) was a debate film about equal rights and discrimination.

Expensive dreams: American film blockade

American films returned to the Danish screens after the liberation and immediately regained the dominant position they had previously held. However, in the middle of the 50s a tiff in the cordial relationship between the Danes and the Americans arose.

The big American companies, represented in MPEA, were unhappy with the low percentages the Danish theatres were paying. This was partially caused by the Danish government's unwillingness to offer foreign currency for film purchases. As a counter move, the American companies withheld the big productions from the Danish market¬–which lead to the creation of the Scarlett-ferries in 1954 so that Copenhageners could go to Landskrona, Sweden to see Gone with the Wind (1939). Between October 1955 and July 1957 the MPEA established a regular blockade against the Danish cinemas, which didn't receive the big American productions until 1958. Gone with the Wind premiered in Denmark in 1958.


The fast spread of televisions in Danish homes threatens movie theatre ticket sales. In accepting the necessity of economic support to the needy Danish film branch, the Film Law of 1964 formalizes government support to the art of film. Breakthroughs in the European film scene hits Danish cinema and starts the Danish new wave. In extension of the 1960s general tendencies towards freedom of expression, pornography is released and adult censorship of films is removed.

The threat of TV, the world's best film law

Ticket sales to movie theatres had reached a high point in 1954 with 60 million tickets sold. But it was also the year when Danish TV (with the state monopoly Statsradiofonien, known from 1959 on as Danmarks Radio) after a three-year trial period began regular broadcasting. TV's rapid spread in Danish homes took its toll on theatres ticket sales. In 1960 sales were down to 44 million and in 1970 only 20 million tickets were sold. Danish films retained, relatively, its popularity with 25-30% of all ticket sales, while American films had 55-60%.

Until now the cultural establishment had generally regarded the film medium as mere popular entertainment without larger cultural values. Now, where it was hard pressed by a new entertainment media, cinema gained respect. The dramatic drop in business weakened the Danish film branch and led to the admission that government support was necessary, especially if the artistic film was to survive.

This was in accordance with the 1960s new politically oriented culture, where the state increasingly became a player in culture. The Ministry of Culture was established in 1961; in 1964 the government's Fund for the Arts came about, and during that same year the new film law was established (first enacted in 1965), which gained a reputation as "the world's best film law." The government's revenue from ticket sales was now collected in the Film Fund (with Erik Hauerslev as leader under the Ministry of Culture), which put the money back into the film branch, among other things as a contribution towards quality, a kind of support for the arts.

The government's recognition of cinema as culturally valuable continued with the founding of The Danish Film School (1966), which over the course of the 70s became a prominent factor in new Danish cinema, as well as the introduction of courses at Copenhagen University (1967). In addition the Det Danske Filmmuseum (now: Museum & Cinematek), which started in 1941 under the leadership of Ove Brusendorff was upgraded as a part of the Film House in Christianshavn, with its own theatre and screenings.

European signals: 60s Danish new wave

In the European film scene the 1960s was marked by fresh signals and breakthroughs, especially with Italian modernism (Antonioni, Fellini) and the so-called French new wave (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Resnais).

These new orientations also affected Danish cinema. It started with Bent Christensen's amiable Harry and the Butler (Harry og kammertjeneren, 1961), a successful attempt to modernize the Danish folk comedy, written by Leif Panduro, who since became a central figure in Danish TV-drama. Otherwise, director Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt and writer Klaus Rifbjerg, made their mark renewing Danish cinema by moving it away from traditional conventions and instead orienting themselves towards a new, time-appropriate artistic style. The breakthrough work was Weekend (1962), produced by Bent Christensen. With its generational portrait of 30 year olds with a focus on family life and a couple's daily grind and disillusionment, the film created a whole new atmosphere in Danish cinema. Following this, among other films, was the sensitive period picture Once There Was a War (Der var engang en krig, 1966), about boyhood and growing up during the German occupation, a modern classic in Danish film.

Christensen and Panduro continued with the black comedy The Neighbours Naboerne (1966), a satirical allegory about the weapons race illustrated as an escalating duel between neighbours in a suburban area.

Henning Carlsen, who had garnered attention with the English language feature A World of Strangers (Dilemma, 1962), adapting the screenplay by Nadine Gordimer and filmed in secrecy in South Africa, created one of the period's masterpieces with the Scandinavian co-production Hunger (Sult, 1966), which with the Swedish Per Oscarsson in a formidable leading performance brought Knut Hamsun's debut novel to the screen and created a complex, modernistic portrait of the young author on the verge of a breakdown. Also noteworthy was the married couple Sven and Lene Grønlykke's The Ballad of Carl-Henning (Balladen om Carl-Henning, 1969), which told a story of a tragic character from the Jutland marshes.

A more conservative type of film art came from Knud Leif Thomsen with the satirical School for Suicide (Selvmordsskolen, 1964) and the classic film adaptation Jazz All Around (Midt i en jazztid, 1969), based on Knud Sønderby's classic novel. Completely outside the contemporary currents, once again stood Dreyer, with his final work, the disillusioned romantic melodrama Gertrud (1964).

Style of the time: Documentary films and avant-garde in the 60s

In documentary cinema, Henning Carlsen's trilogy about the Danes, Old People (De gamle, 1961), Family Pictures (Familiebilleder,1964) and Ung (1965), had similarities to the French cinéma vérité movement. Theodor Christensen continued the equal rights gender debate with the pre-feminist Dit navn er kvinde (1961). Also of note was Børge Høst's A New Reality (En ny virkelighed, 1963), about nuclear research, Jørgen Roos' Knud Rasmussen portrait Knud (1966), the first in a row of Greenland films, and his nephew Ole Roos' portrait film of the French actor Michel Simon (1964). Moreover Claus Ørsted and Lars Brydsen's Kongens Enghave (1967) that in surprisingly poetic visual style gave a socially engaged portrayal of a loser at the landfills.

The zeitgeist of youth revolt, protests, rallies and alternative artistic expressions, which was internationally characteristic of the period, left only slight traces in the period's Danish films. Though Jørgen Leth gave us the short avant-garde film The Perfect Human ( Det perfekte menneske, 1967), which with ironic naivety investigated man's nature, which went on to be the basis for The Five Obstructions De fem benspænd (2003 – together with Lars von Trier). He was also central in the artistic movement ABCinema (1968-70), which was behind the short-lived occupation of the Film School in 1969, a demonstration against the commercial film industry's influence on the school.

In animated films Bent Barfod, Jannik Hastrup and Flemming Quist Møller were central names.

Film posters from the 1960s

Film series and prehistoric creatures: Popular films in the 60s

Despite the new wave, the avant-garde and new initiatives, the traditional folk comedy continued along its regular path, with among other things Baronessen fra benzintanken (1960), where regular Denmark mingled with the aristocracy in Ghita Nørby's charming character. In addition there were a number of popular series such as Soldaterkammerater (1958-68), The Poet and the Little Mother (Poeten og Lillemor,1959-61), Støv på hjernen (1959-63) and Min søsters børn films (1966-71).

In an atypical attempt to replicate American action films, the company Saga produced the science fiction-like Reptilicus (1961), where a prehistoric lizard ravages Copenhagen. The film, directed by Poul Bang, based on a screenplay by the Danish-American Ib Melchior, has not been quite undeserving of its cult status as some of the worst garbage ever made in Danish cinema. (At the same time an American version of the film was made, directed by Sidney Pink).

Zeitgeist triumphs: Adult censorship eliminated

Film censorship had been an institution in Denmark since 1907; the country's Film Censor founded in 1913, continued with the Movie Theatre Law of 1922 and was further enforced with the Movie Theatre Law of 1933; the latter especially cracked down on criminality and the erotic.

The 1960s general free spirit tendencies, not the least of which was sexuality, became quite noticeable in such films as Seventeen (Sytten, 1965), I, a Woman (Jeg – en kvinde, 1965) and Knud Leif Thomsen's Venom (Gift, 1966). In recognition of the zeitgeist — as well as the economic potential — the ban on pornography was lifted, first on written erotica (in 1967 via the social-democrat government), then for pornographic images (in 1969, via a conservative Minister of Justice).

Thereafter the adult censorship of films was also abandoned (1969); the censor institutions now only had to assess which of the films children would be allowed to see (since 1960 there had only been two movie ratings: forbidden for children under 16 years and forbidden for children under 12 years). In 1997 film censorship was completely abolished in Denmark.


Along with the Film Law of 1972, the Danish Film Institute is established. Organization of governmental movie support finds its fast footing primarily through the new consultant scheme, whose political independence and integrity come under fire from the very beginning due to the Thorsen scandal. Youth films have their heyday in the 70s and the popular folk comedies return again in the form of heist films about the Olsen Gang. Pornography's newfound freedom leads to the production of ‘erotic folk comedies' — the so-called bedside movies and zodiac movies.

The Danish Film Institute

With the Film Law of 1972, the Film Fund was transformed into the Danish Film Institute (still part of the Ministry of Culture); from then on this became the organizational support tool for all national films. For the first time film was directly placed in the state budget. This was done primarily through the so-called consultant scheme where state aid decisions were made by consultants, who were hired for two to three years. In the early years there were two consultants for movies for adults and from 1976 on, one for children and youth films. In 1988 there was an extra consultant used for short films and documentaries and from 1989, a consultant for short children's films and documentaries. The new film law also abolished the appropriation system whereby the ailing movie theatre industry became a free market.

The Film Law and state support to Danish cinema worked as a bailout for the art form, but it could also be seen as government intervention into artistic freedom, which is why it was important that the DFI (Danish Film Institute) could work independently of the political power, the so-called "at-arms-length" principle.

Cultural Provocations: the Thorsen case and the avant-garde

The new consultant system ran into trouble from the very beginning precisely regarding its independence and integrity. Jens Jørgen Thorsen, known as a painter, happening-artist and director of the Henry Miller adaptation Quiet Days in Clichy (Stille dage i Clichy, 1970), announced, that he would make a film about Jesus, The Many Faces of Jesus Christ, where the saviour was to be presented as a political and erotic activist.

The screenplay in 1973 was recommended to receive support from consultant Gert Fredholm, but the case incited such a furore–also internationally, the Pope himself protested – that the DFI halted the project. It was reinstituted for support in 1975, this time by consultant Stig Björkman, but was stopped on direct orders from Minister of Culture Niels Matthiasen, referring to the suspicion that the work could be blasphemous and in violation of the evangelist copyright (!). Regardless of artistic freedom of expression it was not agreeable to have Christianity mocked and made fun of. But the ministerial decision was deemed illegal–in 1989.

Thorsen had roots in the period's provocative, alternative culture, which had already marked itself through controversial works. From the artistic movement ABCinema came the cooperative film Without Kin (Frændeløs,1970) with contributions from, among others, Per Kirkeby, Jørgen Leth, Ole John and Bjørn Nørgaard, in it is the famous scene in which Lene Adler Petersen as a naked, female Christ figure bears the cross through the Stock Market. An initiative towards the democratization of access to the media arrived with Filmværkstedet, established in 1970 (as Workshoppen, since Det Danske Filmværksted), to provide support to films, first and foremost documentaries and experimental films, which wouldn't otherwise be produced by normal productions. Mainly socially critical and political shorts were produced there, for example the feminist The Sleeping Beauty (Tornerose var et vakkert barn, 1971) by Jytte Rex and Kirsten Justesen.

Realism, debate and heritage: Feature films in the 70s

A new realism begins to enter 1970s Danish cinema. Franz Ernst's Concerning Lone (Ang.: Lone, 1970) tells a story, in semi-documentary style, about a young girl who runs away from both the established community and the alternative community. The portrayal of reality was also central in Hans Kristensen's films dealing with the small time crook and misfit Per (Ole Ernst), in films such as The Escape (Flugten, 1973) and Per (1975). Henning Carlsen's Oh, to Be on the Bandwagon! (Man sku' være noget ved musikken, 1972), which – with a screenplay by Benny Andersen – focused on melancholic nightlife dwellers, as well as Astrid Henning-Jensen's Winter-born (Vinterbørn, 1978) based upon Dea Trier Mørch's success novel about women in a maternity ward. 

Realism was also a hit for the crime genre, which until now was a rarity in Danish films. Esben Høilund-Carlsen's Nineteen Red Roses (Nitten røde roser, 1974) is the first modern crime film with blood, action and an American influence. Anders Refn continues in the same style with the cop film Copper (Strømer, 1976), Erik Crone produced both.

There are also films that enter into the political and women's rights debate such as Christian Braad Thomsen's Dear Irene (Kære Irene, 1971), Peter Refn's Violets Are Blue (Violer er blå, 1975) and especially Mette Knudsen, Elisabeth Rygård and Li Vilstrup's Take it Like a Man, Ma'm (Ta' det som en mand, frue, 1975), which in its deftly portrayed dream sequence, the gender stereotypes are switched and we see a subjugated man working at home, and a swaggering woman working outside the home. An intellectual debate is touched upon by Henrik Stangerup, who beside his authorship, developed as a director with Give God a Chance on Sundays (Giv Gud en chance om søndagen, 1970), about a priest in a religious and marital crisis, as well as the psychiatry film It Happens in Denmark (Farlige kys, 1972) and the bold but unsuccessful The Earth is Flat (Jorden er flad, 1977, in Portuguese: A terra é plana), which relocated Holberg's classic play Erasmus Montanus to Brazil in the 1700s.

Literary heritage was also addressed in Knud Leif Thomsen's The Liar (Løgneren,1970), based on Martin A. Hansen's existentialist novel; Claus Ørsted's The Work of the Devil (Præsten i Vejlby, 1972), based on Blicher; Ole Roos' Vandalism (Hærværk, 1977, with a screenplay by Klaus Rifbjerg), based on Tom Kristensen's modernist alcoholism novel; Anders Refn in The Baron (Slægten, 1978), based on Gustav Wied and finally Gert Fredholm's successful The Case of the Missing Clerk (Den forsvundne fuldmægtig, 1971), which updates Hans Scherfig's satirical novel about the bourgeois society.

Outside these trends one finds Edward Fleming, with the comedy debut – And there's Dancing Afterwards (– og så er der bal bagefter, 1970), about actors on a provincial tour, also the occupation drama Brief Summer (Den korte sommer, 1976) and the transvestite and homosexual comedy Mirror, Mirror (Lille spejl, 1978).

On the children's side: Youth film's heyday

In this period there is one particular genre that breaks through and experiences a golden age, the youth films. Where youth films in the 50s held a moral distance to the amoral and irresponsible younger generation, the 70s youth films were quite loyal and sensitive to the marginalized young, who stood hesitant and perplexed about the challenges of adulthood.

It started with Lasse Nielsen's Leave Us Alone (La' os være, 1975, co-director Ernst Johansen), Morten Arnfred's Me and Charly (Mig og Charly, 1975, co-director Henning Kristiansen) and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's Wanna See My Beatiful Navel? (Vil du se min smukke navle?, 1978), all the above produced by Steen Herdel. These were followed by Morten Arnfred's exemplary Johnny Larsen (1979), which distinguished itself with cinematographer Dirk Brüel's atmospherically packed images. Also Bille August's first film, In My Life (Honning Måne, 1978), dealing with the fragile lives of two young individuals, shows the same sensitivity towards vulnerable youth. With these movies youth film became an iconic brand for Danish cinema.

It's also in the universe of children and youth films that a rather exceptional auteur finds his beginnings. The self-taught Nils Malmros' Lars Ole, 5c (1973) and Boys (Drenge, 1977) can also be viewed as more adult works, where the director with eminent empathy and emotionally commemorative artfulness reconstructs the hopes and pains of childhood and adolescence from his hometown of Aarhus.

Youth cinema is exploited more commercially in films such as Edward Fleming's Traditions, up yours! (Rend mig i traditionerne, 1979) based on Leif Panduro's neo-classic breakthrough novel.

In the animation world, Jannik Hastrup and Flemming Quist Møller's Benny's Bathtub (Bennys badekar,1971) appears, a film in which a boy finds an escape from life in the dreary concrete housing projects around him by using his imagination to go on adventures. It was the definitive breakthrough for a culturally satirical animated movie style, one that takes a demonstrative distance from the classic, more sugary Disney style.

Life in Denmark: 70s Documentaries

The government's Film Central, started in 1938 for the distribution of documentaries, became part of the DFI with the enactment of the 1972-law and became the country's central producer of documentaries.

Among the period's most important documentarians are Jon Bang Carlsen with the portraits Jenny (1977) and A Rich Man (En rig mand, 1979), Frantz Ernst with Livet er en drøm (1972), about the mentally ill, Christian Braad Thomsen with a homeland portrayal Well-Spring off My World (Herfra min verden går, 1976), Jørgen Vestergaard with Dengang jeg drog af sted (1971), about the draft, and Den store dag (1975), about confirmations. Claus Ørsted and Lars Brydesen made a Denmark film with Danske billeder (1970, script by Klaus Rifbjerg). Jørgen Leth continued in the same vein with his chief work Life in Denmark (Livet i Danmark, 1971), which depicts the nation in the form of a kind of anthropological catalogue. He also drew attention with the bicycle sport movies Stars and Water Carriers (Stjernerne og vandbærerne, 1973) and A Sunday in Hell (En forårsdag i helvede, 1976). 
Political documentaries are represented by Nils Vest's Et undertrykt folk har altid ret (1976), about the Palestinian problem, and Jørgen Flindt Pedersen and Erik Stephensen's Your Neighbour's Son (Din nabos søn, 1981), about the executioners of the Greek junta regime.

Film posters from the 1970s

The sexual folk comedy: Bedside films and zodiac films

The removal of censorship of pornographic images in 1969 immediately led to the production of, more or less, explicitly erotic film that for a short while created a worldwide sensation around Danish cinema.

Through the decade, the old, illustrious Palladium made eight so-called "bedside" films, a kind of erotic (and mildly pornographic) folk comedies, which began with John Hilbard's Bedroom Mazurka (Mazurka på sengekanten, 1970). A rival series were the so-called zodiac films (the most of which were directed by Werner Hedman for the companies Con Amore and Happy Film), beginning with In the Sign of the Virgin (I Jomfruens tegn, 1973); they were films of a similar character but with much more explicit erotica and spots of hardcore pornography. Featured in both series was Ole Søltoft lead actor, typically portraying a shy, innocent man who is tempted by, among others, Annie Birgit Garde and Birte Tove, and there were both noteworthy actors and anonymous sex actors in the credits.

The erotic films, which also included Ole Ege's The Bordello (Bordellet, 1972), and received backup support from Gabriel Axel with films such as Amour (1970) and With Love (Med kærlig hilsen, 1971), became a solid export and have remained time-typical national kitsch, where the new sexual liberation met the conventional Danish folk comedy.

The Olsen Gang: folk comedy's last coup

After a down period in the 60s, folk comedy (without an erotic agenda) achieved a revival in the 70s with, first and foremost, Nordisk Film's and Erik Balling's cheerful heist movies about the Olsen Gang, which had Henning Bahs as indispensable co-author, set designer and special effects man.

It started with The Olsen Gang (Olsen-banden, 1968) and The Olsen Gang in A Fix (Olsen-banden på spanden, 1969) without achieving much success, but with The Olsen Gang Plays for High Stakes (Olsen-banden i Jylland, 1971), the concept found just the right form, and up through the 70s the series (with 13 films in all, 1968-81) was the country's most popular film entertainment.

The brilliant, but always-unlucky, gang leader Egon (Ove Sprogøe) and his two hopeless assistants, the wimp Kjeld (Poul Bundgaard) and the dopey Benny (Morten Grunwald), summarized, in the eyes of Denmark, some typical national characteristics, but at the same time achieved a cultish following in, among other places, DDR (German Democratic Republic).

Balling and Nordisk Film joined together with Danmarks Radio and went into tv-production, making the comedy series Huset på Christianshavn (1970-77) and the one of a kind, popular serial Matador (1978-82 creator Lise Nørgaard), which, with its portrayal of life at both the top and the bottom of a Danish provincial town in 1929-47, became a cultural and communal focal point for the nation.


In the 1980s two Danish films win the Oscar for best international film. A humanistic realism characterizes the period's films, which depict every day people anchored in a recognizable Danish reality. Nils Malmros makes a name for himself with his realistic youth films, while Lars von Trier creates an avant-garde breakthrough in Danish cinema. The Film Law is revised again in 1989, and the 50/50-scheme is established to stimulate popular movies.

The Film Laws of 1982 and 1989

In the 1980s Danish films, twice, succeeded at winning an Oscar in Hollywood (as Best International Film), something that had never happened before. At the same time it was a critical period, where production fell to a dangerously low level. In 1982 only seven Danish feature films were released, which altogether sold fewer than one million tickets.

In recognition of the fact that it was especially Danish films that kept movie theaters afloat, the Film Law of 1982 granted significantly more funds to support films. Also, a clause was introduced that at least 25% of the aid would be spent on children's films and youth films.

In the 70s there had been two main paths in Danish film. There were artistic films, which in essence were state-sponsored, and there were mainstream films, which in essence were privately funded. It turned out however, that over the course of the 80s all Danish films were, more or less, reliant upon government support. With the relatively expensive production costs and a small country's very limited population base, only the very successful films could survive on private initiative.

The Film Law was revised again in 1989. To stimulate mainstream films the so-called 50/50 scheme was established (later: 60/40 scheme). This arrangement supported Danish film projects “that were likely to have reasonable opportunity to attract larger audiences” with 50% financing (though at most 3.5 million Danish crowns) if there was private capital behind the other 50%. Usually 25% of an entire year's worth of financial support would be allocated for this purpose. As such, the film support definitively changed from an artistic backing to a cultural backing.

Popular culture, realism and film adaptations: State cinema in the 80s

In mainstream cinema the comedies about Walter and Carlo were period-typical successes, beginning with Per Holst's Walter and Carlo – Up on Daddy's Hat (Walter og Carlo – op på fars hat, 1985), which self-ironically played with the conventions of the genre. But the popular film, which had reached a high point with the Olsen Gang series, had a tough time finding renewal. Balling himself made one last movie, the successful comedy In the Middle of the Night (Midt om natten, 1984) with Kim Larsen and Erik Clausen, a film in which youth revolt and squatters were turned into a folk comedy with songs.

Erik Clausen, with his popular clout as both a self taught director and actor, made films such as The Circus Casablanca (Cirkus Casablanca, 1981) and Rocking Silver (1983), films that jovially engaged on the side of workingmen and circus entertainers. He also tried gloomier themes with the visually experimental The Dark Side of the Moon (Manden i månen, 1986), about a wife murderer who is released from prison. With Rami and Juliet (Rami og Julie, 1988), about a Danish-Palestinian love affair, he was the first to bring multi-ethnic themes into Danish mainstream cinema.

In the realistic tradition there was the gender role satire of Helle Ryslinge's Coeur flambés (Flamberede hjerter, 1986) and Christian Braad Thomsen's Ladies on the Rocks (Koks i kulissen, 1983), while Esben Høilund-Carlsen's Stepping Out (Slingrevalsen, 1981) exhibited the middle generation's ride on the carrousel of love. A more traditional humanistic realism characterizes Kaspar Rostrup's Oscar nominated Waltzing Regitze (Dansen med Regitze, 1989), that celebrates an ordinary woman's life.

The cultured film adaptations, or 'heritage films', making its mark with Kaspar Rostrup's Jeppe of the Hill (Jeppe på bjerget, 1981) based on Holberg's classic play from 1722, entered a new period of success. The first was Gabriel Axel's conventional Oscar-winner Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud, 1987), based on Karen Blixen's story, where a French master chef demonstrates her culinary art before the frugal locals. Next was Bille August's masterful Martin Andersen Nexø film adaptation Pelle the Conqueror (Pelle Erobreren, 1987), which won both an Oscar and the Palme D'Or in Cannes.

The art of humanistic storytelling: Children and youth films in the 80s

The Film Law's new positive special treatment further stimulated the children and youth films that broke through in the mid 70s.

Bille August came into his own in collaboration with author Bjarne Reuter in the surefire childhood and youth portrayals Zappa (1983), The World of Buster (Busters verden,1984) and Twist and Shout (Tro, håb og kærlighed, 1984). His humanistic storytelling and responsive depiction of loneliness and failure reached a moving climax with Pelle the Conqueror (1987), one of Danish films' greatest achievements. The producer was Per Holst, who was also behind many of the period's central films.

Nils Malmros continued his magical art of remembrance with The Tree of Knowledge (Kundskabens Træ, 1981, filmed by Jan Weincke), a modern classic in Danish film about bullying, failure and disappointed love. This was followed by: Beauty and the Beast (Skønheden og udyret, 1983), about a teenage girl and her jealous father, and the self-mocking Århus by Night (1989), about a young film director from Aarhus and his experiences with a Copenhagen film crew.

Coming of Age was a central theme in a number of films such as Linda Wendel's Ballerup Boulevard (1986) and Happiness Is a Curious Catch (Lykken er en underlig fisk, 1989), as well as Astrid Henning-Jensen's Early Spring Barndommens gade, 1986), based on Tove Ditlevsen, and Hans-Henrik Jørgensen's The Story of Kim Skov (Historien om Kim Skov, 1981), Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's Thunderbirds (Isfugle, 1983) and finally Jon Bang Carlsen's symbolically loaded Ophelia Comes to Town (Ofelia kommer til byen, 1985).

Children's movies achieved success first and foremost with Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's Rubber Tarzan (Gummi-Tarzan, 1981), based on the period's most important children's author the cheerfully imaginative Ole Lund Kirkegaard; also Kragh-Jacobsen's Emma's Shadow (Skyggen af Emma, 1988) taking place in 30s Copenhagen, and Erik Clausens Me and Mama Mia (Tarzan Mama Mia, 1988, also: Mig og Mama Mia). There were also animated movies, Jannik Hastrup's organic whale adventure Samson and Sally (Samson og Sally, 1984) which was the first feature length animation since The Tinder Box (Fyrtøjet). Also Anders Sørensen's short The Tale of the Wonderful Potato (Eventyret om den vidunderlige kartoffel, 1985) and as Peter Madsen's popular mythology animation Valhalla (1986), which had veteran Børge Ring as supervisor. He won an Oscar for the short, Dutch produced animation Anna & Bella (1984).

When Warhol ate a burger: Documentaries in the 80s

In the documentary world came Jon Bang Carlsen's portrayals of American existences Hotel of the Stars (1981) and Phoenix Bird (Fugl Fønix, 1984), there was Maj Wechselmann's controversial Ingen Hamlet på Kronborg i år, about the occupation, and Anne Wivel's Ansigt til ansigt (1987), about the pastoral seminary in Copenhagen. Also Katia Forbert Petersen's Mit søde barn (1987), about mothers in the third world, as well as Lars Johansson's Anholt – The Place, The Journey (Anholt – stedet, rejsen, 1988) and Lars Brydesen's Dråben i havet (1985), about ocean pollution. Dola Bonfils' Politiet i virkeligheden (1986) and Dying – A Part of Living (Med døden inde på livet, 1989), were socially and politically engaged films about hospital life and death and Lars Engels' TV-produced Pigerne på Halmtorvet (1992) and Piger i Vestre Fængsel (1992).

Jørgen Leth's most noteworthy works in the period were 66 Scenes from America (66 scener fra Amerika, 1981), where Andy Warhol memorably eats a burger in one long take, and the reflective travel film Notes on Love (Notater om kærligheden,1989), a hybrid between documentary and experimental film.

Film posters from the 1980s

Suffering in the allegorical universe: Breakthrough of the Avant-garde

Leth cultivated experimental films, and so did Jytte Rex, who with images of artistic fantasy created visual myths such as Belladonna (1981) and Isolde (1989). In the experimental video art scene Niels Lomholt and Ane Mette Ruge stood out.

Avant-garde's unexpected breakthrough in new Danish film came, however, with Lars von Trier. After the original graduation film from Danish film school, Befrielsesbilleder (1982), about a German soldier's martyrdom, he debuted with the English language film The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element,1984), which together with the low budget experimental film Epidemic (1987) and the large scale melodrama Europa (1991) composes the so-called Europa-trilogy, a nightmarish vision of a doomed Europe in past, present and future.

Trier, who from the beginning got international attention, created with inspiration from Dreyer, Bergman and Tarkovskij a particular hypnotic postmodern visual style. His ambiguous stories revolve around the downfall of idealism in a demonic world and around suffering in an allegorical universe.


The effect of the 50/50 ordinance becomes visible with the populist comedies of the 1990s. In the mid-90s Danish cinema experiences a generational shift with a new wave of debuting directors and actors. Lars Von Trier achieves his international breakthrough and Dogme movies garner international attention towards Danish films. Zentropa, the company behind Dogme films, establishes itself together with other smaller companies in Film City. The Film Law of 1997 reorganizes The Danish Film Institute and film censorship is abolished.

Folksiness and Mainstream: 90s feature films

In the 1990s the Film Institute's 50/50 scheme is made visible by a series of populist comedies.

It was first and foremost producer Regner Grasten, who took advantage of the ordinance, especially with the popular family films The Crumbs (Krummerne, the first one released in 1991). It was the style of the 1950s and 1960s family series such as Father of Four (Far til fire) and Min søsters børn, which were revived with great commercial success. More time appropriate was the youth comedy Love at First Hiccough (Kærlighed ved første hik, 1999), which became the first film of the successful series about Anja and Viktor (Anja og Viktor). Grasten was also behind more ambitious projects such as Peter Schrøder's successful Stolen Spring (Det forsømte forår, 1991), based on Hans Scherfig's satirical school novel; also Just a Girl (Kun en pige, 1995) based on journalist Lise Nørgaard's memoires.

Coming of age films such as Birger Larsen's Dance of the Polar Bear (Lad isbjørnene danse, 1990) and Eddie Thomas Petersen's Spring Tide (Springflod, 1990) focused on youth and growing up, as did more broadly targeted films such as Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's The Boys from St. Petri (Drengene fra Sankt Petri, 1991), about youth resistance fighters against the German occupation, and Malmros' complex portrait of a young woman's psychological derailment in Pain of Love (Kærlighedens smerte, 1992).

The youth theme was also central in Ole Bornedal's horror film Nightwatch (Nattevagten, 1994), filmed by Dan Laustsen. The film marked a striking break from the traditionally gentle Danish storytelling and instead offered robust entertainment, which can be traced to Hollywood-like dramaturgy and genre awareness. On the other hand Erik Clausen's Fish Out of Water (De frigjorte, 1993), focused on unemployment's devastating effect on self-esteem in everyday Denmark.

Among the new directors who arrived on the scene early in this period were Lone Scherfig, with the bittersweet comedy The Birthday Trip (Kajs fødselsdag, 1990) and Susanne Bier with the Swedish-Jewish family drama Freud leaving Home (Freud flyttar hemifrån, 1991). Afterwards, both directors had big breakthroughs. First Bier with the romantic comedy The One and Only (Den eneste ene, 1999), which with 843.284 tickets sold is newer Danish film's biggest box office success, followed by Scherfig with the Dogme film Italian for Beginners (Italiensk for begyndere, 2000), also a romantic comedy, which was seen by approximately 820.000 Danes and was widely distributed internationally.

Also worth mentioning is the director duo Michael Wikke and Steen Rasmussen with the subtle poetic Russian Pizza Blues (1992) and Morten Henriksen with the handsomely realized film adaptations The Naked Trees (De nøgne træer, 1991), based on Tage Skou-Hansen and The Magnetist's Fifth Winter (Magnetisørens femte vinter, 1999), based on Per Olov Enquist.

In children's films Peter Flinth's medieval drama Eye of the Eagle (Ørnens øje, 1997) offered handsome historical adventurism. Some animated features were Jannik Hastrup's War of the Birds (Fuglekrigen i kanøfleskoven, 1990, script by Bent Haller), a bird fable about tyranny and solidarity, and Quist Møller and Stefan Fjeldmark's more Disney-like Jungle Jack (Jungledyret, 1993), produced by the company A.Film. Finally Jørgen Vestergaard's The Snooks (Snøvsen, 1992), from Benny Andersen's children's books, combined live action and puppetry.

International breakthrough: Bille August and Lars von Trier

Bille August's Academy Award breakthrough led him away from Danish film. At first he directed with overwhelming psychological intensity the Swedish The Best Intentions (Den gode vilje, 1992, including the television mini-series), based on Ingmar Bergman's screenplay about his parents, and won a second Palme d'Or. Then came the international, but conventional bestseller film adaptions such as The House of the Spirits (1993, Åndernes hus), by Isabel Allende, and Smilla's Sense of Snow (Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne, 1997), by Peter Høgh, both with German producer (Bernd Eichinger), and finally an American version of the perennial Les misérables (1998).

After Lars von Trier had completed his Europa-trilogy with the visually innovative melodrama Europa (1991), filmed by Dreyer cinematographer Henning Bendtsen, he went to DR (Denmarks Radio) and started the television series The Kingdom (Riget, 1994, followed by The Kingdom II (Riget II, 1997). The highly entertaining mix of horror and comedy centring on the eccentric personalities at Rigshospitalet (Copenhagen University Hospital) was a great popular breakthrough for Trier. But the series also offered an experimental visual style with handheld cameras, grainy pictures and ostentatious violation of traditional movie narrative conventions that were the prelude to the concept of Dogme film, presented in the manifesto Dogme 95. His next film, however, was the intense melodrama Breaking the Waves (1996), which combined sexual debasement with religious devotion, told in a raw, handheld visual style. It became a big international breakthrough.

Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves (1996). Photo: Rolf Konow.

The new new wave: Succession in the 90s

It was also here in the mid-1990s that Danish cinema experienced a young breakthrough, a kind of new wave of debutants.

Besides Bornedal's Nightwatch (1994), the most noticeable elements were the grim violence from Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher (1996) and the subsequent Bleeder (1999), both of which told stories from the Copenhagen underworld in a Tarantino-like style; the socially satirical warmth from Lotte Svendsen in the long short feature Royal Blues (1997) and her feature film debut Gone with the Fish (Bornholms stemme, 1999); the improvised ease in the acting with Jonas Elmer in Let's Get Lost (1997); the focusing on the immigrant community by Ole Christian Madsen in his short Sinan's Wedding (Sinans bryllup, 1997) and the debut feature film Pizza King (1999); and the humanistic commitment from Thomas Vinterberg, who before The Greatest Heroes (De største helte, 1996), with a screenplay by Bo Hr. Hansen, had distinguished himself with two masterful short films: The End (Sidste omgang, 1993, graduation film from The Danish Film School) and The Boy Who Walked Backwards (Drengen der gik baglæns, 1994).

Also a new generation of actors made their mark such as Sidse Babett Knudsen, Paprika Steen, Iben Hjejle, Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, Ulrich Thomsen, Anders W. Berthelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and later also Thure Lindhardt and Nicolas Bro, several of which have received international assignments.

This new breakthrough, which created a wave of optimism in Danish film, was also stimulated by the institution Novellefilm (originally Dansk Novellefilm), which between 1994-2002 served as a kind of breeding ground especially for young directors, including Lotte Svendsen with Royal Blues, Jonas Elmer with Let's Get Lost and Henrik Ruben Genz with the Oscar nominated Theis and Nico (Bror min bror, 1998). In 2003 the job was taken over by Talentudvikling, later: New Danish Screen.

Dogme film and the Vow of Chastity

The new measures, which really came to influence Danish films in this period, however, came with the movement Dogme 95. Lars von Trier wrote the manifesto together with Thomas Vinterberg and presented it in Paris March 20, 1995 as part of the celebration of cinema's 100-year anniversary.

The manifesto was a protest against the time's superficial, technological and economically overloaded movie style, especially Hollywood's. Instead, they championed for a truer, simpler mode of production — as specified in the "Vow of Chastity's Ten Commandments"— including: required use of authentic locations without adding props; simultaneous recording of sound and image (which excludes background music); hand-held camera without lighting; and renouncing all forms of visual editing.

The four so-called Dogme Brothers were behind the first films. Vinterberg's The Celebration (Festen, 1998), masterfully filmed by Anthony Dod Mantle attracted international attention with its powerful story about family secrets and lies (with Mogens Rukov as co-author, based on an unaccredited radio broadcast). Most radical was Trier's own The Idiots (Idioterne, 1998), about a collective searching for their "inner idiot."

Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's Mifune (Mifunes sidste sang, 1999), where a successful businessman returns to the countryside brought new vitality to the home movie, while Kristian Levring's English language The King Is Alive (2000), about a bunch of travellers stranded in an African desert, had allegorical character.

The Dogme Brothers who were documented in Jesper Jargil's The Purified (De lutrede, 2002) collaborated on the bizarre television production, D-Day, with four parallel stories broadcast simultaneously on four channels in the hours around New Year, 2000.

Several of the Dogme films won awards, and Dogme was a major movement, which sparked widespread international attention to Danish film. The movement's success continued into the new millennium with Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners (2000), Åke Sandgren's Truly Human (Et rigtigt menneske, 2001), Ole Christian Madsen's Kira's Reason – A Love Story (En kærlighedshistorie, 2001), Susanne Bier's Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt, 2002), Natasha Arthy's Old, New, Borrowed and Blue (Se til venstre, der er en svensker, 2003) and - as the last of the total of 10 Danish Dogme films - Annette K. Olesen's In Your Hands (Forbrydelser, 2004).

The companies behind the Dogme films were Zentropa, founded in 1992 by Lars von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen, and Nimbus Film, established in 1993 with Vinterberg as the central figure. Together with several smaller companies they settled in studio facilities and administrative offices in 1999 in Film City, located in Avedøre in Copenhagen in disused barracks.

Series production: new departures in Danish television fiction

A significant factor in Danish film from the mid-90s was TV fiction's new breakthrough that distinguished itself through a string of successful television series. It was partly the more unique, artistically ambitious initiatives such as Lars von Trier's innovative Kingdom (1994, 1997 - 8 episodes) and Ole Bornedal's Charlot & Charlotte (1996 - 4 episodes), but equally important was the fact that DR generally abandoned TV games and television films, that in previous decades had been important formats, and now focused exclusively on series.

The central creative force in this evolution was the writing brothers Stig and Peter Thorsboe, that after some attempts – The Village (Landsbyen, 1991-96 - 44 episodes) and the thriller Blændet (1992) - broke through with Taxa (1997-99 - 56 episodes), which with trendsetting success presented TV series fiction with American-oriented dramaturgy and effective cinematic form.

Film posters from the 1990s

Artist portraits: Documentaries in the 90s

In the 1990s documentary portrait films were the dominant trend. Among the many artist portraits were Anne Wivel's originally formed Søren Kierkegaard (1994); Tómas Gislason's Heart and Soul (Fra hånden til hjertet,1994), about Jørgen Leth; Christian Braad Thomsen's Karen Blixen Storyteller (1995); Torben Skjødt Jensen's Carl Th. Dreyer – My Metier (Carl Th. Dreyer – Min metier, 1995); Jesper Jargil's Per Kirkeby – vinterbillede (1996); Jytte Rex's Inger Christensen, The Cicadas Exists (Inger Christensen – Cikaderne findes, 1998); and Leth's congenial Søren Ulrik Thomsen: Poet (Jeg er levende – Søren Ulrik Thomsen, digter, 1999), where film and poetry come together to form a synthesis.

But there are also orientations to the rest of the world: Jørgen Leth's Haiti. Untitled (Haiti. Uden titel, 1996), Jon Bang Carlsen's Addicted to Solitude (1999), from South Africa, and Jacob Thuesen's Under New York (1996), about everyday fates in the big city's subway. Also the smaller world is portrayed; Klaus Kjeldsen's children's documentary A moment (Et øjeblik, 1999),Dan Säll's Homo Lalandiense (1998), about Lolland and its inhabitants, and Anja Dalhoff's Babylon i Brøndby (1996), about the multi-ethnic Brøndby Strand outside of Copenhagen.

Political documentaries include Nils Vest's Christiania, du har mit hjerte (1991), about life in the alternative community, but were especially cultivated by television, including Alex Frank Larsen's Blodets bånd (1990), whose revelations of the so-called Tamil affair contributed to the Conservative government's fall in 1993. Controversial and investigative journalism was also to be found in Steen Baadsgaard and Jørgen Pedersen's Dømt for mord (1990), which led to the offender's release.

Jørgen Leth's Søren Ulrik Thomsen: A Danish Poet (1999).

New Film Law of 1997

With the new Film Law of 1997, the Danish Film Institute reorganized (with Henning Camre as leader 1998-2007), so that the National Film Board (SFC) and the Danish Film Museum were absolved as independent institutions, but whose functions were brought together under one roof at the Film Institute's Film House, with address on Gothersgade, Copenhagen. Film censorship was abolished entirely, so that children over seven years of age have access to all films if an adult accompanies them. Instead the Media Council for Children and Youth was established, which establishes which age groups the films (and games) are suitable for.


After the millennium popular film is composed of sequels, romantic comedies and "male action" movies. Mainstream film achieves success with attempts of classical genres and depictions of the class scheme in Denmark. DFI's talent development system New Danish Screen is created to enhance the development of film's formal language and narrative. Particularly noticeable in the documentary genre is a new documentary style that breaks through in the new millennium.

Organization and principal genres

The Danish Film Institute is the central organizational element in contemporary Danish films but also television (with DR and TV2) has influence. Since 1999 it has been established that every four years politicians have a so-called movie settlement that sets the economic framework for Danish films in the following period.

The institute's business, led by CEO Henrik Bo Nielsen since 2007, is divided into three main areas: Production & Development – in charge of support for feature films, shorts, and documentaries as well as the New Danish Screen; Audience & Systems –responsible for supporting the promotion and sale of Danish film as well as audience services of various kinds; and the Museum & Cinematheque – which stands for Cinemateque's film program, library and film archives as well as poster and photo archives, including restoration and protection of the film heritage. 
Contemporary Danish feature films can be divided into three main categories – popular films, mainstream films and art films. There are indeed movies that overlap categories, but generally speaking production can be divided into popular films (mostly funded through 60/40 scheme), mainstream films (mostly supported through the consultant scheme), and art films, understood to be more experimental artistic films (mostly supported through the consultant scheme or the New Danish Screen scheme).

Film education takes place at The Danish Film School (since 1992 with Poul Nesgaard as leader), but also on alternative paths such as Super 16 (since 1999) and the European Film College in Ebeltoft (since 1993) as well as University of Copenhagen (Film and Media Studies).

The central production companies are Zentropa Entertainments (Peter Aalbæk Jensen, Vibeke Windeløv, Ib Tardini, Meta Louise Foldager, Sisse Graum Jørgensen), which since 2008 has had Nordisk Film as co-owner. Also Nimbus Film (Bo Erhardt, Birgitte Hald), Grasten Filmproduktion (Regner Grasten), M&M Productions (Tivi and Kim Magnusson), Thura Film (Michael Obel), ASA Film Production (Henrik Møller-Sørensen), Fine & Mellow (Thomas Gammeltoft), Cosmo Film (Rasmus Thorsen, Thomas Hostrup-Larsen); Angel Film (Mogens Glad, Poul Erik Lindeborg) and the internationally anchored animation company A. Film.

Sequels and action flicks: The popular movies since the millennium

The current 60/40 scheme (an update 50/50 scheme, introduced in 1989), which can support up to 60% of a budget was introduced in 1999 (in reality however, government support is around 40%). The scheme ensures the production of popular movies with a success criterion of 175,000 tickets sold.

Film series, sequels to popular films, often called 'Roman number films', is still a typical model in Danish popular movies. There are feel-good family films, based on classic models, like the new My Sister's Kids (Min søsters børn) and Father of Four (Far til fire), and there is the popular Anja & Viktor series that began with Love at First Hiccough (Kærlighed ved første hik) in 1999, offering fresh romances for young people.

Charlotte Sachs Bostrup's Anja after Viktor (2003). Photo: Lars Høgsted.

A more grown-up form of comedy, which turns the genre away from folk comedies and family comedies and towards romantic comedy that focuses on partner choices and lifestyle decisions, broke through with Susanne Bier's The One and Only (Den eneste ene, 1999) and afterwards with Lone Scherfig's Dogme film Italian for Beginners (Italiensk for begyndere, 2000), which is among the most internationally successful Danish films. Other typical comedies are Hella Joof's homosexual comedy Shake it All About (En kort en lang, 2001), Gert Fredholm's At klappe med een hånd (2001) and Morten Arnfred's Move Me (Lykkevej, 2003).

Lone Scherfig's Italian for Beginners (2000). Photo: Lars Høgsted.

A key figure in the popular new movie is Anders Thomas Jensen, who, as a screenwriter, has delivered with great skill in many genres, but delivers his most original work in the popular action comedies, 'guy flicks', where low-comical, loser-types are central.

His manuscript for In China They Eat Dogs (I Kina spiser de hunde, 1999, directed by Lasse Spang Olsen and produced without government support) paved the way for the genre's Danish possibilities. He continued with manuscripts for, among others, Stealing Rembrandt (Rembrandt, 2003, directed by Jannik Johansen), Clash of Egos (Sprængfarlig bombe, 2006) and At World's End (Ved verdens ende, 2009, both directed by Tomas Villum Jensen) as well as his own films Flickering Lights (Blinkende lygter, 2000) and notably Adam's Apples (Adams æbler, 2005), which masterfully combines flippant violent comedy with an allegorical fable about good and evil.

Anders Thomas Jensen's Flickering Lights (2000). Photo: Rolf Konow.

Denmark's class system, board games and genre films: Mainstream film since the millennium

Central in contemporary Danish cinema are Per Fly's films, the much seen and highly praised trilogy about lower, middle and upper class-Denmark, The Bench (Bænken, 2000), Inheritance (Arven, 2003) and Manslaughter (Drabet, 2005). It is not social realism, but a kind of sociological melodrama, which ambitiously paints a picture of the nation by using individual fates to create powerful drama. Melodrama is also used by Susanne Bier with the Dogme films Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt, 2002), Brothers (Brødre, 2004, remade by Jim Sheridan in 2009) and the Oscar nominated After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet, 2006), which lead her to Hollywood with Things We Lost in the Fire (2007).

Per Fly's The Bench (2000). Photo: Ole Kragh-Jacobsen.

A strong trend is realistic everyday dramas such as Jesper W. Nielsen's Okay(2002), Annette K. Olesen's Minor Mishaps (Små ulykker, 2002), the Dogme film In Your Hands (Forbrydelser, 2004), Paprika Steen's Aftermath (Lad de små børn, 2004), Jacob Thuesen's Accused (Anklaget, 2005) and Ole Christian Madsen's Prague (Prag, 2006). All these films have manuscripts by Kim Fupz Aakeson, who, next to Anders Thomas Jensen, is the most important scriptwriter in the period. He broke through with the romantic comedy, The One and Only, but has particularly distinguished himself with subdued, intense chamber pieces that focus on couples and family life's painful moments.

Nils Malmros continues with his remembrance projects, Facing the Truth (At kende sandheden , 2002) about his doctor-father, and Aching Hearts (Kærestesorger, 2009) about high school. Childhood memories are also central in Niels Arden Oplev's We Shall Overcome (Drømmen, 2006) and Peter Schønau Fog's The Art of Crying (Kunsten at græde i kor, 2006) based on Erling Jepsen's novel about growing up in a traumatized southern Jutland family.

Niels Arden Oplev's We Shall Overcome (2006). Photo: Ole Kragh-Jacobsen; Thomas Petri.

Otherwise it is striking that the classic genres are tested more fearlessly than before. The thriller has gained ground, first and foremost with Nikolaj Arcel's King's Game (Kongekabale, 2004), which in effective Hollywood style reveals political rot; also Nicolas Winding Refn's Oedipus themed gangster drama Pusher 2 (2004), Bornedal's neo-noir Just Another Love Story (Kærlighed på film, 2007) and Rumle Hammerich's Headhunter (2009). A popular success was Ole Christian Madsen's Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen, 2008), using two authentic tragic figures, it paints a less than heroic picture of the years of the German occupation. Niels Arden Oplev had international success with the Swedish crime film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Mænd der hader kvinder, 2009,) based on Stieg Larsson's bestseller. On the fringes of the genre one finds Henrik Ruben Genz's Terribly Happy (Frygtelig lykkelig, 2008), a rather original black humor 'regional crime film' based on Erling Jepsen's novel.

Henrik Ruben Genz's Terribly Happy (2008). Photo: Thomas Marott.

Arcel who is also a central screenwriter for other directors' films including Catch That Girl (Klatretøsen, 2002, Hans Fabian Wullenweber), an action movie for kids, as well as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, continued with the children's film Island of Lost Souls (De fortabte sjæles ø, 2007), the first convincing Danish bid on a fantasy film with 3D effects.

In the genre of children and youth films there is also Christina Rosendahl's Triple Dare (Supervoksen, 2006) and Natasha Arthy's Fighter (2007), about female adolescence. Most original was Stefan Fjeldmark et al.'s Terkel in Trouble (Terkel i knibe, 2004), the first Danish feature film in 3D animation, based on a radio play by Anders Matthesen, who also supplied all the voices. With its pungent satire, and its grotesque methods, it showcased an effective modernization of Danish children's films.

Stefan Fjeldmark, Kresten Vestbjerg Andersen and Thorbjørn Christoffersen's Terkel in Trouble (2004).

Obstructions and chalk lines: Art film since the millennium

The more exclusive, aesthetically experimental art film appeals to a fairly narrow audience. The success criterion is not so much the number of tickets sold, but rather respectful reviews and prestigious prizes at international festivals.

An important figure in the period, Christoffer Boe, who broke through with Reconstruction (2003), a subtle love story on several levels, meta and otherwise, followed by the allegorical Allegro (2005), about an artist locked inside his art, and Offscreen (2006), where the protagonist is an actor with a mounted camera recording his own demonic destruction.

Christoffer Boe's Reconstruction (2003). Photo: Linn Sandholm.

In the exclusive category one can also find Pernille Fischer Christensen's psychologically sensitive A Soap (En soap, 2006), written by Fupz Aakeson about a woman in crisis and a transsexual awaiting a sex change operation. The film was, like Offscreen, produced by New Danish Screen, which under the name Talentudvikling (earlier: Dansk Novellefilm / Novellefilm) was established in 2003 to "support and inspire the development of film's formal language and narrative." Other films in this scheme were Anders Morgenthaler's harsh animation Princess (2006) and feature film Echo (Ekko, 2007), Martin de Thurah's short Young Man Falling (Ung mand falder, 2007) as well as Martin Zandvliet's award winning feature film debut Applause (Applaus, 2009), about an actress in personal crisis.

The art film includes works such as Åke Sandgren's Dogme film Truly Human (Et rigtigt menneske, 2001), a fable about a stranger in Danish society, Jytte Rex's Silk Road (Silkevejen, 2004), about a journey into death, and Simon Staho's formalistically intense story of a tragic mother figure, Daisy Diamond (2007).

Pernille Fischer Christensen's A Soap (2006). Photo: Lars Wahl; Erik Molberg Hansen

In the most extensive avant-garde of the period the chief work is artists Michael Kvium and Christian Lemmerz's The Wake (2000), an eight-hour silent, musically accompanied visual stream, which reflects on life and nature in a James Joyce-inspired association of images.

The main figure in art films is still Lars von Trier, whose experimental cinema literally pushes the boundaries. He won the Palme d'Or for Dancer in the Dark (2000), a tragic musical, with the Icelandic singer Björk in the lead role (and composer). In The Five Obstructions (De fem benspænd, 2003) the bizarre premise was that Jørgen Leth was to make new versions of his short film The Perfect Human (Det perfekte menneske) from specific rules and limitations that were devised by von Trier.

Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005) were a part of the incomplete USA trilogy. Through ironic and instructive stories about the much-afflicted heroine in Depression plagued America, it analyzes the human psyche and social mechanisms, constructed with a Brecht-inspired stylization of a film studio with suggested decorations and white lines on the floor. Most recently came the enigmatically symbolic Antichrist (2009), about woman's nature and nature's cruelty.

Lars von Trier's Antichrist (2009). Photo: Christian Geisnæs; Tom Trambow

The big world: Internationalization in Danish film

Since the advent of sound Danish film has mainly had national distribution, reserved for the small, local world. Throughout history there have been initiatives for Nordic cooperation, as some popular movies, for example, were parallel recorded in both Danish and Swedish versions during the 1930s and 40s. In the 70s and later several attempts were made to penetrate the international market, out in the big world. But Bent Christensen's The Only Way (Oktober-dage, 1970), Balling's One of Those Things (Hændeligt uheld, 1971), Carlsen's French language A Happy Divorce (Une divorce heureux, 1975) and Bang Carlsen's Time Out (1988) demonstrated clearly that these kind of international attempts had trouble finding a home.

The exception is Lars von Trier, who from the beginning managed to emerge as an international film artist whose films, in most cases are in English with international actors and Danish producers. His early films contributed to the fact that the Film Law of 1989 withdrew the rule that Danish films should be in Danish.

There are Danish directors who have made foreign films abroad - Bille August with German and American films, Bornedal with the American version of Nightwatch (1997), based on his own debut film, Susanne Bier with Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) and Lone Scherfig with the English An Education (2009), which was Oscar-nominated in three categories.

Susanne Bier's Things We Lost in the Fire (2007).

But there are also films such as Bornedal's I Am Dina (2002) based on a popular Norwegian novel with Danish, Swedish, English and French actors all speaking English in a Norwegian setting, Lone Scherfig's Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002) filmed in Scotland with local actors, Nicolas Winding Refn's Fear X (2003) and Valhalla Rising (2010), Thomas Vinterberg's It's All about Love (2003) and Dear Wendy (2005) as well as Kragh-Jacobsen's The Island on Bird Street (1997) and Skagerrak (2003).

Here the internationalization of Danish-made, English-language films makes its mark, made as European co-productions by a wide variety of corporations and foundations. The result is often a product of diffused nationality, a so-called 'Euro-pudding', films that despite their quality have difficulty finding an audience, both home and away.

Thomas Vinterberg's It's All about Love (2003). Photo: Per Arnesen.

Crime pays: heyday of Danish television fiction

Danish television drama has experienced a new golden age through a series of successful TV series, where the author stands out as the central creative force.

Stig and Peter Thorsboe continued together or separately (with, sometimes, respectively Hanna Lundblad and Mai Brostrøm as co-authors) with the crime series Unit One (Rejseholdet, 2000-04 - 32 episodes), The Eagle (Ørnen, 2004-05 - 24 episodes) and The Protectors (Livvagterne, 2009-10 - 20 episodes); TV2 followed up with Eddie Thomas Petersen's Island Cop (Strisser på Samsø, 1997-98 - 12 episodes). Most successful was Stig Thorsboe's Better Times (Krøniken, 2004-07 - 22 episodes), which cleverly combined TV's media history in Denmark with a family drama based on Danish society in the period 1949-72.

Also popular were author Søren Sveistrup's couple relationship series Nikolaj & Julie (2002 - 22 episodes) and the crime series The Killing (Forbrydelsen, 2007 - 20 segments) and The Killing (Forbrydelsen II, 2009 - 6 segments). More artistically ambitious was instructor-led mini-series such as Ole Christian Madsen's post-occupation drama Edderkoppen (2000 - 6 parts) and Per Fly's Forestillinger (2007 - 6 parts).

These series, which have also had international success (among other things, garnering three Emmy's), have supported the general trend of American influenced genre orientation and has also given the Danish production environment an important opportunity for fulfilment and professional learning, especially for many of the period's key filmmakers - including Niels Arden Oplev, Per Fly, Lone Scherfig, Henrik Ruben Genz, Ole Christian Madsen and Rumle Hammerich.

The personal and the universal: Documentaries since the millennium

Documentaries continued with mature works such as Jørgen Leth's New Scenes from America (Nye scener fra Amerika, 2003), Anne Wivel's The Land of Human Beings - My Film about Greenland (Menneskenes land - min film om Grønland, 2006), Morten Henriksen's With a Right to Kill (Med ret til at dræbe, 2003), about the executions of informers during the occupation, and Ole Roos' portrait films Ib Schønberg (2000) and At skrive eller dø (2006) about Henrik Stangerup.

Most notable is the new documentarism, which fruitfully breaks through in the new millennium. Sami Saif and Phie Ambo'sFamily (2001) makes the private public in the story about Saif's attempt to find his Arabic father. Also in Max Kestner's stroke of genius, the short Max by Chance (Rejsen på ophavet, 2004), the autobiographical is crossed with the universal. With a similar optic Niels Frandsen's Epidemien (2001) looks at the big polio epidemic of 1952.

Max Kestner's Max by Chance (2004).

Pernille Rose Grønkjær's The Monastery (2006) portraits two eccentric personalities, Asger Leth's Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006) portrays gang life in Haiti from the inside, and Anders Østergaard gives us the imaginative artist portraits Tintin and I (Tintin et moi, 2003), about the cartoonist Hergé, and Gasolin' (2006), about the Danish rock group, which also sold the most tickets of any Danish documentary.

The political documentary is represented with Tómas Gislason's visually innovative Maximum Penalty (Den højeste straf, 2000), about the tragic destinies of two Danes in Stalin's Soviet Union. Eva Mulvad's Ennemies of Happiness (Vores lykkes fjender, 2006), about a female Afghan politician, Christoffer Guldbrandsen's controversial TV-documentary The Secret War (Den hemmelige krig, 2006), about Danish special force's delivering of Afghani prisoners to the American forces in direct violation of the Geneva convention, Dagbog fra midten (2009), a kind of political comedy about the political party Ny Alliance's short trip from success to failure, as well as Anders Østergaard's Oscar nominated Burma VJ - Reporting from a Closed Country (Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land, 2008), shot illegally by video reporters in Burma. Important are also Max Kestner's Denmark film The World in Denmark (Verden i Danmark, 2006) as well as Pictures of Power (Magtens billeder, 2004), a series of 12 documentaries, where changing directors undertake to critically impact social debate.

In the intersection between documentary and fiction lies Morten Hartz Kapler's mockumentary AFR (2007) about the assassination of a Danish premier minister.

Anders Østergaard's Burma VJ - Reporting from a Closed Country (2008).

Film posters from the 00s