Danish docs triumph at Sundance

SUNDANCE. Jonas Poher Rasmussen's 'Flee' and Camilla Nielsson's 'President' took home top prizes at Sundance, as the festival celebrated this year's winners during Tuesday night's awards show. The two films, both produced by Final Cut for Real, have garnered rave reviews from international critics.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival announced their awards Tuesday night, with the list of winners including the two Danish documentaries 'Flee' and 'President'.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for best international documentary went to Jonas Poher Rasmussen for his animated 'Flee'. The film offers a gripping account of how the director's close friend Amin arrived in Denmark as a young refugee from Afghanistan 25 years ago.

Camilla Nielsson's 'President', chronicling Zimbabwe's tumultuous 2018 presidential election as seen through the struggle of the opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa, received the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Vérité Filmmaking. The festival's special prizes are, overall, a tribute to excellence in the craft of filmmaking and are given in the fields that are deemed appropriate by the respective juries.

Sheer ingenuity

Shortly after its world premiere at Sundance on 28 January, 'Flee' was bought for American distribution by Neon, the indie company behind the Oscar winning 'Parasite'. British actor Riz Ahmed and his Danish colleague Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are set to voice the lead roles as Amin and Jonas Poher Rasmussen, respectively, in an English-language version of the film to debut later this year.

Jonas Poher Rasmussen, who has directed the documentary films 'Searching for Bill' (2012) and 'What He Did' (2015), was hailed by international critics for his new film.

"There have been countless movies about the immigration crisis, but none of them have the sheer ingenuity of 'Flee'," says IndieWire, furthermore characterising the film as "activism, therapy, and great cinema all at once".

The Guardian praises the film as a "remarkably humanising and complex film, expanding and expounding the kind of story that’s too easily simplified. Rasmussen has created a loving and unsparing tribute to his friend, a brave survivor whose story I’ll find impossible to forget."

The Hollywood Reporter describes the film as a "powerful and poetic memoir of personal struggle and self-discovery that expands the definition of documentary," while Variety applauds it for its "unconventional portrait" and sees it as "an incredibly intimate act of sharing". For Screen Daily, "Rasmussen's consideration of one man’s journey sheds light on the emotional legacy that can linger even after sanctuary is found".

'Flee' will be celebrating its European premiere in the Nordic competition at Göteborg Film Festival, ending 8 February.

Epic-scale docuthriller

‘President’, Camilla Nielsson’s follow-up to her festival hit ‘Democrats’ from 2014, also had a great start following its premiere at Sundance.

"A remarkable story of bravery and determination against daunting odds," writes Screen Daily, also emphasising the work of DoP Henrik Bohsen Ibsen, who "really captures the atmosphere of Zimbabwe: the dust and the decay, the motorcades, elaborate villas, feverish expectations and grinding corruption."

"The way this film confronts the fragility of democracy and the ever-looming possibility of violence hit home for this American viewer in a way that was both harrowing and humbling," says New York Times.

"An election documentary in which you'll actually find yourself on the 'stop the steal' side, Camilla Nielsson's brilliant 'President' is the follow-up I was hoping for to her brilliant 'Democrats'," Variety's critic shares in a tweet, also naming the film a "gut-punch" and an "epic-scale docuthriller".

About the films

'Flee', which received the Cannes Official Selection stamp in June 2020, is produced by Monica Hellström and Signe Byrge Sørensen for Final Cut for Real and co-produced by Charlotte de La Gournerie of Sun Creature (Denmark), Vivement Lundi (France), Most Film (Sweden) and Mer Film (Norway), in collaboration with broadcasters ARTE France and VPRO in Holland. A domestic release is set for later this year.

'President' is produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen and Joslyn Barnes. Denmark's Final Cut for Real is co-producing with Louverture Films (US) and Sant & Usant (Norway).

Both films are supported by the Danish Film Institute.

About Sundance

Sundance Film Festival took place as a primarily online event from 28 January to 3 February. See more at sundance.org.

Danish cinema has been strongly represented at Sundance the last few decades. In the past five years awardwinners includes 'Queen of Hearts', 'Cold Case Hammarskjöld', 'the Guilty' and 'Last Men in Aleppo'.