True Stories

Three new documentary films each follow an individual on a mission.

Shadow of a Hero

Laurits Munch-Petersen goes all out to find the truth about his grandfather who died in the Spanish Civil War.

Gustaf Munch-Petersen, a poet and Denmark's first true Surrealist painter, in 1937 abandoned his pregnant wife and one-year-old daughter without warning to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. When he was killed four months later, just 26 years old, he became an icon of the civil war volunteers and one of the great young dead of Danish literature. But for his family it was an entirely different story.

"My grandfather's death cast a shadow on my family that is three generations long," Laurits Munch-Petersen says. "When I decided to make a film about him, I quickly realised that my grandmother held the key to his story. She made him a taboo after he vanished. Later, she disowned my mother and she has wanted nothing to do with me, either. My film has become a very personal documentary about finding the truth about your family – and preventing the shadow from falling on the next generation."

In the film, Munch-Petersen travelsfrom his grandmother's home and continues in his grandfather's foot-steps to the red mountains near Ebro, Spain, where his grandfather fell in 1938. With him on his journey he took Anders Østergaard (1989, Burma VJ), who co-wrote the film's script.

"Together we arrived at a narrative style where we mix all conceivable genres, formats, times and dreams – entirely in my grandfather's surrealist spirit," Munch-Petersen says. But the film is also another kind of journey, back to the director's filmic roots.

"Having made two genre features with all the expectations and demands that entails, I needed to work more freely – like when I used to film with my first Super8 camera before film school."

The director won an Oscar, a Student Academy Award, for his graduation film Between Us and has directed the two fiction features Over the Edge and Ambulance.

Produced by Fridthjof Film, release 3 June.

Natural Disorder

Naturens-uorden"Natural Disorder" Photo: Anders Ladegaard

Christian Sønderby Jepsen and his protagonist, a comedian with cerebral palsy, compel us to reflect on identity and the meaning of life.

Recent advances in medicine are bringing us closer to manufacturing the genetically perfect human existence. A life without disabilities. A normal life.

Jacob Nossell, 24, though whip-smart, hardly fits into the concept of a "normal" life. Because he has cerebral palsy, his movement and speech are noticeably challenged. With his intellect intact in an unwieldy body, Jacob embodies the strangling limitations of the concept of normalcy: he is too disabled to be accepted as normal and too normal to accept his fate. Taking action, Jacob puts on a play to once and for all set things straight.

Tracking Jacob, Christian Sønderby Jepsen confronts our idea of what's "normal," asking the ultimate question: Does someone like Jacob have the right to live? We follow Jacob as the play comes together, from the gathering of empirical evidence from doctors, scientists and philosophers to the performance at Denmark's National Theatre, and bear witness to the sometimes painful experiences Jacob has along the way.

"Jacob is constantly banging his head against the wall as he encounters the world," Sønderby Jepsen says. "In a split second he's judged and pigeonholed. But the more you get to know him, the more his physical disability falls away and a genuine, intelligent young man with fighting spirit and humour emerges. I want to show the audience this transformation."

Jacob Nossell, a journalist and comedian, is known for his leading role in Mads Brügger's Sundance winner The Red Chapel, a documentary satire about the world’s worst dictatorship in North Korea. Sønderby Jepsen has garnered attention for films such as The Will and Blood Ties.

Produced by Moving Documentary, release 7 October.



Motley's Law


Motleys-law"Motley's Law" Framegrab

Nicole N. Horanyi tracks the audacious American attorney Kimberley Motley and her work in the Afghan justice system.

A former Miss Wisconsin, Kimberley Motley, 38, is the only foreign, and the only female, lawyer licensed to litigate in Afghan courts. But after five years in Afghanistan, threats and the general conditions are making it increasingly difficult for her to go on. Motley made great sacrifices to get where she is. Her three children, aged five, eight and sixteen, live in North Carolina and she sees them only two-three months a year.

Initially, Motley's decision to become a defence attorney in Afghanistan was financially motivated. But gradually the underdeveloped Afghan justice system, the absence of women's rights and the ubiquitous corruption stoked her desire to fight for justice in the country. But time is running out. No one knows what’s in store for the Afghans once the last international forces are pulled out.

"Kimberley is an incredibly multi-faceted person.This complex image of a woman was what attracted me. How do you live your life in two such different worlds – between a warzone and family life?" director Nicole N. Horanyi says.

With Motley as her guide, Horanyi was gradually introduced to the Afghan court system, a maze of Kafkaesque proportions. "I was consumed by understanding this complex scenario of three different legal systems existing side by side – that is, the formal judicial system, local laws and Sharia law. I was deeply impressed by how Kimberley navigated all three systems and how she handled this completely male-dominated milieu. That takes equal parts respect and audacity, and she was master of it."

Horanyi has directed The Devilles and Au Pair, which screened at a number of international festivals. 

Produced by Made in Copenhagen, set for an autumn release.