From Helmand to the End of the World

INTERVIEW. Janus Metz established his international documentary credentials in 2010 when he took home the top prize from the Critic’s Week in Cannes for his tough film about a group of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. Now the director is plunging into a collective project about the end of the world, because "it sounded too cool".

Janus-Metz450
Director Janus Metz onboard the good ship Activ. Framegrab

Tracking a group of soldiers over six months in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, Armadillo exposes the human consequences of sending young people to war as ideals clash with reality. The fear of sudden death makes the soldiers increasingly wary and cynical about the Afghans they were sent out to help.

"We are probably trying to be a little bit funny at the expense of the doomsday hysteria of the climate debate."

The film was a big hit in Danish cinemas and is now in wide international distribution. Armadillo triggered 'an explosion of attention', launching Metz into a whole new orbit on the international film circuit. But more than anything, "Armadillo" meant a year away from active film production, as Metz had to service audiences and journalists all over the world.

Now, after a much-needed hiatus on the heels of all the hoopla, including an extended stay in New York with his family, the 37-year-old director is back.

With the Danish artist Christina Hamre, Metz earlier this year made a work entitled Rupture under a project funded by the Danish Film Institute's talent scheme New Danish Screen that teamed up four filmmakers with four artists to create a film/installation. A physical and violent visual tale, Rupture centres on a woman and issues like sexuality, instinct and death. While Hamre challenged Metz's artistic temperament and method, the filmmaker also recognised a shared interest in the taboo and the subconscious.

"'Armadillo' went quite far in describing the shadow sides of the human psyche," Metz says. "I wanted to go into that space and explore it further. In a way, I was working with the same story but within an abstract framework. The chance to work in a fictional universe unleashed a virtual image storm in me."

From the nooks and crannies of the human mind, Metz is now venturing into a new collective film project. "The Expedition to the End of the World" is a journey into the innermost recesses of northern Greenland's fjord systems aboard the ship Activ. Loaded with scientists and artists, the ship is the frame around a story about the origin of the world, the demise of humankind and life continuing on the planet. Having finished first leg of the expedition, however, Metz is anything but pessimistic.

"We are probably trying to be a little bit funny at the expense of the doomsday hysteria of the climate debate. But the big question is whether our civilisation is just a tiny parenthesis between two ice ages and whether our enterprising nature will also be our undoing. As a civilisation – and in the film – we have set the stage for an ending where everything goes wrong. The question is whether it will go wrong in the cool way or the uncool way."

The Expedition to the End of the World is co-directed by Janus Metz and Daniel Dencik and produced by Michael Haslund-Christensen for Haslund Film. The film is pitching at FORUM.