Making Connections

THE OSCARS. Final Cut for Real, the company behind Joshua Oppenheimer's multi-award-winning and Oscar-nominated "The Act of Killing", has a partiality for documentaries that shake our worldview.

It seems fitting that the Copenhagen production company Final Cut for Real is located on Forbindelsesvej – literally, "Connection Street." Talking with company co-founder Signe Byrge Sørensen, who produced Joshua Oppenheimer's Oscar-nominated "The Act of Killing", makes it clear that Final Cut for Real was put in this world to make connections – between people, filmmakers, cultures and world events.

From the beginning, the ambition to make connections was a foundational concept, Byrge Sørensen says. "We want diversity around the table. We want to bring people together every which way to enable the exchange that's so important for us and for the film scene as a whole."

Danish films at the Oscars 2014

Late Sunday night, Danish time, it will be decided whether "The Act of Killing" takes home an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Two other Danish films are contending for the coveted statuettes – Thomas Vinterberg and Zentropa's "The Hunt" and Anders Walter's short film "Helium", produced M&M Productions.

All three films received support from the Danish Film Institute.

Byrge Sørensen holds degrees in development studies and communication, and her personal interests reach far beyond the nation's borders. She is behind documentary film projects in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Thailand, Argentina and Indonesia. Final Cut for Real also makes films about Denmark and Scandinavia – that's just as important, she says. But what most of the company's productions have in common is an international perspective, in addition to their deeper meaning and powerful visual ambition.

"The films should have something to say that's of human, social or political importance. They should aim to be part of the public debate. Plus, the director should have a visual vision. There should be a reason for telling the story as a film rather than as a book or a newspaper article," she says.

Dealing with the Madness

That's exactly what struck Byrge Sørensen seven years ago when she attended a seminar organised by the film festival CPH:DOX and saw a clip showing two Indonesian executioners describing how they killed a man during the 1965-66 genocide.

"The way they told it, and the way Joshua filmed them, I thought was so wild that I wanted to hear more," she says. That moment led to a longstanding partnership with Joshua Oppenheimer and the company's biggest and most complex, but also their most groundbreaking and prestigious film to date, "The Act of Killing".

The shattering documentary, Byrge Sørensen says, is a good example of what gets her interested in a film project: The material rises above the specific and addresses the universal.

"Here was a film that gave me an explanation for what I had been wondering about ever since I started reading about World War II: What happens when people start massacring other people, often their own neighbours? It's an incredibly important question to ask if we want to contribute to making sure it doesn't happen again. This is an Indonesian story, but it's also a story that tells me a lot about what happened in Germany and elsewhere in the world where genocide has taken place."

Love of Real Life

Signe Byrge Sørensen and her fellow producers, Anne Köhncke, Monica Hellström, Maria Kristensen and Heidi Christensen, are all partial to real life. From the beginning, the company focused on documentaries, because they are fascinated by the lives of real people and because the documentary process is far more unpredictable than fiction.

"The unpredictability of the field is fascinating; the fact that making a documentary is a continuous collaboration between director, characters, crew and producer," Byrge Sørensen says.

As it is often the rule rather than the exception that the characters' lives take unexpected turns, a documentary film producer has to be able to juggle the balls that come her way. To succeed, you have to work closely together with your director. This, Byrge Sørensen says, is something Final Cut for Real's team of producers excel at – the ability and the will to go deep into the creative process and see the project through to the end.

Add to that a respect for the characters who allow their lives to be blown up on the big screen.

"You must never, by any means, see them as puppets in a play. They are not actors who can leave their roles behind when they go home at night. When they are done, they go out into the same world and meet the same people who saw them on TV or at the movies the night before. That obliges you to behave properly," Byrge Sørensen says.

In summer 2014, the company is bringing out a new film by Joshua Oppenheimer, "The Look of Silence". Also, Final Cut for Real is co-producing "Cathedrals of Culture", a grand-scale 3D-project that has six prominent directors offering their vision of a building's "soul".

The Look of Silence

Joshua Oppenheimer's sequel to "The Act of Killing" revisits the Indonesian genocide, this time telling the story from the victims' perspective.

"We always knew we wanted to do both the victims' and the killers' stories," Final Cut for Real producer Signe Byrge Sørensen says. The sequel to "The Act of Killing" is set to premiere in summer 2014.

The film follows a family whose son was killed in the Indonesian genocide, accused of being a communist. The youngest son in the family, now grown up, vows to confront the people who killed his brother. These encounters are at the core of the film.

So, the tables are turned. While "The Act of Killing" gave us the killers' unsettling version of the story, this time the surviving victims of the genocide in the 1960s get to speak. Signe Byrge Sørensen assures that "The Look of Silence" includes scenes of equal visual power and extreme intensity.

This story is no less important to get out, she says.

"What we don't get to know in 'The Act of Killing' is the victims' experience. How did they cope? How do they experience life in Indonesian society today? We think the two stories complement each other and we hope 'The Look of Silence' will help advance the debate that 'The Act of Killing' started in Indonesia."

Final-CFR_JuanHein_450NEW TERRITORIES. Final Cut for Real are sticking with documentaries, but they are open to the idea of expanding into hybrids and fiction. From left to right: Korthe Barfod, Heidi Elise Christensen, Anne Köhncke, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen, Maria Kristensen.


Final Cut for Real

Founded in 2009 by producers Signe Byrge Sørensen and Anne Köhncke. Films include the Oscar-nominated "The Act of Killing" by Joshua Oppenheimer, "The Human Scale" by Andreas M. Dalsgaard and "Chikara: The Sumo Wrestler's Son" by Simon Lereng Wilmont. The company is also producing Oppenheimer's new film about the Indonesian genocide, "The Look of Silence". Has a strong suit in co-production, with recent titles including "TPB-AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard" by Simon Klose and the 3D films of "Cathedrals of Culture".