Sowing the seeds of film culture

DIALOGUE ACROSS BORDERS. Brazil, Canada, South Africa, England, Tanzania and now Uganda. For years the Danish Film Institute has been behind major cultural exchange projects around the world, and Charlotte Giese has been involved in most of them. Time and again, she is blown away by the ability of cinema to foster dialogue.

What does it mean to have a film culture? And why would you necessarily want to disseminate your own country’s film culture to other countries? These are good questions that Charlotte Giese, Head of Children & Youth at the DFI, would like to answer with a mix of humility and self-awareness on behalf of Danish film culture.

The Children & Youth unit works to give every child in Denmark the chance to experience, understand and create films. Of all the DFI’s international cultural exchange and knowledge-sharing efforts, our ongoing outreach to young audiences is the one aspect of Danish film policy that people abroad ask about most.

"For nearly 30 years, we have been allocating 25% of our production subsidies to films for children and youth," Giese says. "We are privileged to have a film policy that supports production, dissemination and education to youthful target groups. Because we have a tradition, a subsidy system, an organization, we are asked to share our knowledge and experience: How do you do it? And why? What impact does it have?" Sometimes the questions involve soft, cultural values, sometimes the film professionals want to know about the films’ commercial potential.

The demand is often answered by organizing workshops and seminars and by sending out Danish filmmakers like Tobias Lindholm, Rumle Hammerich and Louise Friedberg who, together with the DFI, show films, give talks and lecture. In addition are larger development projects and partnerships where the DFI works with local partners abroad, often over several years.

One such example is the partnership with Brazil, which started with screenings of dubbed versions of Danish films via festival outreach activities across this vast country. Over time, the partnership expanded to include seminars for filmmakers and political decision-makers. Another example is the establishment of Children & Film Panorama, a children’s film festival with master classes and other events at the already existing Zanzibar International Film Festival. The festival’s children’s film section is now in its fifth year.

Ugandan youths in dialogue

In extension of the Children & Film Panorama project in Tanzania, the DFI is now undertaking a wide-ranging film initiative for young people in Uganda inspiring the young generation to experience and work in film, both theoretically and practically.

Youth & Film Uganda is the title of the DFI’s new initiative, combining mobile cinemas, film festivals, master classes for film professionals and instruction in film production – all directed at young people.

The DFI, in partnership with the Danish Centre of Culture and Development, the Danish Embassy, Station Next, DOX:LAB and the Maisha Foundation in Uganda, is behind this new three-year cultural and development programme.

"Showing films and perhaps sowing the seeds of a film culture among the youth of Uganda is a big challenge," Giese says. "It’s a society where children and young people are traditionally raised to obey their parents, their teachers and society. Watching films from around the globe, having an opinion about films and telling your own story on film isn’t commonplace in a country like Uganda – though there are certainly plenty of stories there to tell."

Many Ugandan children and teens have grown up under circumstances that would hardly qualify to be termed childhood. The organizers are hoping that watching and making films will expand the youthful participants’ perspective on life and enable them to engage in dialogue with the rest of the world.

To Giese, cinema’s ability to foster dialogue is at the core of the DFI’s intercultural exchange efforts.

"We screened Niels Arden Oplev’s We Shall Overcome to a crowd of girls in Zanzibar who showed up veiled and a bit cautious. We had serious doubts that this Danish film about rebelling against adult authority would mean anything to them. But I’d say they unleashed their tongues and discussed the film with wild engagement."

"We get enormously inspired – by the stories, the discussions, the engagement and the ability to come up with creative solutions even if the framework is much less organised and streamlined than what we are used to. We get so much back," Giese says.

"We also get the opportunity to see lots of amazing films that we can bring back to Denmark, in the sense that we have a close partnership with the children and youth festival BUSTER in Copenhagen which is a perfect venue for a lot of these films. Also, the DFI Cinematheque is always eager to discover new directors. Finally, we can support Danish distributors' import of films through our subsidy programme."

Read more about the film initiatives during the Danish EU Presidency 2012:

Dialogue across borders 

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