Short Films from a Small Nation: Danish Informational Cinema 1935-1965

This page provides links to most of the films discussed in the book "Short Films from a Small Nation: Danish Informational Cinema 1935-1965", as well as suggestions for additional viewing and reading. For copyright reasons, some of the films are not available outside Denmark; in some cases, links lead to pages featuring stills or other relevant information.

Short Films from a Small Nation: Danish Informational Cinema 1935-1965
C. Claire Thomson
Edinburgh University Press, January 2018

About the book

For three decades, state-sponsored short filmmaking educated Danish citizens, promoted Denmark to the world, and shaped the careers of renowned directors like Carl Th. Dreyer. The first book-length study in English of a national corpus of state-sponsored informational film, this book traces how Danish shorts on topics including social welfare, industry, art and architecture were commissioned, funded, produced and reviewed from the inter-war period to the 1960s. Examining the life cycle of a representative selection of films, and discussing their preservation and mediation in the digital age, this book presents a detailed case study of how informational cinema is shaped by, and indeed shapes, its cultural, political and technological contexts.

Link to book:

Chapter Four 
The film world’s cooperative store: Institutions and films of the 1930s and 1940s

The earliest films made under the auspices of Dansk Kulturfilm date from the mid-1930s, and are mostly process films concerned with aspects of Danish industry. Examples include:

Compared to other films of the time, Dansk Kulturfilm’s early output could be seen as rather unsophisticated. Compare, for example, the formally experimental film Danmark (1935) by the cultural critic and designer Poul Henningsen. See stills at Danish Film Database

During the German occupation of Denmark (1940-45), Danish documentary and informational film flourished under the auspices of the Danish Government Film Committee (Ministeriernes Filmudvalg). Examples include:

See also a wider selection of Danish wartime films available via Sculpting the Past (text in Danish):

Chapter Five
A film-progressive nation: The Social Denmark series and the British documentary movement

In the immediate post-war period, the British documentarist Arthur Elton travelled to Denmark to act as consultant, producer and writer on a series of short films, Social Denmark, designed to introduce UK audiences to Danish social security and healthcare. The films profile Denmark as a small, democratic, modern and progressive nation:

In the early 1950s, a film in the same vein as the Social Denmark series was made by Theodor Christensen to inform international audiences about the Danish cooperative farming system: The Pattern of Cooperation. It was produced in a large number of languages and circulated widely around the world, garnering praise from cooperative societies in particular.

Chapter Six 
Somethin about Scandinavia: Danish shorts on the post-war international scene

In the wake of the success of Social Denmark, short films were made for international audiences showcasing Danish arts and crafts, industry, and technological knowhow. Some of these were seen by six-figure audiences in North America, and many were versionized with voiceovers in languages ranging from Spanish to Japanese. Danish documentary was integrated into international networks of exchange of informational films, with productions circulating via film festivals, embassies and cultural institutions, and NGOs. in a few instances, Danish informational films were sponsored by organisations such as the UN Film Board and the Marshall Plan.

Chapter Seven
Citizens of the Future: Informational film and the welfare state

The 1950s was a time of great social and technological change; the foundations of the Welfare State were consolidated, national institutions and infrastructure were renewed, and gender roles began to shift. Informational film had an important role to play in helping the Danish population understand and adapt to such changes. Films were not commissioned in a programmatic way; rather, they were produced as and when a social, political or technological development prompted a need for instruction or discussion. Some of these films were made primarily for distribution in cinemas; others were designed to facilitate group discussion in clubs, schools and libraries.

Chapter Eight
A free hand: The art film versus the art of documentary

The art film genre was always controversial in the Danish context. Around 1950, the press complained that Denmark was not particularly successful on the international art film scene. A decade later, films about art became a lightning rod for discussions about the proper role of Dansk Kulturfilm and its productions. Should films aspire to be art in their own right, or should the goal be popular enlightenment in a more instrumentalist sense? How much of an artistic ‘free hand’ should filmmakers be granted?

Chapter Nine
Symphony of a short film: A City Called Copenhagen

This chapter focuses on one short film with a particularly complex production history, and the distinctive honour of an academy Award nomination:

Roos’ film self-consciously paints itself into the tradition of the ‘city symphony’, examples of which include three films that influenced A City Called Copenhagen:

In the wake of A City Called Copenhagen, Jørgen Roos was invited to make films about a number of cities worldwide. His film about Oslo, for example, can be viewed via Oslo City Archive:

Edinburgh University Press, January 2018.


C. Claire Thomson