The 2021 Copenhagen International Film Festival featured 177 new documentaries and we were lucky enough to get access to them all.
With such an overwhelming amount of talent on show, we decided to focus our attention on the festival’s NORDIC:DOX award, which featured 12 nominees.
Our intention is to give a snapshot and feel of what to expect from each and we hope you get the opportunity to watch and enjoy at some point! Here are six of the nominees, and head over to part two of this series for the other six!
1. Hero’s Journey to the Third Pole
Iceland | Directed by: Andri Magnason, Anní Ólafsdottir
An intimate portrait of two characters, both with Icelandic roots, who share their experience and struggles with mental health and bipolar disorder.
One of them, Anna Tara Edwards, spent a lot of time growing up in Nepal, where mental health is little understood and where support is limited. The film follows Anna Tara and her musician friend, Hogni, in the lead up to an event she is organising to increase awareness in Nepal.
They both share stories of childhood and mental heath battles and the things that have helped them cope – including music, and a special elephant.
Look out for our interview with the directors of A Hero’s Journey to the Third Pole – coming soon!
Denmark | Directed by: Vibeke Bryld
Elsewhere is an entirely different experience from the other nominations we have caught in this category. Here, Vibeke Bryld has whisked us into the mythical world of northern Denmark where elders steal babies and Merpeople coax young men into the sea.
This was a refreshing piece of cinema that left you in an almost hypnotised state as you are guided voyeuristically through the woods, swirling seas, and further afield, as ancient legends are recounted to you by the locals as well as events and rituals that still continue to this day.
You are completely immersed within the nature of this part of Denmark thanks to Bryld’s beautiful visuals.
3. How to Kill a Cloud
Finland/Denmark | Directed by: Tuija Halttunen
“Is a human playing God?” Someone comments during Tuija Halttunen’s How To Kill A Cloud – a film that follows scientist Hannele Korhonen as she attempts to make the impossible happen: to make it rain in the desert. Hannele is part of a ‘rain enhancement’ team that win the opportunity to carry out their project in the United Arab Emirates along with a grant of 1.5 Million US dollars.
Hannele is a climate engineering expert who has a passion for learning and specialises in the mind-blowing science behind trying to control cloud formation and weather modification. Her determination and frankness is invigorating and at times awkward to watch, as she travels from her home of Finland to the dizzying heights of the wealthy and male-dominated Middle East.
Halttunen captures this journey without too much weight on the science part and there are moments of irony and comedy threaded through. It touches some interesting topics including science, money, ethics, gender equality, and climate change – but mostly you are captivated by Hannele trying to navigate and network in this world.
4. Raising a School Shooter Denmark/Sweden/France/Belgium | Directed by: Frida Matilda Barkfors & Lasse Barkfors
An emotional look into the lives of the parents whose children were responsible for carrying out school shootings.
When such tragic events happen, our thoughts always go to the victims and their families who who suffered at the hands of these young people and we often assume the perpetrators are deeply disturbed and from a dysfunctional and neglected home.
However, as this film shows, the parents of the shooter are often in fact just your regular, normal parents, who were doing their best, and are also victims of their own child’s actions.
We follow mums and dads, doing mundane everyday things in life that goes on after the tragedy. They are coping with the loss of their own child to prison or suicide, coming to terms with the damage their child caused to others and the hate and abuse they receive for who they are, and trying to make sense of it all. Could they have done something differently? Are they responsible or to blame? How do you reconcile the feelings of unconditionally loving your child and accepting such evil acts that they have performed?
Lasse and Frida Barkfor’s subjects talk us through the emotions that they felt on the day they learned of a shooting, then learned it was their child who was the shooter, and all the emotions that have ensued since then. It is a bold, honest, and heartbreaking.
5. The Banality of Grief
Denmark | Directed by: Jon Bang Carlsen
Carlsen’s film is almost poetic in its delivery – a train of thought that he shares with the viewer as he tries to get to grips with the loss of his wife in a place alien to him. Whilst the images are visually arresting, it really is Carlsen’s words that draw you in and engage you into his world where he wrestles with his grief.
To best describe the film is to imagine it as a journey, where you climb inside his lens and mind as he loses himself in the United States, while dictating his personal thoughts and sharing them to the viewer, even to some of the strangers he meets.
It is a personal love letter to his deceased wife of 35 years – digging deep into the existential questions about life making it a beautiful and incredibly moving piece of cinema that will stick deep in your thoughts days after.
6. SEYRAN ATEŞ: Sex, Revolution, and Islam
Norway | Directed by: Nefise Özkal LORENTZEN
This documentary centres around the life and work of one passionate woman – Seyran Ateş, a German-Turkish imam and feminist who demands a new sexual revolution.
Seyran is on a mission to challenge prejudices and religious rules to achieve equality, tolerance, and gender reform in modern Islam, even though it’s put her life at risk.
We very much enjoyed following the journey of this fascinating, strong and inspiring role model, while she meets some interesting people along the way, saving some and enlightening others, while drawing attention to an important and topical debate.
Read about the other 6 films nominated in the NORDIC:DOX award in part two of this series.
Feature by Alex & Claire Minnis