Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
European Cinemas in the Television Age$

Dorota Ostrowska and Graham Roberts

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780748623082

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748623082.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 14 June 2021

Denmark: The Element of Childhood from Children’S Television to Dogme 95

Denmark: The Element of Childhood from Children’S Television to Dogme 95

(p.87) 7. Denmark: The Element of Childhood from Children’S Television to Dogme 95
European Cinemas in the Television Age

Dorota Ostrowska

Gunhild Agger

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The former military barracks in the suburbs of Copenhagen, Aved øre, are home to not only Lars von Trier's film company Zentropa, but also to the Film School for Children and Youth: ‘Station Next’. The old fencing hall for soldiers is a greenhouse for young film-makers housing professional editing suites, studios, and decoration sets, and is a place for children to learn about visual media, to become aware of the complexity of the film-making process and production, and to gain some professional training. In the corner of a projection room, which looks like a church, right next to the screen, which takes place of an altar, there are life-size cut-outs of the Dogme 95 ‘trinity’: Lars von Trier in a kilt, a smiling Thomas Vinterberg, and Peter Aalb æk Jensen, the godfathers of this cinematic playground for Danish children and youth. This idea of children and teenagers playing film-makers, editors, directors, and producers bears an uncanny resemblance to Dogme 95, which put film-making in the strait-jacket of ten rules with the expectation that discipline and transgression would lead to the rediscovery of the joy, purity, and innocence of film-making.

Keywords:   Danish cinema, Lars von Trier, Station Next, Dogme 95, film-making

The former military barracks in the suburbs of Copenhagen, Avedøre, are home to not only Lars von Trier’s film company Zentropa, but also to the Film School for Children and Youth: ‘Station Next’. The old fencing hall for soldiers is a greenhouse for young film-makers housing professional editing suites, studios and decoration sets. It is a place for children to learn about visual media, to become aware of the complexity of the film-making process and production and a way to gain some professional training. They are learning the craft of film-making at daily courses and summer camps run by film and television professionals, by students of the Danish Film School, with an occasional visit from their famous neighbour Lars von Trier. They can shoot using props from the sets of Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark: the church benches where Betsy prayed to her God and the courtroom where Selma was tried.

In the corner of a projection room, which looks like a church, right next to the screen, which takes place of an altar, there are life-size cut-outs of the Dogme 95 ‘trinity’: Lars von Trier in a kilt, smiling Thomas Vinterberg and Peter Aalbæk Jensen, the godfathers of this cinematic playground for Danish children and youth. This idea of children and teenagers playing film-makers, editors, directors and producers has uncanny resemblance to Dogme 95, which put film-making in the strait-jacket of ten rules with the expectation that discipline and transgression will lead to the rediscovery of joy, purity and innocence of film-making.

The shared ethos of Dogme 95 and ‘Station Next’ is reflected in Idioterne (The Idiots, 1998), probably the most emblematic and enigmatic of the Dogme films, where a group of people chooses to return to the state of child-like (p.88) innocence and live together in a commune in a leafy and affluent Copenhagen suburb, not dissimilar to that where Station Next and Zentropa studios are located. Acting as mentally impaired the ‘idiots’ demand respect and recognition for their condition from the outside world. What the film does is to question the moral boundaries of the contemporary Danish society, which has become complacent in its social model. Members of this strange community just pretend to be ‘idiots’ in order to question the limits of individual reason and of collective rules, which structure interactions in the Danish society. As we learn from Stoffer, the leader of the group, it is necessary to find the ‘inner child’ in order to articulate the alternative to the existing status quo. Dogme-style film-making alternated with interview sessions supports and gives visual expression to these performative acts which make The Idiots contemplation on the power of art and performance to change the world. The film starts with the conviction that it is the underrepresented, the minorities, those without any claim to political power, like the mentally-impaired or children, who possess moral authority to question society. At first this premise seems banal, but it gains in power through the idiots’ confrontation with acute pain of the two lovers who must part, and with the pathos of Karen’s suffering, who mourns the loss of her child. The idiots seem less self-assured and the group’s convictions fade. But the questions posed to society about double standards remain taking shape of Karen’s and the young lovers’ troubled bodies, which the camera is desperately trying to invade through close-ups that seem like the unwelcome breath of a stranger who gets too close to us, and in so doing violates our private space. The Idiots is a film about role playing, cheating yourself and others, hitting a sore spot and getting burnt every once in a while. Along with other Dogme 95 films, The Idiots signals a cinema of moral peeka-boo and is a good starting point to open a debate about this new generation of Danish film-makers, children’s culture in Denmark and how they both relate to the media.

Accounts of Dogme 95 often identify the French New Wave as its predecessor. In its lack of inhibition in the treatment of the visual medium, Dogme 95 had another home-grown, far more obvious, but never mentioned model for its ‘games’, that is, the Children and Youth Department of the DR (Børn og Unge, B&U), which in its own time created as much riot, scandal and mediacoverage as von Trier and co. have recently. As a department, B&U was formed in 1968, replacing the BUS-department (Børn, Unge, Skole: Children, Youth, School), which combined educational aims with television entertainment for children and youth. Mogens Vemmer, leader of the department from 1968 until 2000, cut the traditional association between children and learning and started an exceptional development in the history of Danish children’s media. Within a very short period of time, B&U turned into a forum for public debate for children and youth, where questioning of traditions and social mores was conducted in an oppositional and anti-authoritarian fashion giving rise to a new and challenging televisual aesthetics. Especially during the roaring 1970s, (p.89) satirical programmes flourished in which the world was represented from the children’s point of view. During the 1980s an urge to tell less socially conscious and less realistic stories succeeded in appealing to children’s imagination. Poul Nesgaard, a children’s TV personality, cultivated some of the best of the tradition of 1970s children’s television.1

The older Dogme brother, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen (born 1947), worked in B&U for many years before he shifted into children’s film-making and then adult film-making. The path from children’s television to children’s film-making and finally adult film-making is also followed by some young film-makers nowadays. Natasha Arthy made a feature debut Mirakel (Miracle, 2000) and then went on to direct Se til venstre, der er en svensker (Old, New, Borrowed and Blue, 2003) after working in B&U and is now ‘turning her attention to genre films and other types of films in the big wide world, and away from the “classic” tradition of Danish children films’ (Michelsen 2003: 6). Anette K. Olesen has taken a similar path, starting with the youth programme Transit in B&U. In 1997 she made the adventure film Tifanfaya, and in 2002 she directed the dogme film Små Ulykker (Minor Mishaps). Throughout their childhood and youth in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s respectively, the Dogme generation of directors from the younger Thomas Vinterberg (born 1969) to the older von Trier (born 1956) belonged to the child audiences which congregated in front of TV sets to watch B&U programmes broadcast by DR, the only channel in Denmark. Denmark launched a public television channel in October 1951, by and large modelled on the BBC. The Danish TV2 started in 1988. It was ‘a rather unique construction, based both on commercial funding and licence and with built in local affiliations’ (Bondebjerg and Bono 1996: 2). In 2004 TV2 was sentenced by the EU court to pay back a part of its licence because the station had not fulfilled its public-service obligations in a satisfactory manner. Since 2004 the licence fee for TV2 has been suspended.

In many ways B&U presented television as a place of experiments and freedom. Von Trier also had an early experience with children’s TV when at the age of twelve in 1968 he acted in a youth-oriented four-part TV series, Hemmelig sommer (Secret Summer), directed by Thomas Winding (Stevenson 2002: 11). Television as a site of experimentation preserved its attraction for von Trier even in the times when there was little connection between television and cinema worlds in Denmark. In 1988 he directed a single TV play Medea using his own distinctive visual strategy to adapt Carl Dreyer’s screenplay from 1965–6. Medea represented an early experiment with the aesthetics of television. Technically, it was shot on 3/4 inch videotape, transposed to 35mm film, and again copied to 1 inch videotape. The last part of the process was due to the graphic elements produced by the ‘Paint Box’ software (Pryds 1991: 141–56). The result of these transformations conveyed a very rough impression, experimenting with the very structure of the raw material, pointing to the medium of television. Visually, this was a forerunner for the technique in Riget (The Kingdom). The effect enhanced the eternal question in visual aesthetics: (p.90) what do we see and from which angle? What is true and what is illusionary? The focus on the four elements – water, earth, air and fire – further sustained the mixture of ancient and modern perspectives. However, von Trier seemed to be less occupied by the characters and their destiny than by the atmosphere and the surprising visual effects.

According to Vibeke Windeløv, the producer of von Trier’s films, he decided to make Kingdom (parts 1–4, 1994; parts 5–8, 1997) for television in order to prove himself as a film-maker who could work with actors, make a genre production and entertain popular audiences and thus alter his film-making profile:

[von Trier was regarded as] a very technical, cool director and nobody believed that he could do a drama. If he wanted to make another Europa, another cool, intellectual, academic-type-movie, it would have been easier. But the problem was that he wanted to change genres and nobody believed that he could direct actors in that way.2

When Dogme 95 was launched, Jytte Hilden, the Danish minister of culture at that time, was delighted and offered financial support for the first four films. However, the Danish Film Institute (DFI) was not willing to dispense from its usual procedures, and Hilden could not act without the Institute’s approval. This financial dilemma was finally solved in 1997 when Bjørn Erichsen, then director of DR TV, offered a financial support of 15 million kroner (£1.4 million) (Schepelern 1997: 227). Later on it was the attention that the two Dogme films, Festen (Celebration) and The Idiots, received in Cannes that allowed Henning Camre, the Head of the Danish Film Institute, to re-negotiate the Film and Media Agreement with Danish television stations, which legally obliged them to be involved in the production of Danish films. The Media Agreement stipulates how much TV stations must spend to support film production in Denmark. The majority of films are thus financed by the Film Institute, by television and by other investors. Purely commercial films cannot partake in these arrangements. DFI publishes every year Fact and Figures, a survey of key figures concerning production, development, distribution etc. in Danish cinema (available at www.dfi.dk/English). This survey shows the budgets of the supported films. According to the public-service contract, DR and TV2 have to invest 60 million kr. each in film production on a yearly basis during the period 2003–6.

Lars von Trier’s films and Dogme 95 performed an important part in changing the relationship between the worlds of cinema and television in Denmark when it came to production, funding and the circulation of talent between the two media. These connections could only be successfully maintained if there was also a creative and conceptual connection between the two media. The kernels of the cross-fertilisation of this type can be found in the ideas about creativity shared by children’s television and Dogme 95.

Dogme 95 and the cinema associated with this movement try to recapture a certain youthfulness of cinema and review some of the film-making conventions (p.91) developed in the hundred years of cinematic history.3 It is paradoxical but possible to suggest that Dogme 95 attempted to infuse film-making with excitement about the novelty of the visual medium only known from the film-makers’ exposure to the early days of television, especially children’s television. The new relationship with cinema was inspired less by the examples from the cinematic history, especially the French New Wave, than by children’s and youth television. The suggestion is that this open, anti-authoritarian kind of TV has the same relationship to the world of visual media, including cinema, as children’s culture has in relation to the culture at large whereby children’s culture is based on ‘a conception, which places the innocence of the child and the primary state of language and/or culture in a close and mutually dependent relation’ (Rose 1984: 9). In other words, children’s television could possess some elements in common with Dogme 95 phenomenon.

This chapter sets out to examine the importance of television, both children and adult, for the emergence of Dogme 95. It explores how first children and then adult television has been constantly present in the private and professional biographies of the Dogme 95 brothers shaping their careers, tastes and to some extend their concept of film-making. It is the transformation of television in general and its gradual opening to the idea of collaborating with the cinema world, first instituted by B&U, which created foundations for the success of Dogme 95. Our line of inquiry is inspired by David Buckingham’s observations made in relation to British media context that ‘in studying children’s television, we are inevitably raising question […] about the social and cultural functions of television as a medium’ (Buckingham et al. 1999: 2). In our case the examination of children’s television will yield some insights into the social and cultural role the medium of television played in the emergence of Dogme 95. Some of the Dogme 95 film-makers grew up watching children’s television, others actively participated in the production of programmes and films for children, which made children’s television a source of their personal and professional upbringing. Gradually, television underwent a profound transformation and became a source of funding and a way of exhibiting films. This change coincided with the launching of Dogme 95.

The new generations of film-makers, which emerged following in the wake of the Dogme 95 success, grew up spending about an hour a day each day and Saturday mornings watching programmes prepared by the Children and Youth Department of DR TV:

If you talk to people of your age, they all grew up watching B&U TV. In a way they had the same language. You could always talk about something you had seen on telly and it was something, which was new, interesting and provocative.4

The uniqueness of the programmes, as there was only one TV channel, and the common reference it offered for the Danish public was something that (p.92) von Trier, Vinterberg, Kragh-Jakobsen and Levring were trying to recapture in their experimental programme on the Millennium New Year’s Eve when different elements of the same TV drama were broadcast on all seven Danish TV channels. It was not possible to be in Denmark, watch TV and miss it (Roberts 2003: 550). This suggests that even though at first sight any connection between children’s television and Dogme 95 may seem tenuous, the closer examination of the character of the department, its unique ethos, the type and form of its programming make the Dogme’s historical link with children’s media less preposterous and more acceptable. In fact, many of the experiments which were done in B&U seemed to echo in the creative ideas embraced by Dogme 95 such as challenging of authority, focus on collaborative and experimental aspect of film-making, playing with the form and searching for new ways of expression. And according to Zarita Christensen, this ethos is not far from Zentropa’s actual aims:

I would like to develop a kind of B&U department in Zentropa where younger directors feel that they can belong. […] In my opinion, all too often you only gamble on the safe horses. It is important to create oases where newcomers can get some help to develop their ideas and their relations.

(Christensen 2006: 4) [Translation: GA]

The impact of children’s culture in general, not just of children’s television, could be also detected on the level of representation in Lars von Trier’s and Kragh-Jacobsen’s films. The fact that their films are populated with child-like figures with the heart of gold who struggle against the cruel world until death brings to mind fairy-tales and children’s stories. The figure of Bess in Breaking the Waves was apparently inspired by a children’s book Guld Hjerte (Golden Hearted) (Schepelern 1997: 215–18). Von Trier’s predilection for creating fantasy worlds of the mentally impaired in The Idiots and true Americans in Dogville as spaces of moral example also has some overtones inspired by the world of children. The same can be said for Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifunes sidste sang (Mifune) where child-like innocence of the mentally impaired Rud is magnified by his moral sense, which makes him the conscience of the film.

Programmes broadcast by B&U were a mixture of drama, animation, short films and documentaries aimed at different age groups. While the youngest group targeted was up to three years of age, the upper limit was less clearly defined. Presenters and programme-makers themselves, as well as their boss, Mogens Vemmer, were very close in age or only a few years older than their teenage audiences. Poul Nesgaard, one of the most interesting members of staff at B&U, was only sixteen when he started working in the department. The closeness in age between the makers of the programmes and the audiences created an unusual situation for children’s programming. Children’s television, as well as any other type of children’s culture, such as fiction, is often criticised for being a creation of adults for adults; it is a projection of adult desires ( (p.93) Rose 1984: 137). But in the case of the older audiences of B&U the situation was different. The fact that teenagers and young adults had some voice on public television was unprecedented and extremely important as it happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Danish society was undergoing a cultural revolution sweeping across Europe and the West. For the generations of von Trier and Vinterberg, B&U was not just children’s television but a space for youth to participate in public debate, formal experimentation and the questioning of the moral boundaries in Danish society. This ethos of children’s television coincided with the ways in which Lars von Trier was brought up. His mother ‘was committedly laissez-faire when it came to disciplining or setting rules for young Lars. It was left to the boy to decide if he needed to go to the dentist, whether he should do his homework and when he ought to go to bed’ (Stevenson 2002: 8). The content and form of the youth programmes on B&U were creating controversy in Denmark, often becoming an object of public debate in the national press, with the head of the department even being summoned to explain himself to his superiors. This strong reaction to the programming on B&U shows that not only children and youth but also cultural workers, teachers and sometimes even politicians were watching B&U programmes. This was the arena for the contestation of the values and beliefs of Danish society on television. This debate also revealed the true nature of children’s culture, which irrespective of cultural differences brought in by the national context, is always ‘a site of conflicting values, goals and expectations’ (Jenkins 1998: 1–37).

What was so controversial or new about these programmes? It was both the content and the form. Girls and boys drinking beer in B&U programming proved to be questioning as well as talking about sex and hinting at smoking illegal substances in the studio. ‘We were all communists there’ seems to capture for some the essence of the challenge to the mores this B&U programming was representing.5 It also expresses a social-cultural climate of the period and the attitudes of the Danish intellectuals who identified children and youth as disfranchised group in the society.6 Some programmes, which were considered too risky for the evening broadcast, were shown in the afternoon.7 The controversy caused by B&U programming was so great because the roots of B&U could be found in the quite conservative conception of children’s culture, which emerged in the post-war period when ‘the social welfare system established throughout the Nordic countries had placed the family at the centre-stage in all political decision-making and legislation’ (Marcussen 1995: 15). On the other hand, Danish families were quickly changing as the women joined the labour market in the 1960s and 1970s. As a consequence small children to a large extent were taken care of in kindergartens. This helped to develop a unique children’s culture and a specific debate about the needs and rights of children, interesting both to the professional staff in the kindergartens and to parents. This children’s culture was based on the idea of treating children with respect and giving them rights to freedom of expression in society even before they become grown-up citizens and recognising their status as a (p.94) unique minority group. It was connected to a long-standing pedagogical tradition in Denmark, which has its roots in Rousseau’s ideas about education and also in the Nordic ideology of the welfare state.8 In a Danish educational context this tradition had its origin in the ideas of N. F. S. Grundtvig, the founder of the Danish folk high school. He resented the ‘black school’ and during the 1850s and 1860s he fought for the enlightenment of common peasants by way of the ‘living word’. This tradition was partly contrasted and partly supplemented by a more radical strategy, inspired by Georg Brandes, the international literary critic and cultural personality. Georg Brandes fought for individual freedom and the right to criticism under all circumstances. In the 1930s Poul Henningsen and others of his spiritual heirs formed a movement whose ambition was to put the need of the child before anything else in upbringing and education (Borish 1991). As a consequence of these ideas, special funding was offered to museums, theatres, cinemas and libraries to prepare programmes aimed specifically at children which in turn gave an unprecedented and unique presence to children’s culture in the wider context of Danish culture. According to Marcussen, ‘there emerged a new awareness of the necessity of offering children meaningful cultural experiences – at first, in terms of literature. This was later put in broader terms, embodied in the concept of “children’s culture”, which became an expression of the highest virtue in the 70s’ (Marcussen 1995: 15).

In the case of B&U, the initial focus of the department on the educational value of the programmes and through the staffing of the department with teachers reflected the conservative underpinnings of the children’s media project. It was part of the public-service culture, which ‘was seen as an expression of bourgeois ideology’ (Marcussen 1995: 7). However, B&U underwent a very rapid transformation, which shifted its main focus from education into what can be described as learning through entertainment. In institutional terms it was expressed by the decision to separate the educational arm of children’s television from the rest of B&U, which paved way into a new kind of more experimental television, mixing education with entertainment: ‘It was fun to entertain children. It was fun to teach them something. To combine the two would be a hell of a lot of fun.’9

It was part of the process of a wider redefinition of public-service culture, which as a result of the 1960s liberalisation ‘lost some of the paternalistic ideology and style’ and resulted in the criticism of ‘the notion of a homogenous national culture’ (Zeruneith 1995b: 7). In the late 1960s B&U became the space where children and teenagers could exercise their right to freedom of expression in the context of social changes which did not preserve but challenged systematically traditional family values and granted greater freedom to individuals. Poul Nesgaard pointed out that ‘an important element of B&U was that it was a satire directed at authorities, at people in power and it was thus the way of controlling those in power’.10 Per Schultz believes that B&U was about finding out ‘how to make TV and how to get a political message (p.95) through as well’.11 In this way, B&U was not just about the respectful treatment of children but about the whole society which refused to be treated in paternalistic ways and attempted to break down the existing hierarchies and forge new alliances which superseded traditional family bonds.

Such a critique of society and a suggestion of alternative communities is expressed in Kragh-Jacobsen’s first (now classic) children’s film, Gummi Tarzan (Rubber Tarzan, 1981). The main character of the film, seven-year-old Ivan, is bullied at school by older boys, who are more athletic and stronger than he is, and at home by his father, who upholds a traditional model of masculinity as defined by the character of Tarzan, whom he wants to become Ivan’s hero and role model as well. Ivan’s only friend is a crane worker, who helps the boy to muster some self-confidence and shows some understanding of his problems. Their friendship flourishes, which serves as a clear sign that the oppressed, the minorities and working classes should come together in their struggle against outdated and oppressive social structures. The same spirit of revolt against the established status quo is also part of Dogme 95, especially in the treatment of authority figures in their films, such as fathers and social workers. The search for alternative communities is especially pronounced in von Trier’s The Idiots and Dogville and Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune, while Vinterberg’s The Celebration represents the crisis in the traditional communities based on familial bonds and kinship.

Formal experiments practised in B&U made contribution on the level of representation. Working outside the studio with handheld cameras, natural lighting and direct sound, and using phones to report live to the studio from the remote corners of the country introduced an element of ‘live television’ to the B&U programming. B&U also contributed to the democratisation of the visual medium, which in some way prefigured the impact of Dogme 95 in the digital age. B&U sent 8mm cameras in the 1960s and video cameras later on to different distant parts of the country asking children to report from there. This had an additional effect of undermining the power of the unions of TV technicians who could not control the use of the film-making process once it was taken outside studios. Initially, the union regulations did not allow B&U staff to handle cameras, edit or mix sound.12 B&U was unique in having its own studio and production facilities in DR TV. Because it was able to use all the technological innovations in a very creative way, it was given privileged access to new technologies.13 There was a wide scope for experimentation during the making of programmes, which attracted many people interested in television work to B&U:

We had editors, sound engineers and technicians and most importantly everybody was working together. That was really something. When you were in the cutting room, you could always ask your colleague to come and have a look at something you were working on and hear their comments. The spirit was very creative and it was very special.14

(p.96) Experimentation was so common in B&U because traditional forms, for instance documentary, had to be reinvented in order to attract the interest of children. Mogens Vemmer believes that B&U staff was responsible for the invention of the docudrama, because the elements of drama had to be introduced into a documentary in order to keep children’s attention.15 B&U also recognised the important differences between the social practices of cinema and television. When films were shown as part of television programming, it became essential that they were introduced in a way which recaptured for children the more familiar experience of watching films in the company of adults at the cinema. In a way television took on the role of a parent or a child caretaker. It was such efforts, which in the long run, blurred differences between the medium of television and cinema.

The children who were exposed to this type of television programming constitute the bulk of adult audiences today. Their taste for ‘info-tainment’, docudrama and fiction was to at least some degree formed by this early exposure to B&U programmes, where ‘there was no separate sections responsible for a particular part of programming and this was what allowed them to cross borders, experiment, mix fiction and documentary and eventually arrive at new genres’.16 Bodil Cold-Ravnkilde also points out that ‘Mogens Vemmer required everyone working in the department to be able to do fiction writing, documentaries and radio programmes.’17 Staff competence in all different genres and formats may be the reason why B&U trained very versatile professionals capable of working in both television and cinema and of moving smoothly between the two media. While talking about the most famous television series that he developed, a Christmas calendar (Jul og grønne skove, Christmas and Green Woods, 1980), Poul Nesgaard points out its affiliations with Dogme 95 aesthetics. The whole programme was based on formal limitations and was developed as a very simple idea, similar to the method Dogme 95 was following.18

Since most of the programmes were for children, the technical standards were not as strict as in adult film-making. The basic argument was that children would not notice if you made a mistake, which made children’s television just like any other form of children’s culture, for instance literature, ‘where nothing is really taken seriously – and therefore where almost anything can be said, the privilege of both child and courtly fool’ (Morris 2000: 6). This allowed for B&U to become a training (or learning) ground for many technicians and future television practitioners. Mogens Vemmer allowed everybody to make a mistake every day ‘but not the same one’.19 There was also lots of scope to try new ideas with other artists, painters and writers, who passed through the B&U studio, and to develop interesting collaborative projects. Elith Nykjær, for example, combined several talents. He was a musician and a property man in DR when in 1977 he became the partner of Poul Nesgaard at B&U. This informal partnership lasted for eleven years. A famous experiment balancing between innocence and scandal was Baggårdsredaktionen (The Back Alley Editors, 1980–2), (p.97) a programme that dealt with public matters and well-known personalities, by presenting them in unusual context. I Sandhedens tjeneste (In Honour of Truth, 1987) and Arvefjender (Hereditary Enemies, 1993) were co-produced with Christoffer Barnekow, a Swedish producer who funded the game of Nesgaard and Nykjær exploring conventional truths in an apparently naive manner.

Mogens Vemmer believed that anybody working in B&U should learn all the parts of the television craft. For this reason, all members of staff worked in turns in different stages of production, which created practitioners with a thorough and extensive knowledge of television making without anybody having only narrowly defined expertise. It has always been extremely difficult to study at the Danish Film School due to the limits imposed on student numbers. For this reason, B&U functioned not only as a creative section in the Danish media culture, but also as a space where young people wishing to embark on a career in TV could learn the basis of the television-making craft. For some, the work at B&U was a way of entering film-making. Another reason why television became a training ground for some budding film-makers had to do with the fact that most ambitious young professionals trained to work in cinema were not interested in working in television. Hence, television had to train its own staff, which in the long term ended up moving into film-making. One such person was the Dogme brother Søren Kragh-Jacobsen.

Kragh-Jacobsen revealed that ‘crossing from television to film-making was natural to him and crossing from children’s television to children’s film-making simply made sense’.20 This shows B&U did not only have impact on Danish cinema in terms of audiences but also in terms of training opportunities the department offered. According to some critics, Thomas Vinterberg’s debut Drengen der gik baglæns (The Boy Who Walked Backwards, 1994) is ‘one of the most finely felt achievements in Danish children’s films’ (Skotte 2003: 16). Vinterberg got the DFI children’s funding for this film, the 25 per cent subsidy for children’s film-making which was set up by the Danish government in part thanks to the intervention and lobbying of Mogens Vemmer. The government support for children’s film-making started in 1973 with the decision of the Danish Film Institute to grant one million kroner to the making of children’s and youth films. In 1976 the Film Institute employed a consultant responsible for the production of children’s films. Finally, in 1982, a decision was made to use 25 per cent of all state subsidies for film-making to support the production of children’s and youth films. In the 1980s, which was really the peak period of children’s film-making, Kragh-Jacobsen moved into film-making using this subsidy as a vehicle. He made two of the most famous Danish children’s films Vil du se min smukke navle (Want to See My Beautiful Navel, 1978) and Rubber Tarzan. For the next twenty years Danish cinema was known abroad for its children’s and youth movies rather than adult film-making. In 1982 in Berlin Kragh-Jacobsen received UNICEF’s first-time children’s film award for his Rubber Tarzan (Zeruneith 1995a: 36). Since its establishment this subsidy was a way for many first-time film-makers to enter the industry in the way that working in (p.98) television was before. Apart from Kragh-Jacobsen other members of B&U staff who entered film-making via television were Michael Wikke and Steen Rasmussen. Wikke and Rasmussen were famous for their satirical programmes on DR, for example Tonny Toupé Show (1985–6) and Sonny Soufflé Show (1987), devising characters of parodic dimensions with the same disrespectful appeal as Nesgaard and Nykjær. In their films and TV dramas they went on mixing childish elements and grown-up naivité, most successfully in the TV serial Johansens sidste ugudelige dage (The Last Ungodly Days of Johansen, 1989), Russian Pizza Blues (1992) and the children’s films Hannibal and Jerry (1997) and Flyvende farmor (The Flying Granny, 2001). The worlds of television and cinema, even when it came to children’s film-making, were kept very separate with different budgets and distinct management and they were subject to quite different rules and regulations. Twenty-five per cent of the total film subsidy was given to children’s and youth film-making, but only about 11–13 per cent of the total DR TV budget was given to B&U, even though Mogens Vemmer was fighting to increase this sum to the level of 25 per cent.21 Cinema was then associated with heavy studio-based equipment and barriers regarding the entry of young people. Television, especially the B&U component, was still open to television enthusiasts, which created a very different atmosphere around television.

The common view was that cinema, whether for children or adults, was ‘art’ and television, whether for children or adults, was ‘business’ and there was little interaction between the two. In spite of its roots in television, children’s filmmaking supported by government subsidy, just like the rest of the Danish cinema, ‘was shaped by ideological agendas in the 70s and by the focus on “art” and quality in the 80s’ (Zeruneith 1995a: 47). It led to a certain murkiness in the accounts of children’s cinema in Denmark, which like Zeruneith’s chooses to ignore completely the television roots of children’s film-making when she says that ‘in the spirit of our Nordic work with children’s film, right from the start, arose from love and concern for children, but it was supported by an affection for film art’ (Zeruneith 1995a: 27).22 At the same time, she does not comment on the tradition of television series being made into cinema films. It is enough to mention Bille August’s 1984 TV serial Busters verden (The World of Buster) or Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s 1986 TV serial Guldregn (Shower of Gold), which were turned into feature films.

Another example is Jannik Hastrup’s beloved animation series Cirkeline for small children. Nineteen episodes beginning in 1967 were screened by B&U. Three animation films about Cirkeline followed in 1998, 1999 and 2004. In 2000 Martin Miehe-Renard wrote and directed the feature film Pyrus på pletten (Pixie Panic) on the basis of a series of Christmas calendars on TV2 (1994, 1995, 1997). The latest example is Jesus & Josefine, a Christmas Calendar screened by TV2 in 2003. In 2005 the director Carsten Myllerup transformed it into a feature film, Oskar & Josefine.

The joint production of adult TV serials and cinema formed the background to the TV–cinema collaborations regarding the production of children’s fiction. (p.99) In the 1970s the Department of Entertainment at DR TV collaborated with the old film production company Nordisk Film on a number of long-running sitcoms and dramas, including the famous sitcom Huset på Christianshavn (The House on Christianshavn, 1970–7) and the ever-popular historical family saga Matador (1978–81). The popular formats were huge audience successes and kept Nordisk Film busy in a time of acute competition between the media. Erik Balling, the director of The House on Christianshavn, refers to television as a medium of rescue for film producers in the 1970s (Trautmann and Bang 1980: 20). In 1978 a co-production agreement between the Film Institute and DR was made. In the 1980s various kinds of collaboration were strengthened when TV2 was founded modelled after the British Channel 4.

From the late 1980s television became one of the main sources of funding for cinema, which complemented the subsidy coming from the Film Institute and from private producers. The introduction of TV2 in 1988 changed the established model of public support for national television and cinema. TV2 was a channel without any production facilities except for production of the news, which forced it to purchase all of its programming from the outside producers. TV2 was not simply allowed to buy all of its programming, but was obliged to fund it, which in the long run made TV responsible for supporting indigenous media production in Denmark. As it is much cheaper to buy the end product rather than investing in the production, the funding obligation imposed on television was seen as a subsidy for cinema. The transformation of the media landscape in Denmark and the introduction of new forms of financing cinema brought the worlds of television and cinema together. This cooperation was clearly seen in the establishing of Dansk Novellefilm, a new funding project launched in 1994. The target was to promote short fiction films (ten to fifty minutes) that could be screened at film festivals and on television. DR and TV2 financed the initiative together with the Ministry of Culture, the Danish Film Institute and Statens Filmcentral (a government-financed centre for distribution of films, established in 1938). This type of cinema–TV cooperation could help to preserve the single format for television drama, which was threatened by the series formats that began to dominate Danish TV drama from 1990. The short films had a short life in the cinemas. They gained a larger audience when screened and repeated on television. Besides, they served as a place of experiments and development for promising young directors and script writers. In 2003 Dansk Novellefilm was replaced by a new organisation directly aiming at developing the new talents Talentudvikling (Talent Pool).

Dogme 95, whose films were paid for by television before even the Film Institute decided to invest in them, was the result of the new ways of funding Danish film-making (Hjort and Bondebjerg 2003: 8–22). On the whole, Danish films during the period 1995–2005 impressed its national audience, which responded by buying more tickets than in the preceding years and by taking interest in public discussions about the films. Some of the most interesting films managed to attract an international audience as well. However, because of the (p.100) limited national Danish audience and insecure prospects of distribution beyond international film festivals, many films have not been profitable even though television invests in them with the intention of recouping its costs:

When you’re putting a film project together, you spend a third of your time rising money for the project, a third of your time making the film, and the third of the time explaining what went wrong with the project and trying to start a new one.23

Due to these uncertain returns, TV investment in cinema feels more like a fee paid for the rights to broadcast.24 It is also important to remember that producing feature films is more expensive than making television drama series, but takes less of the broadcast time and thus can attract lower levels of advertisement (although this is not relevant for DR, which doesn’t carry advertisements).25 These tensions between cinema and television came fully to the fore in 2002 when TV departments became responsible for allocating 35 millions of Danish kr. (£3.5 million) into feature film-making – a funding which amounts to about ten to twelve feature films a year.26 This new financial relationship influenced in an unprecedented way the type of films which are being produced. Since feature film production is costly, films must be shown at prime times and attract the widest possible audience consisting of different generations for television to recoup its costs. Instead of films for adults and for children, the focus now is on producing ‘family films’.27 The new law does not specify how much of the 35 million must be spent on children’s film-making, but because 25 per cent of the Film Institute subsidy must be invested in children’s films, it is natural that television stations, both TV2 and DR TV, make a contribution to a quite large number of children’s films.28 Media critics and professionals point out that the making of family rather than children’s films is not only linked to the impact of television, but also to the limited audience constituted by children and youth. According to Henning Camre, if the target audience is the eight to eleven age group, the film cannot get more than 60,000 entries.29 This number increases if the film has a larger appeal. This economic factor relating to a minority audience in a small country such as Denmark could have been ignored if the principle of market-regulations did not have to be taken so clearly into account, which was the case until the late 1980s. Kirsten Drotner points out that it was the small size of the market and of the audiences rather than the impact of Hollywood and globalisation that was responsible for the low number of youth films produced in the 1990s. The competition for the audiences between DR TV and TV2 only exacerbated the problem but TV stations are not ultimately responsible for the current levels of children’s and youth film-making in Denmark. Hence, the ideals regarding the support for children’s and youth films much be checked against production reality, which imposes some constraints on the realisation of these ideals. The problem is connected with the debate about the role of publicservice television and the impact of globalisation on the media.30

(p.101) Perhaps one of the reasons why the connection between children’s filmmaking and B&U was originally underplayed, or tacit rather than explicit, has to do with the belief that children’s film-making should be a way of educating future cinema audiences. Quite rightly this belief is still upheld by film-makers working today, who argue that ‘the higher attendance frequency by the youngest segments is laying the groundwork for a greater interest in film when they [children] grow up […]’ (Havn 2003: 21). The point was to make sure that cinema does not lose out to its competitors, including television. The view of television as a serious competitor of cinema was behind the decision to introduce a series of laws (in 1972, 1989 and 1997) aimed at protecting cinema production in Denmark.31 This fear shared by cinemas across Europe might have been particularly dire in Denmark, a cultural space with a very limited audience for Danish-language films, where cinema’s designation as an art could save cinema from the competition from television but also gain it support from the government which was needed for Danish cinema to survive the competition from foreign films. TV programming was generally not seen as art at the time. It was vital for cinema to preserve this label for itself. Mogens Vemmer’s and other members of B&U staff’s contribution to the world of cinema clearly shows that imposing any barriers between the world of cinema and television is artificial. In the case of children’s film-making, it was children’s television more than anything else which gave rise to children’s cinema. In the same way opportunities presented by television offered a kick-start to Lars von Trier’s career and was one of the factors contributing to the Dogme phenomenon. Hence, historically, in its different forms, television supports cinema rather than competes with it.

The view of public television as a supporter of rather than a rival to Danish cinema could be also explained through the shared goal of all public or government-sponsored media, which was to support Danish national culture. Talking about children’s film-making, Ulrich Breuning said that ‘the idea of Danish children films was motivated by the desire for self-preservation of a small cultural area which is Denmark. They wanted films in Danish, about Danish children and set up in Danish surroundings. There was something quite nationalistic about it’.32 As part of the only Danish TV channel, B&U, just like the rest of television, ‘for much of the earlier period was a national phenomenon, strongly regulated by the nation state and given a cultural task as a public service medium’ (Bondebjerg and Bono 1996: 1). Another important fact is that neither cinema nor television at that time was subject to commercial or market constraints. It is only in such a non-commercially-minded world that the idea of children’s film-making could have been born. It was a wild idea that Mogens Vemmer had, which seemed to show his great confidence in children’s audiences. The truth is that he did not have to worry about the audiences at all or the box-office success for that matter. By the time von Trier entered filmmaking, television became an opportunity to break into cinema, but the rules of the game were very different.

(p.102) It is clear that this split between cinema and television was reinforced for a long time by the government funding for cinema and television, which made it unnecessary for cinema to turn to television for funding. The lack of financial concerns on the part of the Danish media, be it television or cinema, is pointed out by Søndergaard, who sees it as a result of the domination of the Danish politics by the Social Democrats, which meant ‘that radio and television have primarily been considered as matters of cultural politics, while their economic and industrial aspects, given significant weight in other countries, have only had a limited influence on their Danish development’ (Søndergaard 1996: 13). It was only in the late 1980s, with the advent of liberal economic policies, that the division between the two media started to be breached and made cinema more responsive to commercial concerns. However, to say that it is television that commercialised cinema is a mistake because cinema and television met the market challenge at the same time. Television enjoyed the same subsidies as cinema and no competition (until TV2 was introduced). What it lacked was the cultural prestige coming from the recognition of its aesthetic and artistic potential, which has been recognised to a much greater extent in the case of cinema. The silences and blind spots in the accounts of the interaction between children’s television and children’s cinema could be thus seen as a microcosm of the relationship which television and cinema in Denmark entertained in general even without some of the film-makers, such as Kragh-Jacobsen, treating children’s cinema as a vehicle to enter film-making for adults. There are some parallels between children’s television and Dogme films, which are often overlooked because cinema and television production, especially children’s TV broadcasting, is never examined together.

One of the central ideas evoked to characterise children’s film-making is what Danish critics describe as ‘magic realism’. This concept didn’t necessarily contradict the critical, social orientation prevalent in Danish children’s films. The cooperation between Flemming Quist Møller, the cartoonist, illustrator and jazz musician, and Jannik Hastrup, animator and jazz musician, can illustrate this. One of their first productions was Hvordan man opdrager sine forældre (How to Educate Your Parents, 1966). It represented a critical reversal of the traditional generation roles. This way of reversing authority was an inspiring element in the animation film Bennys badekar (Benny’s Bathtub, 1971). Benny’s life in the suburbs of Copenhagen is rather boring. However, in his tub he discovers a life of magical dimensions with all kinds of talking fish, octopuses and mermaids in breathtaking dramas. It only takes a tub and a child’s imagination to develop this ‘magic realism’, which was further developed by both Møller, Hastrup and later animation directors such as Stefan Fjeldmark. This tradition formed the background of the adaptations of books by Ole Lund Kirkegaard, for example Lille Vergil og Orla Frøsnapper (Little Virgil and Frogeater Orla, Gert Fredholm, 1980), Rubber Tarzan (1981) and Otto er et næsehorn (Otto is a Rhino, Rumle Hammerich, 1983). This is a typical characteristic of children’s drama which ‘is less bound by the constraints of realism than adults’; (p.103) magic, fantasy, fairy-tale and slapstick humour are staple ingredients, which producers, writers and performers find liberating’ (Messenger Davies 2001: 97). If you keep believing, the power of your dream will change the reality. This is the case in Rubber Tarzan (and Mifune) and it is also an element of Lars von Trier’s film-making – naive faith of Bess in Breaking the Waves, which results in a miracle, the fantasy world created by Selma in Dancer of the Dark, which turns a factory floor into a music-hall stage, and Thomas’s reveries of a better Dogville where Grace becomes an unwilling victim. In Breaking the Waves the harrowing realism of Bess’s and Jan’s suffering subdues the fantasy until the final scene when the moment of Bess’s ascendance into heaven and Jan’s miraculous recovery is conveyed through a vision of church bells ringing in the skies. The fantasy is codified into a musical genre in Dancer in the Dark. It is most complex in Dogville, where the bare stage and the absence of props confine Thomas’s vision to the imagination of the spectators until the final graphic sequence of Grace’s relentless revenge. One inspiration behind Dogville was the Verfremdung (alienation) technique of Brecht’s epic theatre, and the final revenge of Grace clearly echoes Jenny in Die Dreigroschenoper (1928). But also in this case, TV has a part to play. As pointed out by Schepelern, David Edgar’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Britain (1982), was another source of inspiration. The TV adaptation was performed on an empty stage floor, and the single video camera displayed its mobility. It was screened in Denmark in 1986 when von Trier watched it (Schepelern 2003: 26).

Von Trier’s and other Dogme 95 film-makers’ preoccupation with ethical problems is another characteristic they share with the genre of children’s filmmaking and television. According to Bodil Cold-Ravnkilde children’s films are marked by humanism, which can be also identified as a feature of recent Danish film-making. There exists an explicit commitment in children’s film-making to maintain the integrity in the representation of reality, which can be also identified among the objectives of Dogme film-making. Yet another, perhaps, more trivial connection which exists between Dogme 95 and film-making for children is that just like nobody remains a children’s film-maker forever, the Dogme brothers did not plan to continue making Dogme films. Children’s film-making happens in a particular moment in film-makers’ lives, usually at the beginning of their career, or at the time when they have their own children and become more interested in their problems and lives. This was the case with Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, who made children’s films when his own children were young and then stopped.

Certainly, it would be a gross error to suggest that the Dogme 95 project to recapture the innocence of film-making through introducing a set of rules had the same result as the experiments with television as initiated by Mogens Vemmer, who allowed television to become a training ground for future television and cinema professionals. However, children’s television was the space of creative experimentation the way digital cinema was for the Dogme brothers. (p.104) In order to (re)discover the medium you had to experiment with it. In order to recapture the true nature of the cinematic medium, it was necessary to set up rules to be broken, but also limits and discipline – these were some of the markers of childhood expressed in the revolt that B&U pioneered.

Nowadays, the connection between television and cinema is vital for the well-being of Danish film-making. On the whole, the former resentment has been replaced by a spirit of mutual acknowledgement. Previously, young directors and scriptwriters often suffered hardships trying to further their careers in film-making. Now the necessary alliances are generally made at the Film School, and following the tradition of DR’s long running serial TAXA (1997–9), many of the new directors start by making programmes for television or by making films and productions for TV alternately (Niels Arden, Ole Christian Madsen, Lone Scherfig, Anette K. Olesen, Carsten Myllerup, Per Fly, Henrik Ruben Genz, etc.). In terms of biography, there are two symbolic expressions of the bridging of the two worlds. The first is represented by Camilla Hammerich, a film-maker who started directing children’s films, becoming the head of the Drama Department of DR 1994–8. The second, indicating the historical importance of B&U for this process, was when Poul Nesgaard’s became the Head of the Danish Film School in 1992. His appointment not only connected the worlds of television and cinema but also highlighted the role of B&U in this process. Working with a creative group of people and sharing their expertise at different stages of film-making is not just an inherent part of working in cinema but also something which Poul Nesgaard learned while working in the B&U. He tries to encourage students to work on many different projects during their school years, which is very helpful in the move between cinema and television when they begin their professional careers. His efforts ‘are underpinned by the deep respect for children and art’.33 Poul Nesgaard’s efforts to infuse film-making with the collaborative spirit he experienced and enjoyed while working in B&U are echoed in the Dogme 95 project, which emphasises collaborative aspects of cinema by refusing to credit the director. Even though the public obviously identifies Dogme films with particular directors, what is significant here is the fact that the Dogme brothers felt it was important to de-emphasise the director as the only person responsible for the film. This may be seen as a sign of a broader transformation undergone by the Danish media and the culture of drama production and film-making resulting from the media liberalisation which created ‘a shift from individual artist approach to a more group-oriented and collaborative one’.34 The convergence of media diffuses the idea of cinema as art and director as an omni-talented individual and proposes a film-maker as a versatile professional capable of working in different media contexts.

The story of the relationship between film and television is full of surprises and paradoxes. One of the latter is that the rather anarchic upbringing and televisual education of the Dogme generations resulted in a set of rules. Taking that background into account, however, it is not astonishing that some of the rules (p.105) were broken. The rule of not crediting the director was never taken seriously by the Dogme brothers, all of whom worshipped the idea of the auteur. Another rule banished genres even if genres are almost inevitable in film, as is demonstrated by for example Mifune and The Celebration (Bordwell 2004). Still another paradox is that this set of rules reflected the liberty of experiments in B&U that had been formative for the future film-makers – thus working as an appropriate vehicle for the renewal of the art of cinema. And after all, this renewal is what it was all about.


(1.) This development is documented in Christa Lykke Christensen, ‘Børne- og ungdoms-tv’s historie’ in Stig Hjarvard (2006).

(2.) Interview with Vibeke Windeløv, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(3.) In the following the term Dogme 95 is used in a broad sense about the cinema of the generation of film-makers inspired by the manifesto. David Bordwell uses the concept in the same way in his survey ‘A Strong Sense of Narrative Desire: A Decade of Danish Film’, available at www.dfi.dk/English.

(4.) Interview with Bodil Cold-Ravnkilde, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(5.) Interview with Per Schultz, Dorota Ostrowska (June 2004) (unpublished).

(6.) Dorota Ostrowska is grateful to Kirsten Drotner for pointing this out.

(7.) Interview with Per Schultz.

(8.) Dorota Ostrowska is grateful to Kirsten Drotner for pointing out these elements of the Danish tradition in relation to children. See also the ideas developed by Ellen Kay, a Swedish thinker who wrote Barndommens århundrede published in 1902. This book became very influential not only in professional, pedagogical circles, but also in common debate, and it was translated into seventeen languages. The latest edition: Stockholm 1996. It was first published in English in 1909 under the title Century of the Child.

(9.) Interview with Mogens Vemmer, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(10.) Interview with Poul Nesgaard, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished). Máire Messenger Davies’ observations about children’s television in general show that the subversive element is something Danish television shared with other children televisions. She writes that ‘a creatively liberating aspect of children’s material is its carnivalesque subversion of the respectabilities of adult authority’ (Messenger Davies 2001: 96–7).

(11.) Interview with Per Schultz.

(12.) Interview with Mogens Vemmer.

(13.) Interview with Mogens Vemmer.

(14.) Interview with Bodil Cold-Ravnkilde.

(15.) Interview with Mogens Vemmer.

(16.) Interview with Poul Nesgaard.

(17.) Interview with Bodil Cold-Ravnkilde.

(18.) Interview with Poul Nesgaard.

(19.) Interview with Bodil Cold-Ravnkilde.

(20.) Interview with Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(21.) Interview with Per Schultz.

(22.) The view of children cinema as art continues nowadays and is expressed in the perspective embraced by the current Centre for Children and Youth Films, DFI. Its aim is among other things ‘to encourage the debate of children and youth films as art and as a mass medium’ (translation: GA), cf. the Centre’s homepage at www.dfi.dk.

(23.) Interview with Per Schultz.

(p.106) (24.) Interview with Per Schultz.

(25.) Interview with Camilla Hammerich, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(26.) Interview with Camilla Hammerich.

(27.) Interview with Camilla Hammerich.

(28.) Interview with Camilla Hammerich.

(29.) Interview with Henning Camre, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(30.) Telephone interview with Kirsten Drotner, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(31.) The motivations behind this first law are discussed in Niels Jørgen Dinnesen (1980) and Honoré (1994). See also Bondebjerg and Schepelern (1997). The subsequent two Danish laws of 1989 and 1997 could be seen as further reactions to the transformations in the Danish audio-visual landscape brought about by the introduction of the second TV channel, TV2, and finally the liberalisation of the media market in Denmark.

(32.) Interview with Ulrich Breuning, Dorota Ostrowska, June 2004 (unpublished).

(33.) Interview with Poul Nesgaard.

(34.) Interview with Per Schultz.