Confront reality in a Copenhagen cinema

Starting on March 16, CPH:DOX offers an 11-day programme that addresses a diverse range of topics including the war in Syria, an exposé of the pharmaceutical industry, and the workings of an international fashion house

CPH:DOX returns this March after an 18-month hiatus with a quality selection of provocative and insightful films. It’s now the third-largest international documentary film festival in the world, having grown from 14,000 admissions in 2003 to over 90,000 in 2015.

While the documentaries will touch upon a range of hard-hitting subjects, the festival will not only challenge viewers in terms of content – CPH:DOX promises to play with the very notion of ‘documentary’ as a genre. The festival now includes debates, art installations, concerts, and even a sound show on March 22 entitled Invisible City that utilises the Dolby cinema surround sound system to represent the noises of Copenhagen in a multidimensional way.

‘Miranda – The making of a politician’ is a portrait of a young right-wing idealist and her short meteoric career in Sweden’s populist party, the Sweden Democrats.

One of the key themes of the festival is an exploration of the rise of populism in Europe, broaching the question of whether the liberal world order – and even democracy itself – is in crisis. Films grappling with this topic include Miranda – the making of a politician, the biographical account of a Swedish teenager who became part of an extreme right-wing party; Boiling Point, a study of the social tensions in Finland that have emerged as a result of the refugee crisis; and Tutti a Casa – People and Power, which delves into the formation of Italian rebel party M5S.

The festival will open with the European premiere of Last Men in Aleppo, which won the Grand Jury Prize in the international documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival. It delivers a sensitive portrait of the daily lives of members of the White Helmets rescue group and exposes the sacrifices made by those torn between protecting their own families and saving the lives of fellow citizens. It will be screened at DR Koncerthuset at 20:00 on March 15, a date that marks the six-year anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution. The screening will be followed by a concert performed by an ensemble of Syrian musicians.

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Other notable screenings include Pornocracy from France, and the world premiere of Cause of Death: Unknown from Norway, both of which will be shown multiple times throughout the festival. Pornocracy uncovers the dark underbelly of what the festival’s website has controversially heralded “the world’s most popular documentary genre,” while Cause of Death: Unknown is an immersive journalistic exposé of the pharmaceutical industry, where money often outweighs the value of human life.

A still from ‘Cause of Death Unkown’. When director Anniken Hoel’s older sister suddenly dies of cardiac arrest as a result of antipsychotic medication, she embarks on an investigative detective mission that takes her right into the dark heart of parts of the pharmaceutical industry.

Also premiering at the festival is Reiner Holzemer’s Dries, a year-long project documenting the professional and private life of renowned fashion designer Dries Van Noten. This film provides a rare glimpse into the creative heart of the unconventional fashion house by following the development of four of its collections and the creative process that goes into its celebrated fashion shows.

READ MORE: Will this documentary change anything?

There is a new addition to the festival programme this year, called CPH:CONFERENCE. This self-contained five-day conference comprised of keynote speeches, workshops and discussions will give attendees the chance to reflect on both the films they are seeing and the film medium itself. Each day is dedicated to a different theme broadly related to film and technology, from science and film to art as an instigator of social change. The third day of the conference, for example, is entitled Serialized, and will examine popular recent documentary series like Making a Murderer and OJ: Made in America (whose creator and director Ezra Edelman will be speaking). The conference will be held March 20–24 at the new Festival Centre Kunsthall Charlottenborg.

This is not a festival for escapists – CPH:DOX uses the medium to confront the reality of contemporary culture and politics. Hopefully, you’ll walk away seeing the world in a slightly different light. M

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By Emily Tait

Emily Tait Editorial intern. After graduating with a degree in English literature from the University of Cambridge last summer, Emily now lives in Copenhagen.

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