What to Watch – Danish Documentaries

The Five Obstructions

The documentary genre is growing worldwide and is probably the most interesting area within filmmaking at the moment. This is no different in the Nordic countries, where Denmark is becoming a documentary-Mecca.

The Danish love of documentaries is not new, but was put in the shade for several years by the so-called dogma films in the 90’s. This has all changed and today Danish documentaries are back in the limelight. The Copenhagen International Documentary Festival aka CPH:DOX has played a key role in promoting the genre world wide. It is Scandinavia’s biggest documentary festival with over 200 titles being screened across Copenhagen.

Ally Derks, director of the world’s largest film festival, IDFA in Amsterdam, says: “I think Danish docs are among the best in the world. Great story telling!”

Many great documentaries have been made through the years. Here are four must see movies from more or less recent years:

The Five ObstructionsThe Five Obstructions

The Five Obstructions (2003) by Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier. Jørgen Leth is among the most distinctive artists in Danish cinema, with a sincere interest in human nature. In this documentary Leth is asked by director Lars von Trier to revisit and recreate one of his first films The Perfect Human from 1967. If you want the The Five Obstructions with english subtitles you can buy it as a part of the Jørgen Leth box set #1 here. 



Armadillo (2010) by Janus Metz Pedersen. Danish soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan. The film is a very brave and honest account of the pointlessness of going to war, filled with testosterone, anxiety and adrenaline.

The Good Life

the good life

The Good Life (2010) by Eva Mulvad, one of many great female directors within the genre. Anne Mette and her elderly mum have downsized from their vast villa and now reside in a tiny apartment in Portugal on income from a single pension. Born with old money, but now being poor, Anne Mette is painfully aware of what she and her mother have lost.

The Act of KillingThe Act of KIlling

The Act of Killing (2013). Director Joshua Oppenheimer encourages the perpetrators of mass killings of the 1960s in Indonesia to re-enact their crimes for the camera. The film was nominated for an Oscar and changed the way Indonesia and the rest of the world looked at the greatest tragedy in Indonesian history.

Did we forget your favourite Danish doc?  Comment below. To learn more about Danish classics and documentaries, check out the Danish on a Sunday- series at the Cinematheque and the CPH:DOX festival.