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Christina Kirstinesgaard: “Mad A/S is More than a Movie”

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As promised: Below is a short Q&A with Christina Kirstinesgaard, producer/project manager on “Mad A/S,” the upcoming Danish documentary on industrial farming and its alternatives.

“Mad A/S” is a Danish counterpart to the U.S.-produced, “Food Inc.” But Christina plans for the documentary to become more than “just” a movie.

“The movie project is a seed for cultural change,” she says.

By opting for a bottom-up approach where parts of the funding is reached via micro-donations from individual contributors, Kirstinesgaard hopes the Danish population will feel as stakeholders in the finished documentary. Hopefully, she says, this approach will inspire a feeling of ownership with the viewers that will increase the movie’s impact when it hits the cinemas and when it moves on to its political, deliberative and educational afterlife.

“Mad A/S” is produced in collaboration with a research panel consisting of medical physicians, professors and PhDs, and will be distributed free-of-charge to Danish educational institutions upon completion.

Below is the full interview. Please feel free to leave questions, ideas or concerns in the comments section above.

Earth & Science: You are making a movie about industrial farming in Denmark. Why?

Christina Kirstinesgaard: Right now, there are so many things going on in the industrial farming — everything from animal abuses to humans falling ill from eating the food. So, together with the group, I wish to shed light on the subject, communicate the truths and point to alternatives — there are many. The story will be full of hope and told with a bit of humor.

E&S: “The title, Mad A/S,” is a direct translation of the American documentary, “Food Inc.” Is it possible to do a similar documentary in a country like Denmark with no Monsanto or Smithfield Foods?

CK: “MAD A/S” is inspired by “Food Inc.” But it will be focusing on the problems in Denmark. Denmark is usually following the American lead with a delay of 10 years or so, but that’s no longer necessary. It’s more fun to plan ahead than it is to do damage control. Unfortunately, Monsanto is already very much a presence in Denmark — they’re already present at approximately 10 experimental plots with GMOs [Genetically Modified Organisms, ed.]

E&S: How would you characterize the creative forces behind this movie? Are you activists, journalists, consumers or producers?

CK: We’re a good mix of all those people. We have an incredibly skilled, professional director with many years of experience with documentaries and who, as the first Dane, has won an EU prize [The European Parliament Journalism Prize, ed.] for best documentary. We have many skilled and “professional” consumers, we have a research panel with professors, PhDs and physicians and we have 100 individuals who’ve contributed with donations ranging from 50 kroner to 10.000 kroner [approx. 10-2.000 USD, ed.]. We have about 1000 members on Facebook who support us and have faith in the project. This is a movie that simply HAS TO and WILL happen.

E&S: “Food Inc.” presents organic farming as a solution to the problems with conventional farming. What is your take on this?

CK: There are big issues that we wish to deal with. Obviously, organic/biodynamic agriculture are solutions as they’ve been proven to produce foods that don’t contain traces of poison, but we also want to talk about permaculture, CSA [community-supported agriculture, ed.] and the philosophy behind Frie Bønder [Free Farmers, link in Danish. Ed.] who believe farms should be smaller in size.

E&S: “Mad A/S” is partially funded from bottom and up. What have been the pros and cons with this financial model?

CK: The dream is to be able to say: ‘It’s the Danish population who has asked for this movie.’ That would create a very special impact — on the public as well as on politicians. And, by the way, who can sue the Danish population? Unfortunately, micro-funding is a rather slow process — 50 kroner hither and thither sums up to large amounts, but only slowly and in waves. We still hope and wish for something grand to happen.

E&S: Who else are contributing financially?

CK: We’ve received 15.000 kroner [approx. 3.000 USD, ed.] from an organic foundation. We’ve applied for funding at larger foundations and are still working on it. But you have to be brave to support this project! That’s another reason why micro-funding appeals to us — it gives us a chance to be brave together.

E&S: Lastly, when can we expect to see the movie in the theaters?

CK: Our initial goal was to release the movie this spring and everything is ready. But it takes time to raise 1.5 mill. kroner. We’ve been invited to the film festival in Copenhagen this fall so we need to be ready by then. If we really push it, our director can have the job done in about 7 months from when we’ve got the funding.

E&S: Is there something you’d like to add?

CK: This is not ‘just’ a movie project but a seed for cultural change. First thing is to screen the movie in Danish cinemas. Then we’ll follow up with a series in the media, free educational CDs for all of the 2.5000 educational institutions in Denmark, debates, an active research panel and a constant follow-up. Movies are great at touching people and affecting our attitudes towards life, but afterward you’ll quickly disappear from people’s everyday life and the good initiatives are forgotten. But with a long follow-up and by repeating the message you can get the movement continuing in the right direction.

Thanks to Christina Kirstinesgaard for answering these questions. Check out “Mad A/S'” website or Facebook page for more information.

Below is a short clip from the much loved and equally lambasted American documentary, “Food Inc.”


Written by Earth & Science

April 27, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

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I recently watched Werner Herzog’s amazing documentary about the Antarctica. It is available in snippets on YouTube. Below is part 8 which is a good appetizer (though I think Herzog steps over the line in the last interview). To me, this film is a lesson in documentary film making. The editing is slow and lends the images the time they need to speak for themselves and develop meanings of their own. Also, the interviews take their time to understand the people they are dealing with and skips the usual  “this is what he thinks/she thinks, on to the next, approach.” I wrote a piece about it below, but I suggest you start by watching the excerpt — or the whole film! Enjoy…

We flew into the unknown—a seemingly endless void. I was surprised I was even on this plane. The National Science Foundation had invited me to Antarctica even though I left no doubt that I would not come up with another film about penguins. My questions about nature, I let them know, were different. I told them I kept wondering: Why is it that human beings put on masks or feathers to conceal their identity?

The German movie director, Werner Herzog, is obsessed with human beings. He wants to understand the psyche of man—his motives, his fears and his dreams—and he wants the world to have room for the characters and the weirdos. The people who most us of call weirdos are the people Herzog call geniuses.

In “Encounters at the End of the World,” Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica to discover the “geniuses” of the southernmost continent. The key theme in the movie is that people are not as they appear to be. This is apparent in his interviews but it also comes across in the formal makeup of the film—in the cinematography and the editing.

One of the first people Herzog interviews is a forklift driver. However, and typically for Herzog, the forklift driver is not just a forklift driver. As the caption explains at the beginning of the interview, the forklift driver is a “philosopher and forklift driver.” He is something more than we initially expected him to be.

This is the key approach of “Encounters at the End of the World.” It is exploring hidden identities and it quickly becomes clear that what we are dealing with is not a movie about Antarctica. It is not “another film about penguins,” as Herzog puts it, but a film about the people living at this weird magnetic place at the end of the world.

Herzog insists that people are more complex and powerful than they appear to be. He talks to the diver and the scientist and he talks to the chef and the bus driver—but he never simple gives us the data. Instead, Herzog insists that there is something more to these people than we initially see and thus the diver does not talk about diving but about his obsession with science fiction. And while the scientist does not speak about his research but about the dreams he has at night, the bus driver talks about a women being chased down by indigenous people in South America with machetes. In “Encounters at the End of the World,” Herzog seems to say that we should look at the people surrounding us afresh.

By Flickr user "Erinc Salor"

Werner Herzog in Bruxelles. Photo: Flickr user “Erinc Salor,” via WikiMedia Commons.

This aspect of the film is apparent in its editing as well. In many cases, the movie refrains from cutting when an image has emptied its significance as if implying that we should keep on watching until we find what we have missed. As movie viewers, we have learned to watch movies in a certain way—always expecting a frame to mean something and the movie to cut when that meaning is delivered. This is relating to a technique known in film theory as analytical editing or continuity editing—used in Hollywood par excellence—where a closeup of a face means someone is looking at something and where the next shot will tell us what that person is looking at.

But Herzog does not do this. Instead of using the image to merely deliver a point, as a means of the narrative, he extends the image to insist that it should be interpreted freely. By refraining from cutting as a frame has depleted its meaning, he forces us to keep watching that frame and prompts us to consider that maybe there is more to that image than we were able to see with our narrative eyes. He uses the image as an end in itself.

In “Encounters at the End of the World,” for example, the camera lingers when filming a deserted landscape with just a few odd looking buildings in it. At first, we decode the buildings as “houses on Antarctica,” but as the image is extended and the camera relentlessly holds its focus on the buildings, we begin to see that the landscape resemblances something else. The buildings and the desolate scenery of Antarctica, we see, are as strange and alien as a moon base orbiting the Earth.

Film theorists have developed the notion of excess to talk about these kinds of phenomena. Moments of excess are moments when something falls outside of the narrative of a film—outside the framework that lends the movie its coherence. To the Hollywood school of film making, always devoted to story telling, excess is an error—a disturbing element that alienates the viewer from the dreamworld he is engaging with. But in Herzog’s hands excess becomes a technique deployed to tell us we should not forget to use our eyes and see the things we have learned to forget.

Herzog is what we may call an auteur—a director whose personal and creative vision is present in every work he makes. Take all of Herzog’s films, one might say, his fictional films as well as his documentaries and TV series, and boil them down to their essence; then you will find that the essence in all of them is the same. The auteur, somehow, always leaves a mark on his work as if affirming the idea that there is in fact such a thing as the romanticist, genius artist—what the Germans called “das geniale Ich.”

So even though “Encounters at the End of the world” takes place on Antarctica, this frozen continent to the south is not the theme of the film—Herzog’s obsession with people is. Whether dealing with a deranged animal lover as in “Grizzly Man” (2005), an uncompromising mountaineer as in “Gasherbrum: Der Leuchtende Berg” (1985) or a ski-jumper as in “Die Große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner” (1974), Herzog’s persona is the guiding factor. He wants to understand these people—remarkable for their pursuit of the extraordinaire. What drives a man, Herzog seems to ask in “Gasherbrum,” who devotes his life—and risks it—to stand on top of large hilltops in strange places in the world? And what is it that drives people toward the frozen south? What dreams do they share?

Herzog asks those questions in all of his films, but, as is also the case in “Encounters at the End of the World,” he never questions the dreams themselves. At the end of the world, it seems, also Herzog is looking for answers. And if finding those answers is Herzog’s dream, his lifelong project, then following that dream relentlessly is what puts him in the room with John Ford, Lars von Trier, Howard Hawks, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir and all the other auteurs of the world.

Written by Earth & Science

November 20, 2010 at 7:56 am

Posted in Antarctica, Film, Herzog