Louise Detliffe’s feature-length documentary, “Fat Front,” was premiered at IDFA 2019. Her films have been shown in both television and festivals across Europe, and her debut film “From Barbie to Babe” premiered at IDFA.
Not yet finished is shown at the 2021 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, which takes place from April 29 to May 9. The festival is digital this year due to COVID-19. Broadcasting is geographically restricted in Canada.
W&H: Describe the movie in your own words.
Lisa: It’s Not Over Yet is a documentary about compassion and the power of human connection. It is a documentary in true style about a small and unique nursing home in Denmark, where the founder, nurse May Pierre Epi, uses an ancient and controversial treatment.
May and her staff take medications and replace them with compassion, creating a sense of community among the population of 12 and making it possible to live a happy life with severe dementia.
It is a refined and intimate picture of the population and daily life with dementia.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Lisa: What sparked the idea was a radio interview with May, who was the first person I heard talking about the potential for joy and happiness for people with severe dementia. I was intrigued by her natural, optimistic approach to dementia, and her ideas about dementia as a way to live in the moment that hit me personally – being anxious by nature, and as is the case for many modern people, always on my way to the next thing, is not to use my basic human nature to sit back and feel. By shifting light, or colors in a flower, or just someone else’s hand in mine.
When we get old and weak, we may somehow approach our basic needs. So I felt an urge to explore life in Dagmarsminde to contribute to an important discussion about dementia and elder care in our society, but also on a deep emotional level to explore how it feels to live your life with severe dementia. This was a perspective I’d never seen before.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after seeing the movie?
LD: Oh, there are a lot of things that come to my mind. But I think the most important thing is to feel or think about how important we are to each other as human beings. How much a simple emotional connection and a sense of belonging to a community means to us. Living on this earth is mainly about feeling and feeling the world around us. The sun is on our cheeks, a chat in the garden, a smile, a hug. Feeling close to nature and other people is very beneficial, yet in modern society we tend to forget this in all of our planning and performance.
W&H: What’s the biggest challenge in making a movie?
LD: COVID hit the world when we were in the middle of a shooting, so that was a huge challenge. In March 2020, the Danish prime minister shut down Danish society and nursing homes closed to relatives and people from outside, so we stopped shooting and tried to come up with a plan on how to proceed. Luckily, the cinematographer was my husband, so we lived in our summer house for ten days to shoot, then we got back to our family with two young men still living in the house. This was followed by a quarantine period and we returned to the summer house while filming.
Since we’ve been shooting for a long time already, May, the founder of this private aged care home, let us work under the same staff conditions for the following months until a huge testing facility was set up and up and running in Denmark, and we can test it before filming.
Fortunately neither we nor the staff brought any virus and none of the residents was sick, but this was a tense, nervous time. The good thing about all of this is that the residents themselves were not aware of COVID due to their mental illness, so the time we spent there was like a little paradise without a pandemic.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some ideas on how to make the movie.
Lisa: In Denmark, we have a system in which the state / taxpayer funds a National Film Institute – the Danish Film Institute – where you as a filmmaker can apply for funding for your documentary project. Initially, we contacted the national television channel TV2 and started looking with development funds from it. Then we edited a trailer for sales and applied to join The Danish Film Institute. First, we were given development and then after showing some scenes, we applied for production support and got it.
In collaboration with producer Malene Flindt Pedersen, we also showcased the project at the CPH DOX Forum in 2020, where we found a German co-producer. Along the way, we got SVT (Swedish TV), Norwegian money, and money from Nordic Film Fund, Nordisk Film og Tv Fond. We also applied for support from Eurimages (within the framework of the European Commission), which we got.
I always start shooting very early and shoot a large portion of my development budget; Photography material gives the opportunity to showcase the project with new scenes along the way, and I find this much better than just a written presentation.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Lisa: I come from a journalistic background, but before that I tried for several years to get involved in writing the script. I found it to be a very long process, and at that time I was very troubled, so I went to the Danish School of Journalism for four years and majored in television. After writing a book and working as a freelance writer, I wanted to do more storytelling in the long run, and got the chance to teach one woman with one camera at a production company. I drifted from more newspaper report-driven documentaries to more scenic and subjective storytelling.
For the past fifteen years, I have considered myself a manager and do no kind of journalistic work – but still my motivation is to try to improve society. I am drawn to stories about people who are vulnerable in some way, as I find it important as a filmmaker to make their voices heard.
I tend to make documentaries about emotional problems, society, and all the feelings that are taboo in our society.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
LD: I have a postcard on my desk that says, “If you never try, you’ll never know.” It might not be someone’s advice, but it is a reminder not to sit, wait and overthink things, but act according to my thoughts and intuition and get out there and experience it. Do the research, feel it. This is the best way to work for me.
As a producer too, I have worked for many years and have been saying that all the important stories in life can be told in millions of different ways. Just one documentary about teen love or grief doesn’t really mean your style or perspective can’t be relevant. When I was younger, I tended to feel that everything had to be something brand new to be good enough. Now I’m much safer and I know I just need to find my own angle and be honest with that.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
LD: Just do it. It sounds simple and annoying, but I feel that often the worst detractors are ourselves. And the first step is always the scariest one, so push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Especially in the early years of my documentary life, I worked numerous times with other female filmmakers, developing projects, doing writing, writing applications together or on individual projects, and just helping each other. We started a documentary series and my colleague took it through editing while I was on maternity leave, and a year later it was the other way around when I got pregnant. Women support women!
W&H: Name your favorite movie directed by women and why.
Lisa: I have many favorite films directed by women. One of the first films that caught my attention was Lyn Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher” because of its harsh social theme and great visual style.
I also like Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank”. It begins with a scene where the main character, a young woman from a dysfunctional family, dances alone in an abandoned apartment overlooking the residences. One of the shots shows a figure of great strength and great sensitivity.
W&H: How do you adjust to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you maintain your creativity, and if so, how?
Lisa: I was very fortunate to be able to film with a five-week break in March / April of 2020. I researched and developed “It’s not over yet” before COVID, then I finished filming in September and was able to work until January 2021 With the editor and a few production company to finish the movie. I was even able, with good hygiene procedures and testing twice a week, to travel to Germany in March 2021 to do post-production there.
I was lucky and just started researching a new documentary, so I’m feeling good. Although I am a little sad that I will not be able to go with the movie and sit at the cinema at the international premiere in Toronto when it premieres on Hot Docs. Hope more festivals follow and I can travel with the movie and get to know the audience!
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color on screen and behind the scenes and reinforcing – and creating – negative stereotypes. What measures do you think should be taken to make Hollywood and / or the world of documents more inclusive?
Lisa: The issue of acting needs the attention of everyone in the film industry. I myself have told many stories about Danish people of color from different ethnic backgrounds. I wrote these stories because they had important stories / messages and were the best heroes, not because I was specifically thinking about acting. But talk about the importance of diversity will hopefully drive this process.
I am against all filmmakers restricting storytelling. I am a white female in a predominantly white country, and I am also heterosexual, but I made a film about girls of Middle Eastern descent being oppressed and controlled by their families, as well as making a documentary about the fall of a young dancer who falls in love with a woman for the first time and fights for Accept its duplication.
In 2019, I made the documentary “Fat Front” with director Louise Unmack Kjeldsen, about four overweight women from the North fighting against discrimination against overweight people. The film sparked controversy in Nordic countries and traveled to festivals around the world. In “Fat Front,” we showed the body type that is not usually portrayed in the film as the strong protagonist, but often as the silly or stupid sidekick. Although we ourselves did not live life as obese women, although we did not feel discriminated against on our bodies, we were able to make a solid documentary on the topic. The situation is the same with people of color. They have to be heroes in all kinds of films, with directors of all colors and genders. Let’s raise each other, not restricting each other’s storytelling.
As a director, we go out into the world to explore great loyalty with our hero, so I think we should have the artistic freedom to make documentaries about anything and everyone, as long as we do so in an ethical way.
I don’t know if that was the answer, but perhaps the way in which the underrepresentation of women in cinema has been approached in Denmark is an inspiration. After strong pressure from a guild of directors and producers powerful in the business, there has been a positive shift in the number of women receiving funding from the Danish Film Institute. For many years, about four in five directors have been getting funding from men, but now things are changing and I’ve just seen stats that this year say it’s 50/50 between men and women. The way forward might be to create these statistics about the representation of women, the representation of ethnic minorities, or other races etc. To make it visible is the first step.
In Denmark, we often discuss the quota system, but already having a discussion and lobbying from the Directors’ Organization and others has helped increase the number of women receiving film support. But there has to be pressure and debate between financiers, directors, and producers to make this happen. But I think if we insist, we can change the style.
I think one of the most powerful tools is having role models, helping and directing other women to get involved in documentary filmmaking. Share experiences and help each other. I think working with female producers over the past fifteen years has meant more progress than I realized along the way – we’re making each other stronger.