The Agenda: Culture - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle
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cinema –– denmark
Behind the camera

With multiple Oscar and Palme d’Or winners to their name, Danes have long punched above their weight when it comes to cinema. Their government recently acknowledged this by allocating a further dkk40m (€5.4m) to its already generous financial support for the industry in 2024. Much of the credit for Danish film-making’s global success should go to Den Danske Filmskole (The National Film School of Denmark), which The Hollywood Reporter named as one of the world’s top film schools last year.

“This is the most important institution in Danish cinema,” says the school’s director, Tine Fischer. “It has a long list of graduates who have helped to lift Danish film and TV to its unique international position over the past 50 years. That’s partly because it has a close relationship with the industry. Our students make films as soon as they start here – and when they leave, they go directly into the industry.”

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Students shelving a festival programme in the library

Alumni have founded successful studios such as Zentropa and Nimbus Films straight after graduation. The former was set up by Lars von Trier, the Antichrist director known for his provocative work, who attended the school before he added the “von” to his name. Other past students include Bille August, Susanne Bier and Thomas Vinterberg, who won the best foreign film Oscar in 1989, 2011 and 2021, respectively. Vinterberg, one of the alumni who founded the influential Dogme 95 movement, has said: “The four or five tricks that I use when I make films come from my days at the film school.” 

The school is the country’s most competitive educational institution, with more than 1,000 applicants for just 48 places every two years. According to Fischer, its small size is crucial to its success. “It’s like with elite sports,” she says. “Our students are looked after individually, with many hours of personal dialogue and feedback. They develop according to their own potential, artistic vision and ambition.”

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Rigging rope
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Tine Fischer, Den Danske Filmskole’s director

Collaboration is another key focus. “How we operate has always been defined by the fact that writing students work very closely with the film-makers,” says Fischer. “In the future our students will have to work between sectors, so narratives will be about IP: you create a universe that works across art, theatre, film, TV series and games.”

The emphasis on teamwork is what makes the school intrinsically Danish. “Director students don’t hang on to their idea for a month,” says Fischer. “They constantly unfold their vision as part of a group. And if they later go to work in Hollywood, people are struck by how well they can work collaboratively with others. That’s why they get hired again.”


School rules
Founded in 1966, Den Danske Filmskole is housed in a converted 19th-century artillery store in Holmen, a former military zone across the harbour from Copenhagen city centre. It is funded by the state at a cost of dkk50m (€6.7m) a year.

The school, which is close to the Copenhagen Opera House and the Royal Danish Academy, offers eight four-year bachelor programmes: animation, documentary direction, fiction direction, cinematography, editing, screenwriting, production and sound editing. The education it offers is the country’s second most expensive, after training navy frogmen. The school is open to students of all nationalities but most of the teaching is in Danish. International students must pay €25,000 a term; the state covers the tuition fees of those from Denmark.


journalism –– iowa
Think local

More than 2,000 newspapers have closed in the US in the past two decades, leaving many areas with scant media coverage. Iowa Capitol Dispatch is among a small number of outlets that are seeking to plug the gap. The website is part of a not-for-profit network called States Newsroom, which funds journalism in almost 40 states across the country and supplies local newsrooms with stories. Since the Dispatch launched in Des Moines in 2020, the appetite for its work has been robust; its subscriber base has doubled in the past year.

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Kathie Obradovich, the site’s editor in chief, tells monocle that there’s a particularly urgent need for high-quality journalism in Iowa, a rural state with an outsized influence because of its first-in-the-nation caucuses. “People pay attention to politics here, especially young people,” she says. “They see how cool it is that they have a voice and that, every four years, they get the opportunity to meet presidential candidates and ask them questions.” 

In January, Donald Trump’s landslide victory in the Republican caucuses confirmed Iowa’s shift from swing state to gop stronghold. “This is a result of a combination of reasons,” says Obradovich. “Rural areas have felt disconnected from the state capitol for a long time. But I put some of it at the feet of Trump, who has helped to increase the polarisation here.” In a pivotal US election year, Iowa Capital Dispatch’s reporting on stories that might otherwise go untold will be crucial.

books –– berlin
Q&A

Lauren Oyler
Culture writer and novelist

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Lauren Oyler’s new collection of essays, No Judgement, is published by Virago this month. Her debut novel, Fake Accounts (2021), was well received, but she is best known for her acerbic literary criticism. In No Judgement, she explores topics ranging from gossip and Goodreads to expat life in Berlin and attempting “jaw yoga” to ease her anxiety- fuelled teeth grinding. Here, she tells us about the state of cultural criticism, her writing process and “difficult” pieces of art. 

What did you write ‘No Judgement’ in response to?
Many people have this idea that cultural criticism and commentary have a short lifespan because the news cycle is so fast. I disagree with that. I wanted to see whether the arguments that I was making in, say, 2019 would still hold now. I wanted to contextualise some of these contemporary conversations.

What was your writing process?
It’s not natural to write six long essays in a row. Ideally, the essay is an occasional form but it worked well because the pieces inform each other in ways that I didn’t intend.

Why is wrestling with ‘difficult’ art important?
I identify and empathise with people who are intimidated by the idea of tackling something difficult, particularly books. You have to learn to read them as you read them. But when we say, “This is difficult, most people aren’t going to like it,” that’s going to turn them off immediately. Instead, we should say, “It’s hard for me too, but you can do it,” and show that the effort that you put in is rewarding.

language –– paris
English channelling

Emmanuel Macron has inaugurated Paris’s Cité Internationale de la Langue Française as part of his pledge to boost the number of French speakers around the world. Nestled in the former Renaissance chateau of King François I in the capital’s northeast, the centre will celebrate the French language and its cultural prowess.

The €211m spent on the shiny new building shows just how much of a priority this project is to the government – as far as cultural overhauls go, the budget is second only to that of the renovation of the Notre-Dame cathedral. The reason for this is simple. According to the Académie Française, the national body in charge of moderating the French language, English words are now trickling in to the French vernacular more than ever. The way that linguistic purists see it, those who use these imported terms aren’t just doing themselves a disservice. They’re also breaking the law.

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Under the Toubon Law of 1994, it is illegal to use phrases such as “le parking”, “le job” or – God forbid – “le happy hour” in any document that is funded by the state. But with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games on the horizon, curbing such forms of linguistic treason, as the Académie refers to them, will be harder than ever. The use of both French and English across the event’s communications suggests that these Games might not be quite as French as some people would like. Perhaps the Académie would be better off taking a more laissez-faire approach.

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