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CPH PIX Copenhagen Film Festivals

CPH PIX is Denmark's new feature film festival. Launched in 2009 as the result of the merger between the city's two long-running festivals the Copenhagen International Film Festival and the Natfilm Festiva, it instantly became the biggest festival in the Danish capital ever.

CPH PIX focus on new talents, new ideas, new trends and artistic courage, both in the festival's film programme and in its collaborations across artistic genres and cultural institutions

CPH PIX also host COPENHAGEN FILM MARKET in September.

CPH PIX is part of COPENHAGEN FILM FESTIVALS which also house BUSTER (children and youth films) and CPH:DOX (documentaries). 


Sander Francken on BARDSONGS at CPHPIX 2011

Since BARDSONGS (2010) screened in Palm Springs this past PSIFF 2011, I’ve been speaking to director Sander Francken about doing an interview about what I thought was an extremely intriguing subject for a film, that of oral storytelling in a time where storytelling has changed so much that the old modes have long since departed us. Or have they? Sander’s film is a tribute to oral storytelling and ‘bardsongs’. I tracked him down in Copenhagen at CPHPIX 2011 where his film screened and we were able to meet up and begin progress towards our interview.


ME: How did you come up with the title and what does it symbolize for you?


SANDER: A bard is an classic word for poet. It comes from the old Celtic languages and is comparable with what we call troubadours. Shakespeare was also called ‘a bard’. So the title refers to past times and to oral story telling. Most cultures know the phenomena under different names. In West Africa story telling is still a living art form and the storytellers there are called griots. In most parts of the world where people live traditional lives the storytellers sing their stories. So the title reflects what the film is: filmed oral tales from three different cultures.


ME: What gave you the idea to make this film about oral storytelling and ‘the greatest part of all knowledge’?


SANDER: Years ago somebody showed me a series of photos from Djenné, a Medieval city in Mali built from adobe, a mix of mud, sand, straw and cow shit. I had never seen such fascinating architecture and I read that the city of Djenné had been an important source of inspiration for famous architects such as Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Ghery and Le Corbusier. I thought it would be fantastic to make a cinematic visualization of Djenné. At the time somebody told me about the tradition or oral storytelling in West Africa. I thought that would be an interesting form for this visualization, because I would not only allow me to show the architecture but also how it is being used by its inhabitants. This idea just stayed an idea till I was invited to Fespaco in 2001. Fespaco is the most important film festival in black Africa and it had programmed my feature PAPA’S SONG. I had never been south of the Sahara at the time and all that made me decide to start working on the project in Djenné. Doing research with my screenwriter we found this little tale about a Marabout (an Muslim teacher) who asked his scholar ‘what the largest part is of all knowledge?’. And from that one story came the other so that we ended up with a triptych. My basic drive however comes from my curiosity in other cultures and in the mysteries of our human nature.


ME: What, in your opinion, is ‘the greatest part of all knowledge’? And do you think you try to answer what you believe is the answer in your film?


SANDER: If I would answer that question I spoil the fun of watching BARDSONGS. But I can tell you that the answer is as simple as it is great and it contains a wisdom which can make you humble – and it might make you realize that true wisdom is universal.


ME: What kind of impact has your film had in USA? How has the film been received abroad?


SANDER: Everywhere in the world including the US the reactions are fantastic and above my expectations. In Washington the film recently won the SIGNIS Jury Award. And under the auspices of the BAFTA it has been nominated in London as ‘best crossover film’. Most reviews I have seen are also extremely good. See the following ones in English: and the different corners of the world where BARDONGS has been shown on a festival so far I have received e-mails and facebook messages from enthusiastic people I have never seen and who write me how lucky they find themselves that they got the chance to see BARDSONGS and who ask me how and where they can buy a dvd. I’m making films since many years but this is new for me. Nevertheless no international distribution contracts have been signed so far. I guess that most distributors base their choices on what has been successful in the past instead of taking account of how the audiences around them react on the film. A problem for them is probably that BARDSONGS is not comparable with any other movie. And another disadvantage for them is that there are no stars in the film, because I mainly worked with actors cast among the population in Mali, Rajasthan and Ladakh.


ME: How difficult was this film to produce? How long did it take and how many countries involved?


SANDER: The hard part of the project was the financing. It took me a couple of years to get a budget together and contracts signed. The actual production in the different regions was as productions always and everywhere are: when you are in the middle of it you have to overcome thousands of smaller and larger problems – but as soon as you have successfully completed the operation everything is forgotten and only the result counts. But there is one exception to this and that was the production of the ‘Buddhist tale’. We have shot it in Ladakh (part of Kashmir in the Indian Himalayas) and it was the best shooting experience I had in more than 20 years of filmmaking. If you are looking for good people, go to Ladakh! The environment is breath taking.


ME: How did you go about casting the film? Was this difficult?


SANDER: Hundreds of people we have tested. Very interesting work and very exhausting as well. There is probably no quicker way to learn more about alien cultures than casting their representatives, especially when they are no actors. For the main role in the production in Djenné we had to find a boy of approximately 9 years old. After casting hundreds of kids I found an interesting kid named Kolado Bocoum. He was a street kid and everybody warned me that I shouldn’t trust him, because he might run away after a couple of days of shooting. I couldn’t afford that risk with my limited budget, so I decided to shoot the film with two boys. To everybody’s surprise they both completed the shooting and I had to edit both versions of the same tale in order to find out which of the two boys would work best. And it was Kolado Bocoum indeed. In India almost everybody in the street dreams of a career in Bollywood. Hundreds and hundreds of people came to our castings. I finally found the perfect guy for the main role. An interesting man of about 35 years old. He told everybody that a dream had become true because of this role. But two days before the shooting he simply disappeared and I had not enough time to test alternatives, so we shot the first day in Rajasthan with two candidates for the same role. The casting in Ladakh was great…


ME: What made you want to tell this story in three parts? And can you speak about how you tie these stories together?


SANDER: Folktales are orally transmitted from generation to generation. They are the carriers for a wisdom, which is universal, just like fairy tales. With three stories from totally different parts of the world – rooted in totally different cultures: the Hindu culture in Rajasthan, the Muslim culture in Mali and the Buddhist culture in Ladakh – I want show that the old wisdom unites people. To become aware of what people and cultures share is very important for our future – and the future of our world. The opposite of that awareness is war and self-destruction.


ME: What are ‘Bardsongs’ and when did you first encounter this type of singing and storytelling to make you want to make a film about it?


SANDER: I think this question has been answered already. I just can add that I love music, especially music from other parts of the world.


ME: Can you talk about some of your future projects?


SANDER: I have four different feature film projects in development and one television drama series; one of the projects is set in North Africa, one in East Africa, one partly in Moscow and partly in the Netherlands and the two remaining ones could be set anywhere, depending on where the money comes from. All these projects have one element in common: they are about the attraction and repulsion between people from different cultures. Our time is about ‘the meeting of totally different cultures’. There is so much drama in that, but nevertheless it is rarely used by filmmakers. But It’s fascinating and important stuff.


ME: Is there anything you would like to express about your film that you haven’t been able to? Anything you would like to add?


SANDER: Coming back to BARDSONGS I like to add that my original idea was a five part film, including a Christian tale set in Ethiopia and a Jewish tale in Morocco. I hope some day to be able to add those two parts, which have been developed on paper already. Only then BARDSONGS will cover the main religions that divide the human race in different groups.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon, April 30, 2011


Summary of BARDSONGS (2010)“A plastic collector named Sahir refuses to pass judgment on fate when his son is wounded, and the outbreak of war proves him right. Young Bouba is given the task of answering the question "What is the greatest part of all knowledge?" His search leads him to love. And Sonam sets out across the Himalayas to sell his dzo, but the journey proves useful despite the fact that he doesn't sell the animal. All three stories are presented in the form of traditional songs which intermingle in this engaging on-screen narrative. The characters are always seeking after something, thus enabling the movie to grip the viewer's attention.”Summary written by Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

director Sander Francken at work on BARDSONGS (2010)

Director Sander Francken at KVIFF 2010 with BARDSONGS


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