CPH PIX Brings the World of Independent Cinema to Copenhagen

by Tina Jøhnk Christensen October 5, 2018
CPH director Jacob Neiidam

CPH PIX ("Copenhagen Pix") is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and is emerging as a major film festival, in Scandinavia and beyond. CPH PIX was born from the merger of the city’s previous festivals, Natfilm Festival, and Copenhagen International Film Festival, and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It runs from September 27 to October 10.

Since its first edition, the festival has grown exponentially in size, attracting 78,000 spectators in 2017. Lasting two weeks in the Danish capital, the festival programs over 200 films from around the world as well as 700 film-related events and activities, including seminars, workshops, artist talks, retrospectives, and film-related concerts.

Jacob Neiiendam is the former Nordic correspondent for Screen from 1999-2005 and was head of programming at Copenhagen International Film Festival from 2005-2007 before creating CPH PIX. Since 2013 Neiiendam holds the post of chairman of the Danish Film Academy, which also hands out the Danish Film Awards (the Robert.  He serves on the Selection Committee for the European Film Academy. We asked him about the festival he founded and has directed since 2008.

CPH PIX, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is very much a festival for the audience, right?

It is 100 percent for the audience. We asked ourselves, what is it that we can create and what will make our festival special? We knew we should not just copy what other festivals do – but create the festival that was right for Copenhagen. Here it makes sense to cater to the audience’s needs rather than the local or international industry. Danish films do quite well internationally, both in sales and at festivals, so the reasoning behind the Copenhagen Screenings – a showcase where international buyers were invited to come to watch the latest Danish films- disappeared after a few good years as the need for it was no longer there. We rather wanted to focus all our resources on a festival for the audience.

Our interview takes place at the Danish Film Institute. How significant is DFI for CPH PIX?

DFI is crucial for CPH PIX’s existence. Together with the City of Copenhagen, the DFI is the main funder of the festival. We could not do it without them. It would not work, if we had a completely commercial set up, even if our budget isn’t very big. We produce the festival for around US 1.1 million, which is peanuts for a festival with 78.000 admissions. If you compare us to the big Swedish festivals in Gothenburg and Stockholm, they have two or three times the budget.

What makes CPH PIX significant?

We can make a difference for the audience. You can call it a public service event. The public deserves an alternative - an alternative program to the commercial films that are presented to them through so many channels.  That is one thing, but we can also make a difference for the filmmakers. It has taken a few years for us to get to a point where we can see this difference. From the beginning, I said that we wanted to create a platform for alternative Danish film – the films that need a platform. The established part of the business said that this was ridiculous because there were no such films –but that was just because Danish films at the time were easily sold and distributed. That changed because now a lot of films are being made outside the system – and without funding from the Danish Film Institute. They are not able to get distribution without help. So we became a platform for them.

The films are subtitled in English. But it seems to be a festival for the Danish audience in particular.

Yes. Copenhagen is ‘liver paste’ – it is a very homogenous audience. We have 19 Danish films represented and that is important to the Danish audience. We have a few films that are world premiering here, but that is not important to the Danish audience and thus it is not important to us. We are more interested in the audience and what we present to them. Our festival lasts 14 days, it’s a long festival but that is for the audience to have many opportunities to watch films.

You mention 19 Danish films and they are all very different but placed in three categories. Could you explain the different categories of Danish films at the festival?

There are three categories that are presented in a way that is easily accessible to the audience. There are the ‘pre-premiere films’ like Lars von Trier’s The House that Jack Built, Michael Noer’s Before the Storm and Journal 64. The second is  ‘talent films’, which is a large category this year and for which we have created the Politiken’s Talentpris. These films need the festival, because they are low-budget and might never be released. Lastly, we have our ‘upcoming category’ where newcomers are testing their skills. They particularly need an audience because if a filmmaker never gets to meet his or her audience, then they will never improve their skill set.

The festival does not seem to be focused on awards. How important are the few awards you present to the festival?

Awards are important, but it is important to acknowledge who they are important to – and they are mainly important to the talents who are nominated and in particular for those who win the awards. The audience could not care less. So we decided that we need to present awards in a different way. We give the awards in the middle of the festival to create buzz around it – and make sure the audience is aware that the film festival is ongoing.

How would you describe the Danish film culture today?

It is influenced by our national broadcaster DR – Danmarks Radio - which is both good and bad. I have criticized the programming of DR for several years because they seemed to be more interested in showing Die Hard for the 720th time instead of daring to show a European arthouse film. Their reasoning is that there is only a small audience who want to see a French film. Of course!  When they do not know what it is, they don’t have the opportunity to see it. DR has created a cultural channel, DR K, where the audience has access to art films. That’s all fine, but it has just created a smaller platform within a huge platform, which is still dominated by American film and TV.  It is the same when you look at the film culture. The small independent films often go unnoticed. The artistic films have a hard time getting through to the audience. The artistic Asian or European films get marginalized in the theatres and thus they will also be marginalized on the smaller platforms too. For me, it is important to show that all films are equally important on this festival – and a film is equally important whether it is seen by five people or by 500 people. This is a kind of public service we are providing. It is important that people have the opportunity to see these films.

How do you see the current state of Danish film?

I think it is very exciting. The films that were nominated in our talent award category reveal that we have a generation of filmmakers that want to renew themselves. They create films with very low budgets in very creative ways. It is a generation that is willing to be groundbreaking – which The Guilty is an example of. It has limited means but has a wish to reach its audience and is not afraid to break genres. It turns out to be a benefit for its end result. It is a very intense film.