Hunt: Interview with Thomas Vinterberg

The last time Danish director Thomas Vinterberg had a film in Competition at the Cannes Film Fest was in 1998, when the child abuse drama “The Celebration” won the Grand Jury Prize.

The movie won many other awards, including the Best Foreign Film from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, of which I was proudly president at the time.

“The Celebrtaion” (“Festen”) did not exactly launch, but made popular the hugely influential Dogme cinema movement. But Vinterberg’s next two or three films were not critical or commercial successs.

Vinterberg has left Dogme behind him, but he revisits some of the themes of “The Celebration” in his new Competition film “The Hunt”(“Jagtsen”), the story of a man falsely accused of being a pedophile, splendidly played by Mads Mikkelsen, who international audiences know for him turn in the 2006 James Bond picture, “Casino Royale.”

Cannes Comeback
Thomas Vinterberg: It feels good to be back in Cannes. I’m honored to be there again, among this very tough group of Competition films. But I come to Cannes almost every year, whether I have a film here or not. I love just lying in the sun here, doing a few meetings and then watching some movies.

Impact of the Dogme Movement
Vinterberg: “The Celebration” was one of the the most celebrated Dogme film, the movement I founded with Lars von Trier (“Melancholia”) and others.

Dogme was inspiring for many artists and sort of started a digital movement. Personally I found it extremely uplifting making Dogme movies, but I felt I completed it with “The Celebration.” That was the end of the road on Dogme for me. It was as far as I could go. I had to find a new way.

Dogme Influences on New Work
Vinterberg: I learned from it. What we did was ro abandon all the tools of filmmaking. So now, whenever I use these tools, I think about what I’m doing and why. I got addicted to being on the thin ice, Dogme’s suicidal approach, because it keeps you thinking and exploring all the time. But Dogme is over for me. I think we completed it and it’s time to move on. As an artist, you want to avoid repeating yourself.

Going Hollywood for It’s All About Love, with Sean Penn and Joaquin Phoenix.
Vinterberg: I would love to work again in Hollywood. There are amazing actors there that I love and adore and grew up with. I loved working with Joaquin and Sean Penn. But I felt I had to get back to where I come from. The success of “The Celebration” was like a hand grenade exploding in my face. It suddenly gave me so many opportunities to explore things I had never done before. I’m proud of the work I did but I felt I had to get back and explore where I come from.
I shot a Metallica video in Hollywood and there were like 100 people on set. There was even a guy there to put antiseptic gel on my hands. If I asked for that on a Danish set, they’d kick me out of the country.

Idea for “The Hunt”
Vinterberg: It goes all the way back to 2000, when a famous Danish psychiatrist knocked on my door. He had these case studies and said ‘look at these. You have to do a film about this.’ I’m used to people telling me this, so I was polite, said ‘thanks’ took his papers and put them away. Then, recently, I needed a psychiatrist myself, due to my divorce, and so I sought him out. Out of politeness, I went back and read those case studies, and I was amazed and fascinated. I knew I had to do a film about this.
They were real cases from around the world. Most were about false memory syndrome and invented memories. “The Hunt” isn’t based on any individual case, but it’s inspired by the ideas in them.The physiatrist’s idea was that thoughts and ideas can be a virus. Once a certain idea about a person takes hold, it can spread like wildfire.

If “The Celebration” was about kids being victimized, this film is too but about victimization of another kind. When someone is accused of child abuse, the kids get interrogated by policemen and psychiatrists who repeatedly ask them the same questions. Sometimes, the kids give the grown-ups the answers they want. They say, ‘yes, he abused me.’ Then everyone goes crazy and for the child, his whole world falls apart.

Wrongly Accused Man
Vinterberg: This set up and premise allowed me to tell a bigger story, one about the loss of innocence in the Western world. When I grew up in the 1970s in a commune, everyone was naked and no one was abused. As a boy, I could easily sit on a naked man’s lap and no one thought anything of it. Now for very good reasons, the world has become frozen by fear, angst and suspicion. That’s why the film starts off with a bunch of naked men jumping into a lake. It’s about family, togetherness and community. Then, throughout the film, this lake freezes over as the village begins to suspect, fear and persecute.

Do Kids Lie?
Vinterberg: “There is a cliché that kids don’t lie, and in this film we claim that they do lie. They do invent stories or lie to make grown-ups happy. In that sense, they become the demons of the film. It’s about kids destroying a man’s life.”

Identity Changes
Vinterberg: “You can tell stories about other people or about yourself that very quickly become the identity of that person. This film is all about idnetity—how do you look at and to the world, and how do you create your own identity. These kids give this man this mark and create this new identity around him, and he might never be able to escape it. It’s scary and frightening.

Danish Cinema Now
Vinterberg: Now we have sort of a Danish boom, with directors such as Susanne Bier, Nicolas Winding Refn or Niels Arden Oplev, working in Denmark and Hollywood.
There are really good people here but maybe it’s because we help each other. There’s a real sense of community. We read each others’ scripts. I hang out with Lars Von Trier and Ole Christian Madsen who is shooting an HBO series right now, the Alan Ball-created “Banshee.” These people are friends and colleagues and we help each other. For the same reason, there’s a strong sense of competition. We push each other and that makes us better.