Martin Strange Hansen
by Anna Di Martino
- The Danish director talks about his Charming Man, winner of an Oscar and the Audience Award at Clermont-Ferrand: "right now, it's really difficult to make shorts in Denmark"
Martin Strange-Hansen, a young Danish short filmmaker came to the forefront of international attention this year in Clermont-Ferrand, where he won the Audience Award for This Charming Man (Der er en yndig mand – 2002 and 28’) and subsequently, the Oscar for best fictional short film.
Strange-Hansen uses a wonderfully light touch to tell a difficult story about a young Danish man’s search for a job in an increasingly competitive international context that is furthermore complicated by the arrival of numerous Third World immigrants, desperate to learn Danish and fit in with their new surroundings. The misunderstandings Strange-Hansen employs to tell the story are extremely funny and the dialogue is well-paced and acted.
Is is easy to make short films in Denmark?
“Not anymore! In Denmark we used to have an institution called ‘Short Fiction Film Denmark’. They provided 100 per cent financing for short films, with 50 per cent of that money coming from the government and the rest from Denmark’s two state broadcasters. That meant that there was enough money to produce short films and also that they would subsequently be aired on TV. Unfortunately, the new government which took power in 2001 decided that there was no prestige to short films and closed down this institution. This Charming Man was one of the last films to be financed through Short Fiction Film Denmark. “
Did you study filmmaking prior to directing your first film?
“From 1997 – 2001 I was a student at the Danish National Film School. It is a well-known establishment where only specialised students are admitted. Every second year 6 director-students, producers, cinematographers, editors, set designers and 8 screenwriters are admitted. Former students include Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.”
Describe the background that inspired This Charming Man. Is it based on a real life story?
“I got the idea for This Charming Man from a sign I saw hanging outside my local bicycle repairshop. The owner’s name is El Hassan, and I realised that a very common Danish surname, “Hansen” could easily be misspelled as “Hassan”. That inspired me to approach the issue of racism in an upside down sort of way by asking myself what would happen if a Dane suddenly found that his name was El Hassan? How would society treat him? Lots of immigrants change their name into something that sounds more Danish in order to find employment. So it is likely that the protagonist of our story will lose out on a job opportunity if his name is suddenly completely different.”
Is racism widespread in Denmark or do the various peoples live together in relative harmony?
“There is racism in Denmark, yes. But I think that the most common form of discrimination is born of xenophobia. Also, we Danes have a habit of hiding behind humour. So you can put across some very hard-hitting racist views and then say, “Hey, it was a joke! You’ve got no sense of humour.” I think that humour and jokes are good –they can relieve tension, but there is a downside: if you keep on separating a certain population, even though you are doing it in the form of jokes, you are maintaining the cliché-image and perpetuating a distinct “Them” and “Us” state of affairs.”
This short film of yours is a comedy. Is that the genre you prefer?
“The genre I’m most into making at the moment is comedy. It has a feeling for the characters, a bittersweet undertone and a social theme. When I go to see a film as a normal member of the public, however, I always go for a well-told story. At the moment I’m having a good time watching some of the golden screwball comedies of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. as well as the films of Kurosawa."
Do you have any plans to make a feature film? And what are you working on at the moment?
“Currently I’m writing on two features. One is a drama set in a family that has a secret or disorder. It is both painful but also very funny, in a tragic sense. The other project is a comedy about a young politician with high morals and ethics who has to get off the moral high ground if he has any hope of being a successful and efficient politician. He realises that in order to do good things, he to be bad. Also an American production-company is trying to raise the money to remake Feeding Desire into an American feature. “
Does the Danish Film Institute contribute to the development of Danish productions?
"Without the Danish Film Institute, there would be no Danish films! Denmark is such a small market and such a little-used language, that in order to maintain Danish film production, the government has to support film production financially.”
Describe what it was like to go to the Oscars and win.
“I think that being at an event such as this, and winning an award will always be a fantastic rush. I know it was for me.”