email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

“I’m totally convinced that art can change things”

Industry Report: Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Morten Kjærum • Former director and affiliated professor, Raoul Wallenberg Institute


Human rights have been put under a special spotlight at the m:brane forum for youth content in Malmö, and the Danish legal expert tells us more about it

Morten Kjærum  • Former director and affiliated professor, Raoul Wallenberg Institute
(© Fredric Ollerstam/m:brane)

While the m:brane co-production platform for youth content has had an ongoing focus on human rights topics, the bar has been raised more articulately this year, as a new collaborator has been presented – namely, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights. We sat down with Morten Kjærum, a Danish legal expert and the director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute between 2015 and 2024, who presented a special certificate to a deserving m:brane project. He shared some thoughts on the role of the arts within human rights issues.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Can you give us some background on yourself and your role within the Raoul Wallenberg Institute?
Morten Kjærum:
I’ve worked with human rights issues for 40 years now, starting out in the legal field in the 1980s with the Danish Refugee Council. In 1991, I was fortunate enough to be appointed director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, right after the end of the Cold War, in a completely new human rights scenario. In 2008, I was appointed director of the European Fundamental Rights Agency, and after that, I became the director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in 2015. By then, things had changed from the 1991 openness, when we had a strong tailwind, to a situation where we had a considerable headwind. And this is where we are today.

You have just delivered a special address at m:brane and awarded a certificate to a deserving project, from a human rights point of view. How did this m:brane collaboration come about?
Over a cup of coffee, when good ideas emerged between myself and m:brane’s Lennart Ström [see the interview]. I was keen right away. When we communicate an agenda, we need to engage different communities, not least those dealing with literature, film and the like. Terms like “the interpretation of Article 8 in the European Convention on Human Rights” are the framework, but they’re also somewhat non-engaging and clinical. What we’re really talking about is the values behind Article 8, which is all about private and family life, whether heterosexual, same sex or with one part being a foreigner – what are the values behind all of these dynamics? We cannot move people and get them excited about the importance of human rights if they don’t feel it. And this is where arts come into the picture, addressing these issues from different perspectives.

An optimistic question: do you think that art actually can change things, as much as a legal expert or a politician can?
Oh, I’m totally convinced that art can change things. These things go completely hand in hand. The norms, conventions and standards can be an inspiration for a filmmaker or a writer to address these things in a completely different way to us lawmakers.

Could you point to any example where a film sparked a debate?
I would point to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It had a tremendous impact on how we saw psychiatry and psychiatric patients, who were transformed into persons here. It led to much debate, not least on how we regarded electroshock treatment. We still have a long way to go, but it really started things. You were forced to see and to listen.

Your own m:brane task this year was to “see and listen” to seven selected projects, all dealing with various aspects of human rights, and then pick one out as being especially significant. How did you find the experience?
I was handed a veritable bouquet. All of them touched upon important issues, from disability, through race, to refugee trauma. There was one, This Is a Man, dealing with a historical dialogue between Holocaust survivors and young, present-day Jews. It was enormously inspirational, not least to young people today, getting an understanding of what actually happened back then. The project I chose, Forza Oslo, stood out as something new, a discussion on the supposed “by-definition goodness” of us Northern Europeans, which is certainly not the reality, and is very hard for us to discuss. I’ve yet to see the finished film, of course, but it felt like a wake-up call.

You seem genuinely pleased with the collaboration. Is it perhaps the start of a new tradition, with an ongoing partnership between m:brane and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute?
I would welcome that happily. I myself have just stepped down from the director’s chair and am now focusing on more key, substantial issues as affiliated professor at the institute. But I’m sure the new director is also on board. This initiative fits right into what we think is important.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy