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BERLINALE 2022 Berlinale Series

Lone Scherfig • Director of The Shift

“This is the way to look at our society and its core values”


- BERLINALE 2022: The Danish filmmaker presents her first-ever series, set in the maternity ward of a Danish hospital and recently premiered in Berlinale Series

Lone Scherfig • Director of The Shift

Lone Scherfig knows everything about The Shift [+see also:
interview: Lone Scherfig
series profile
. After all, she is the series’ creator, showrunner, co-writer and one of its directors, alongside Søren Balle and Ole Christian Madsen. Set in the maternity ward of a Danish hospital, it sees head midwife Ella (Sofie Gråbøl) and her committed team trying their best to help their patients and keep their own sanity intact. After recently screening in Berlinale Series, the series will air on Denmark’s TV2 this spring.

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Cineuropa: It seems as though women have finally decided to speak out about the right to give birth on humane terms. Did hearing such stories, which are very present in the media these days, make you want to work on this project?
Lone Scherfig:
Yes. The whole idea of the series was to place it in the arena where life itself, love and drama are built in from the beginning, bringing out the best and the worst in our characters. But also, this is the way to look at our society and its core values. Here and there, a more feministic aspect has inspired some moments and lines – for instance, when Vilhelm, a male midwifery student, comes to this conclusion: “If men had to go through this, I think many things would have been different.”

Something similar also came to mind when someone says: “Patients? But they aren’t ill!” What are your thoughts on how women are treated in hospitals sometimes, and how did you want to show it in the series?
That line, coming from the head doctor, is all about priorities – this constant cost-benefit analysis that everyone who is making any decisions at the hospital always has to consider. But there are just too many cases when women leave the hospital in shock and pain – even on what was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. I believe this is still the case all over the world.

While arthouse titles have embraced scenes of women giving birth, on TV they often feel a bit too “clean”. Did you want to demystify the process a little? It’s funny when the characters wonder why women all of a sudden stop shaving while pregnant.
We talked about this kind of balance a lot: how to establish an authentic world, but also show characters who fight, rather than suffer. And how to show that at one moment, you are battling with the birth, and in the next, you are completely free of all this pain, and full of love and expectations for the new baby.

Our main characters are the midwives, who have a very natural and uncomplicated approach to many sensitive subjects, which I thought the series should incorporate as well. In later episodes, many women come in, each with their own story and attitude, which will reflect a whole generation of young parents.

What about the relationships here? There are friendships and love affairs, but unlike so many characters in shows set in hospitals, these people actually seem to work and even frequently mention their exhaustion.
At work, they get to know each other quite intensely – almost like soldiers. This connection is certainly an important underlying theme. The real midwives we met are very different from each other, but of course, they share this unique attitude. I used to envy their closeness, one that stems from sharing in some very extreme situations and talking in the darkness of those long nights, when now and then, the ward is completely quiet.

The book This Is Going to Hurt offers a very frank, or even brutal, look at how it feels to work these kinds of hours and what it does to your personal life. Did you talk to any professionals while prepping for the show?
We had professionals working on the series throughout, from the early stages of story development to coaching the actors in preparation and on set. They are in front of the camera every now and then, in recurring parts and as extras, and they were fact-checking the scripts and re-checking the final episodes. Obviously, everyone had a creative licence here, but getting to know their reality, especially during our visits to the real wards, has been essential. We have abstained from using real stories, though.

There is a lot of “local” humour here, especially focusing on the Nordic countries, with mentions of accents and people coming from all over the place. Why was that interesting to you?
In Scandinavian hospitals, you will meet people from a number of countries among the staff. We wanted to reflect this reality, but it also gave us a chance to cast some excellent actors from different places, for instance Sweden and Norway [including Pål Sverre Hagen]. I think I might have felt it as a limitation if our series had had a strictly national point of view. In total, I think there are 12 different nationalities among our cast, but it was a surprise for us, too – we only started counting a long time after we’d finished the shoot.

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