Six of the best. This year’s CPH DOX top films

As the third largest documentary film festival in the world, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (better known as CPH:DOX) had a jam-packed programme that spanned ten days.
The Local’s Charles Ferro and Allan Mutuku-Kortbæk took in a wide range of films in different cinemas across the city and we asked them both to select their three favourites films. Here are their picks, in no particular order.
Director: Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Filmed over three years across 60 countries, the mammoth three-hour chef-d’œuvre features close-up interviews with over 2,000 men and women of all walks of life and ethnicities. Running parallel to these compelling interviews, ‘Human’ is also a study of the earth from above, shot with impeccable aerial photography that turns landscapes into dreamy, fantasy-like universes and leaves viewers in a state of awe.
Echoing films such as ‘Baraka’ and ‘Samsara’, this is a film of peerless cinematic quality. The colour grading, sound and technical structure are inch-perfect and Armand Amar’s music score adds a surreal dimension to an already brilliant film. Poverty, war, homophobia, war and immigration are at the core of a film that leaves you with the epic feeling of belonging to something that is bigger, brighter and bolder than oneself: our beautiful planet.
Directors: Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands
The town of Uncertain, Texas – population 94 – is where people go when they want to disappear.  Located in once idyllic bayou country just across the Louisiana border, the town’s financial base is a lake rapidly losing a battle to an invasive plant dumped into it from a home aquarium.
The directors examine the lives of three men with checkered pasts and uncertain futures. We get a look into the lives of Zach, 21 and a diabetic alcoholic whose life will likely become a write off; Henry, a 74-year-old fishing guide who served a term for killing a man and who is in love with a much younger woman who exploits him; and Wayne, a reformed drug abuser-ex-convict obsessed with hunting down a huge wild boar he has named Mr. Ed.
Along with the beauty of the bayous, despite almost hopeless pollution, the beauty of the film lies in the poignant look at what keeps the trio on the tracks: booze, love and the hunt (which drew some dubious snickers from a few viewers who failed to see the point).
‘Uncertain’ relates the human comedy/tragedy without a trace of pathos, and despite a grim outlook for the town, you walk away with the glimmer of hope in your eye.
The Dream of Europe
Directors: Liv Berit Helland Gilberg, Bodil Voldmo Sachse and Jens Blom

Not one for the faint of heart, ‘The Dream of Europe’ is an accurate a depiction as any of what is going on in our world right now. The film follows the work of Frontex, the EU organisation that co-ordinates European border management which, needless to say, has its hands full at the moment.

Shot in locations at the heart of the immigration debate, this film contains disturbing, real-life imagery of the sorts of conflicts that result from border policies on the one hand and the rights of desolate, desperate asylum seekers on the other. All of the above is made all the more relevant given that the quality of the footage is sometimes not the best as some of it is shot by amateurs who’ve gone to areas where few others dare to venture. ‘The Dream Of Europe’ is a well-researched, well-documented work that digs beneath the surface and presents its findings in an uncanny, stripped-bare fashion.

Salam Neighbor
Directors: Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple
‘Salam Neighbor’ was filmed at a refugee camp in Jordan, just a few kilometres from the border to Syria, well over a year before tens of thousands of Syrian refugees began their migration toward Europe. The documentary’s 2015 release date makes it all the more relevant.
The directors gave themselves a fairly simple task: move into a camp with 80,000 people and depict what has now become something of a conceptual term, refugees, as real people. This they achieved, capturing the smiles and the heartaches, and hearts left in ruins like many of the people’s homes.
For this viewer, the genius of the film lies in the editing. The film crew was the first to receive United Nations permission to live in a refugee camp and the start of the narrative seems to dwell on their getting ready for a big adventure. It might be unfair to say they were like a bunch of eager young people preparing for a camping trip, but …  the early prep scenes set the stage for things take a gut-wrenching 180-degree turn. Kudos to the editor for leaving them in.
Lost and Beautiful (Bella e Perduta)
Director: Pietro Marcello
Pietro Marcello merges the storytelling cinematic genre with documentary style to create a compelling fable about the existence of a man, a castle and a buffalo. The three stories intertwine in what might be called – as the film festival takes place in Denmark – a merging of Kierkegaard with Hans Christian Andersen.
The film’s narrator is a male buffalo named Sarchiapone. Doomed to a short life, Sarchiapone gets adopted by the volunteer caretaker of the castle equally doomed due to public neglect. Upon the caretaker’s death, a Tomasso, a masked character of Italian legend, appears to lead the buffalo on a trip across southern Italy to salvation.
The journey takes the viewer across southern Italy while delving into regional myth. The rural setting and peasants who live there play roles in a blend of contemporary life and older legend. Marcello’s imaginative tale treats this rustic environment with all the respect it deserves.
Lost and Beautiful demands the viewer let go of reality to enter a world that mixes fact and fable. As with any true fable, the film has something of a moral to its story and this is the mystery that has been puzzling man since the day he crawled out of the primordial slime: The meaning of life.
The Wolfpack
Director: Crystal Moselle
A story unlike any other you will ever come across, ‘Wolfpack’ is a tale of seven siblings who lived a sheltered existence in the confines of their Lower East Side apartment in New York City.
Prohibited from exiting their flat by their father, who had its only key, the siblings developed a love of cinema that helped them live through their extraordinary ordeal of confinement. Years later, in 2010, sporting waist-long hair and dressed in sunglasses reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ some of the siblings run into film director Crystal Moselle, who befriended the peculiar-looking boys and eventually cinematized their story. Their forays into the outside world had begun earlier in the same year when one of the family brothers, Mukunda, disobeyed his father’s instructions and wandered off into the real world.

TEDxKEA Brings TED talks back to Copenhagen

Last year’s TEDxKEA event was the first university TEDx to ever be held in Denmark. This year, the student organizers are back for their second go-around with an event they have labelled ‘Evolve’.

The day of talks will feature a wide range of topics and speakers, from the man behind the world’s longest pedestrian street Strøget, Jan Gehl, to women’s rights activist Khatera Parwani.

Other prominent speakers on the day include Hummel owner, Christian Stadil, ‘Dane of the Year’ and anti-food waste advocate, Selina Juul, and celebrated scientists such as astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen and evolutionary biologist Eske Willerslev.

Danish astronomer and astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen, one of 12 speakers at this years TEDxKEA event

Organizers say that this year’s event will explore topics such as big data, the circular economy, human evolution and the origins of stars and planets.

The event will be put on by a multinational team of over 30 volunteers.

“We have set out to prove what young people can accomplish and celebrate what the city of Copenhagen can offer our generation. So it was only natural to place our flag in one of Copenhagen’s landmarks, which is a hub for the students of this city,” lead TEDxKEA organiser Doug Costello said of this year’s ambitions.

“It is our aim to ignite imaginations and help our generation evolve to reach its incredible potential,” he added.

Operating under the motto “ideas worth spreading”, TEDx talks are local and self-organized events.

TEDxKEA Evolve will be held on November 21st at Copenhagen’s Black Diamond. More information can be found here.

Christian Stadil, TEDxKEA

Original article written for TEDxKEA, available here

Closed door equals open door

We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected. The manner in which we, as individuals and corporations interact with one another and ultimately with the world around us is such that we are, on the whole, closer and more transparent. Whilst this does increase the volume of information being processed and debated, creating more pressure, friction and ultimately, clashes of interest, there are also numerous positives to behold.


Meet Christian Stadil – one of Denmark’s foremost entrepreneurs that many will recognise from his ownership of sports brand hummel or his appearances on the jury in DR’s “Løvernes Hule” (The Danish version of Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank) – a show that features up and coming entrepreneurs pitching new business ideas, in the hope of captivating the jury and gaining that all important starting capital.

Christian Stadil is the owner and CEO of the Thornico conglomerate, consisting of around 120 operational companies within food, technology, real estate, packaging, financing, sport and fashion, the latter being in the form of hummel. Christian Stadil took over the hummel brand in 1999, which back then was in a poor condition, transforming it into one of the world’s leading fashion and sports brands, finding a unique position in a very competitive market up against giants.

Besides being a business owner, founder and investor (most recently in numerous tech-based upstart companies), he is an author, active lecturer and adjunct professor in creative leadership at the Centre for Business Development and Management at Copenhagen Business School.

Christian’s corporate success is underpinned by a devotion to company karma – “A kind of CSR version 3.0 where we try to, where possible, think more holistically, in a “4x win” where our companies, customers, partners and a cause (in which we believe and find important), all benefit – especially in terms of the climate and the local environment,” he remarks.

And whilst he is not afraid to admit that combining the varied interests of stakeholders is by no means easy, Christian is adamant that one can indeed capitalise on synergies and create win-win situations to everyone’s mutual benefit. Known for doing things differently, Christian Stadil is an impassioned entrepreneur with a particular way of doing things that we all could learn a thing or two from.

Copenhagen Dox 2015-Ten must-see films at Cph Dox 2015

Original article written for The Local Denmark, available here.

Film fans and budding cinema enthusiasts are in for their annual autumn treat as the world’s third largest documentary film festival opens its doors this week.

Running from November 5th to 15th, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) was founded in 2003 and has now grown into a mammoth event that encompasses concerts, art exhibitions, professional seminars, exclusive screenings and many other activities under the guise of celebrating the world of documentary filmmaking.

CPH:DOX is devoted to the support of independent and innovative filmmaking in its attempt to build bridges between curious audiences and a diverse palette of art forms within the frames of music and visuals. This year’s festival will be as experimental and as innovative as ever, featuring curation by Olafur Eliasson (you may remember him from his newly-opened Circle Bridge or his global warming ‘wake-up call’) and hand-selected film recommendations from the likes of astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen, DR2 Deadline host Martin Krasnik and the former climate minister, Connie Hedegaard.

Ahead of the twelfth edition of CPH Dox, The Local has compiled a list of 10 must-see documentaries that we feel are worth watching.

1. Muhammad: The Messenger of God

Perhaps the most controversial of this year’s batch of films is Iranian director Majid Majidi’s ‘Muhammad: Messenger of God’, one of only two films ever created about the prophet of Islam. With Islam’s strict ban on imagery depicting the prophet, this film has courted controversy and has even resulted in a fatwa against its creators. The first screening of the film will be held at the newly-opened Imam Ali Mosque in Copenhagen and will feature a Q&A session with director Majidi. (Screening times)

2. A Syrian Love Story

Putting a human face on the hordes of refugees that are knocking on Europe’s borders, A Syrian Love Story is the tale of a couple who met in prison many years ago, both doing time for their protests against an oppressive regime. Filmed over five years, the film drifts through the horrors of war and the challenges that they pose to two people who love each other – and their country – more than anything in the world. (Screening times)

3. Above and Below

Whilst science is looking at how to establish the first colony on Mars, there are others, closer to home who have already prepared themselves for what life on the Red Planet is like. The sands of Nevada are home to a parallel society, who, in preparation for apocalyptic scenarios on our earth, have forged a bare and survivalist existence in isolation from the rest of the world. (Screening times)

4. Time / Out of Joint

Einstein would have loved this one, a film set as a sturdy essay that immerses itself to the point of drowning in the concept of time and its potential reversibility and relativity. If it sounds complex, that’s because it is – prepare for a wave of intellectual jargon that will make you question the way things work in our universe. (Screening times)

5. Banksy Does New York

Like him or not, Banksy has become a fundamental player in redefining the way we look at and interact with art. Yes, this fad has been capitalized on by everyone who wants to be hip, but Banksy’s art is still at intriguing as his identity (or lack thereof). Chris Mourkabel’s documentary explores some of the mayhem that Banksy has created in New York, a city at the centre of the street art debate. (Screening times)

6. Behemoth

Part of the ‘Curated By Olafur Eliasson’ series, Behemoth explores one of those problems that we all know exists and want to do something about but in the end wind up contributing to through our purchasing habits. Filmed in the dire, apocalyptically sordid confines of a mine in China, Behemoth Is a tale of struggle and of the underside of a cash-driven economy that has little remorse for those born to toil for it.  (Screening times)

7. Bike Vs Cars 

We love our bikes here in Denmark. We also love the many kilometres of paths that allow us to cruise from A to B with relative ease, but that is certainly not the case in most of the world’s other cities. The bike vs car debate may not be as intense here as it is elsewhere, but this documentary sheds varied perspectives on some of the clashing forces in the argument between two wheels and four. (Screening times)

8. Arabian Nights Vol 1 – The Restless One

Part of a compelling trilogy set in an economically-ravaged but ultimately positive Portugal, this is the first in a long line of poetic anecdotes that delve into the far reaches of one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Inspired by the classic Arab text ‘Thousand and One Nights,’ this film is both witty, morose and slightly overwhelming. (Screening times)

9. Of The North

An anthropological foray into what life is like at the northernmost place on earth, featuring footage taken by people who actually live in a hostile and unforgiving wilderness of sub-zero conditions. If you thought that Denmark is cold, this may make you think twice through its unfiltered look at life in the Arctic. (Screening times)

10. The Pearl Button

Soft, poetic genius from Chile, the serene country that gave us the likes of poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda. This is a study of the beauty of nature and the harshness of man, and of indigenous folk and their calm, collected ways. Water is a central element here, set against a backdrop of tense recollection and reflection. (Screening times)

Eske Willerslev, TEDxKEA

Original article co-written with Anton Tarabykin for TEDxKEA, available here

Forming the future by studying the past

Constant discoveries that prompt revisions of what we previously knew to be true are at the very core of our evolution. The merits of science in forming the present and ultimately the future cannot be overstated. Just as important, however, is understanding our past. Studying how problems developed, how our ancestors approached them, and ultimately where they have failed or succeeded, is crucial to understanding who we are today, and what we will be in the future. Lessons harnessed from the past can and should influence social, political and environmental decisions that we make today, and help us build a better future.


Eske Willerslev is an evolutionary biologist known worldwide for his pioneering work with ancient DNA. He is renowned for several groundbreaking expeditions in Siberia along with his twin brother, anthropologist Rane, during which they gathered ethnographic material and Megafauna remains (Megafauna is a zoological term for large animals).

Eske’s discoveries have in fact re-interpreted much of mankind’s history. His studies on Aboriginal migration patterns proved that the indigenous people of Australia migrated to the continent at least 24,000 years earlier than it had previously been argued. Similarly, Eske’s studies have shown human presence in North America more than 14,000 years ago, which is a thousand years earlier than previous assumptions. Based on samples from the arm bone of a 24,000-year-old Siberian boy, Eske’s team discovered a genetic link between Eurasians and Native Americans, which at the time was a major surprise.

Among other Indiana Jones-esque feats, Eske has become an adopted member of the Crow Tribe of Indians in Montana, United States. Of all the lessons learned from such epic voyages, Eske believes that his research on ancient human migration patterns ultimately shows how the spread of people advances innovation and, ultimately, our evolution: “If you look at the past, you will see that the societies that survived were the ones that changed, not the ones that remained conservative and closed in around themselves. The ones that do well are those that constantly learn from others and take in new impressions, while the ones that stay in isolation, like the Paleo-Eskimos, die out in the end”, he points out.

Jan Gehl, TEDxKEA

Original article written for TEDxKEA, available here.

Cities That Move 5 km/h and not 60 km/h

Mankind is evolving and so too is the manner in which we interact with our surroundings. From traditional hunter-gatherer groupings to industrial age production, to modern day office environments, the progress of our civilisation ultimately changes our lifestyles. This progress represents societies that are more efficient, where the obstacles of physical distances are minimised and less and less movement is demanded from the individual. This, however, creates new challenges for mankind. As our need to move diminishes, so does our health, with obesity, diabetes and heart diseases on the rise. So now that fewer jobs are demanding it, how do we get moving again?


Meet the legendary architect behind Copenhagen’s Strøget – no less than the world’s longest pedestrian street. Jan Gehl’s studies in the early 60’s played a significant role when Strøget was rid of vehicles, in a ground-breaking move that formed the core of many green urban initiatives that have catalysed Copenhagen’s development ever since. Since then, large cities around the world, such as New York, Moscow and Sao Paolo, to name a few, have been inspired by Copenhagen, and have called on Jan Gehl to help them pedestrianise.

Dubbed “the last living worldwide renowned guru in urbanism”, Jan Gehl has raked in innumerable accolades for his approach to urban design, winning everything from The International Union of Architects prize for exemplary contributions to Town Planning and Territorial Development to a Prince Eugen Medal for outstanding artistic achievement in architecture.

An honorary member of the American Institute of Architects and a fellow of the Design Futures Council, Gehl is of the conviction that “we need cities that move at 5 km/h and not at 60 km/h.” His approach to making cities liveable stems from a collaboration with his wife, psychologist Ingrid Mundt, together with whom he began to study how people interact with their environments. Gehl believes that we need to approach architecture in a human manner – it should and always be about people first and foremost. “Studying people rather than bricks” helps us build cities for people, encourage healthier lifestyles and invite people to use the urban space for physical activities.

Denmark’s Must-See Concerts in November

As we head into the dark abyss of yet another Danish winter (sigh) there is, believe it or not, a lot to look forward to. Musically, November tends to be a month where a lot of things happen, as bookers and venues fill their arenas for one last time before the always-expanding Christmas season fully takes hold.

This November’s billing has got the likes indie superstars Kurt Vile and Death Cab For Cutie, drum ‘n’ bass dons Rudimental and the exceptional Lianne La Havas for what should be an entertaining month. Here are The Local’s concert picks for the month ahead.

The Prodigy
Tap 1, November 5th at 8pm

The Prodigy are one of the greatest electronic outfits of our generation, holding the baton high alongside other greats like Faithless, Disclosure and The Chemical Brothers. Theirs is a familiar sound best played to an audience of 60,000-plus at Roskilde Festival’s Orange stage but we’ll make do with the industrial confines of Tap1 this time round.

Chelsea Wolfe
Loppen, November 6th at 9pm

After delivering one of the best concerts we witnessed at this year’s Roskilde Festival, Chelsea Wolfe will bring her hypnotic gothic folk to Christiania’s Loppen. The intimate setting should provide the perfect vehicle for Wolfe’s dark and beautiful music, which has reached a new creative peak with current album ‘Abyss’.
Hymns From Nineveh
Pumpehuset, November 7th at 8pm

The music of Danish band Hymns From Nineveh is both richly-layered and easy on the ears. One of many domestic bands who sing in English, Hymns From Nineveh are something of a household name on the national scene and command a strong following amongst fans of indie rock and folk pop.

Kurt Vile & The Violators
Amager Bio, November 7th at 9pm

American singer-songwriter Kurt Vile returns to Denmark on the strength of his recently-released ‘b’lieve i’m goin down’. Often compared to giants like Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Vile will hit Amager Bio at the top of his game so it’s little wonder that the gig has sold out. It’s definitely worth pulling some strings to see if you can still land a ticket.

Death Cab For Cutie
Amager Bio, November 8th at 8pm

Death Cab For Cutie started off as a garage band and are now one of the most successful indie acts of their generation. Despite hitting the jackpot, they remain firmly grounded in their indie roots, from which their universe of gentle rock revolves. Their latest album ‘Kintsugi’ makes for very pleasant listening so you can look forward to hearing new material on the evening.

Store Vega, November 12th at 8pm

How has this not sold out yet ? England’s Rudimental are one of the best (and most accessible) drum ‘n’ bass bands around at the moment. Riding the crest of the wave generated by their latest album ‘We The Generation,’ Rudimental are in good form at the moment. Prepare for epic drum ‘n’ bass with vocals good enough for a Disclosure song.

Nicolas Jaar
Store Vega, November 12th at 1am

For the night owls out there (and those lucky enough to score a ticket) Nicolas Jaar will be rounding off what promises to be an epic night at Vega, following Rudimental’s aforementioned gig. Fusing jazz, minimal techno and ethereal beat complexity, Jaar is also known for his productions as part of the enigmatic band, Darkside.

Lianne La Havas
Store Vega, November 15th at 8pm

Brit Lianne La Havas joins a long list of epic female singers from an admirable production line that has turned out the likes of Adele and Emili Sande . Having stunned the masses after her appearance on Jools Holland’s show a few years ago, La Havas has grown from strength to strength, receiving praise from everyone from Prince himself to Bon Iver.

Pumpehuset, November 18th at 8pm

In the world of lesser-know rappers (where sheer talent as opposed to how many stacks of cash defines success), Cunninglynguists stand out as consistent stalwarts with a knack for reflective texts and rich instrumental beat backdrops.

Pumpehuset, November 28th at 8pm

If you are in the mood for a riot (or a long-winded rant at the system and its injustices), your November frustrations may have found an outlet. Anti-imperialist and politically heavy, The US’s Anti-Flag would probably have been a  seminal punk band were they of another epoch. As it stands, they play fiery, fist-pumping rock that makes you think about the state of our world with every drum thud

Simon Prahm, TEDxKEA

Original article written for TEDxKEA, available here

Making a Difference For The Youth

A lack of physical activity is one of the major problems in our society. Recent EU figures indicate that 6 in every 10 people above 15 years of age never or seldom exercise or play a sport, whilst more than half never or seldom engage in other kinds of physical activity. Children in particular are affected by this trait, with many exercising less than the WHO recommendations. Poor health and quality of life are but a few of the implications of these figures. Our societies are burdened by an overall lack of physical activity. There are however, many individuals involved in the bid to ensure that people exercise more. One of them is Simon Prahm.


Simon is the managing director of GAME Denmark, an NGO that reaches out to underprivileged youth by focusing on creating self-esteem, combatting marginalisation and creating self-empowerment for its members. Run by over 70 coaches and an excess of 100 volunteers, GAME was founded by Simon and two other partners in 2002, and is currently on the Global Top 500 NGOs list. The organisation also operates in Lebanon and is currently in the pipeline phase of expanding its operations to 10 other countries over the next few years.

A Henley Business School MBA holder and a bachelor in sports studies from the University of Copenhagen, Simon is also the chairman of the national platform for street sports, and has held positions as a guest lecturer at The University of Copenhagen as well as board positions on various think tanks, boards and steering groups. Formerly a chairman of The Falcon basketball club, Simon Prahm has spent many years disrupting the traditional association-based approach to sport in Denmark with an aim of getting the youth to be more active. For Simon “the youth are the future of societies and the right to sport is a human right that everybody should have access to.” As it stands, even in Denmark, this is not the case. There is a need for evolution in this aspect as far as Simon is concerned.

Anja Cetti Andersen, TEDxKEA

Original article written for TEDxKEA, available here

The universe and how we got here

Of the many mysteries of life, none can compare to the quintessential question: where do we come from and what are we doing here? For hundreds of years, science, culture and religion have put forth contesting arguments to try to put an end to our existential doubts. Meanwhile, as the list of Kepler planets found in “Habitable Zones” that exist in earth-like conditions grows, questions of whether or not we have the luxury of the universe exclusively for ourselves must arise.


Anja C. Andersen is as outstanding an astrophysicist as they come. Currently an associate professor at The Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute, her career spans many years of research in the field, for which the list of accolades she has won is almost as endless as the universe itself. Anja’s interest in the mysteries of the stars began as a teenager in Saudi Arabia, where her father worked at the time. “One of the few things that girls could do was to study, so I sat and looked at the stars through a telescope”, Anja remarks.

Whilst Anja doesn’t claim to have all the answers to the tirade of questions that keep many of us up at night, she is of the opinion that an evaluation of the manner in which we approach existentialist mysteries is necessary. “When can one be sure that something exists, even if one cannot see it?” Anja asks. We are certain, for example, that black holes do exist in the universe, but we have yet to see one with our own eyes.

The mysteries of life are endless and the approaches to solving them equally so. “Physics is a dynamic study, and its approaches and premises are changing constantly – they are constantly evolving.” Prepare to be enlightened.