director Lone Scherfig is one of several women being mentioned this
year for a potential best director nomination for her critically
acclaimed film An Education. Here's what I wrote earlier about the film. She took some time to answer some questions on the road while doing publicity for the film.
Women &Hollywood: So here we are in 2009 and the issue of women
directors is still a big issue. Do you believe that work/ family
balance is as big an issue for male directors in the same way as female
Lone Scherfig: I think as a director you need to have
such a strange combination of skills and no one can have all of them.
One is an ability is to be able to leave home for a while, stay up very
late or do things that would harm your family life no matter what sex
you are. And maybe it's easier for men to compromise more but it must
be a big loss to them as well. But the thing for me is that I started
out very young and had my daughter quite late so it meant I had a
career that was strong enough. One regret is that I didn't have my
child earlier and have more children. I'd encourage everyone to do that
but you obviously have to pay a price for it.
W&H: Another thing I read is that you said you make films to maintain the language -- please explain.
LS: In Denmark we have a state supported system in order
to maintain out language, so that's how those films are financed. It's
a privilege for a director because you are expected to do something
that's not primarily commercial -- quality is the first priority -- and
that's been really lovely for me because it has meant that I have
gotten chances I would not have been able to get in a different
system. It's also a handicap that the films cannot be seen by very
many people because they would have to be subtitled like Italian for Beginners.
W&H: Some if the strongest female voices in directing have come
from places where there is state sponsorship for films and here in the
US we don't have that system. Do you believe that the state sponsored
system has enabled you to have the type of career you have now?
LS: Yes I do. I think it doesn't only go for women it
goes for anyone who is a minority when it comes to media access. If
you want films and media in general that reflect the real world you
have to stay open for someone coming in the door to apply for that job
who is not an obvious candidate.
W&H: Do you think it made a difference that there were two female producers on your film?
LS: No. I know that they had talked about that because
the writer is a man that it might make sense to have a female
director. But in general it doesn't attract me to a job at all when
someone says that. I am interested in projects where they want a good
director rather than necessarily a female director. I'm sure all women
say that. My films are not necessarily about my gender. The reason
why I am privileged enough to say that is that thank god there is a
slightly older generation who have prepared that possibility for me. I
am very thankful to women who are 10 to 15 years older than I am that
they stood up for someone like me to get those possibilities.
W&H: What women directors do you mean?
LS: Very often it's women academics, female politicians,
film writers. It's not the directors. The directors I feel related to
the most are male. My mom would teach me to mend my dress and to cook
like a proper mother and shared her love for the arts and films and
literature, but it's women who are slightly younger (than her) who
fought the battle for women. That combination is what I am really
thankful for and that enriches my life immensely.
W&H: There were so many different educations happening and so I wanted to ask you which education do you feel closest to?
LS: I'm a bit like Jenny. I totally share the appetite
that she had for learning that might not be in the syllabus. And that
once she knows and can define what she loves then the education seems
to be something that's driven by appetite rather than duty or
ambition. The things you read and the things you see because you love
them is the easiest and the best education to get.
The same thing happened to me. When I was young when I
found out that film was something I could make a career in and I got to
university and later to film school and found myself surrounded by
people who loved what I loved and that's when I really got an education
and finally did all my homework because I loved it. That is a
privilege. Loving things does not necessarily mean you have a talent
for it. But I am trying to tell my own daughter that if she fnds
something that she loves to do that the money will come. That may be a
false promse because not everyone has that privileged choice.
W&H: You talk a lot about your love for the character of David
in the film played by Peter Sarsgaard. I found him to be a
transition figure because he opens doors to the coming revolution in
terms of race and class and religion and he provides all the educations
and never gets schooled in anything. Why are you so fond of David?
LS: That's a brilliant and interesting way you are
putting it. I didn't think of that. I think one key for me to all of
the characters has been what is that person's relation to an
education. That's how I started all the conversations with all the
actors and in David's case he is someone who wants the life he could
have had he had an education which he did not have access to. He
doesn't feel he is lying, he's just saying what he wants to say and
what he believes is right at the moment. I know that's how Peter saw
him as well. Neither Peter nor I had any problems in liking him and I
always feel that I want to defend David. You get seduced the way Jenny
and her parents are. Peter says that when David is with Jenny he can
get the childhood he never had. That being said Peter is so
experienced for his age and the way he plays his cards when we've shot
the film out of sequence of course, the way more and more of David's
flaws are revealed is really elegant. He's technically and
structurally such a skilled actor but the acting is completely
emotional and spontaneous and of the moment. I didn't cast him. It
came as such a fringe benefit that I was able to work with the best
actor. He was on board the film before I was.
W&H: What is it like for women directors in Denmark?
LS: Much better that probably anywhere else. I have directed the most commercial Scandinavian film except maybe now The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
has done better. Susanne Bier my friend and colleague has directed the
most commercial Danish film. She and I are very respected and we get
many chances. They've let me experiment sometimes to a degree of
irresponsibility. It's our films that get into Sundance. We get huge
support compared to other countries but the money still ends up in the
pockets of men.
W&H: What do you mean?
LS: It is still the men who own all the equipment, the
men who make the money but there are a lot of female producers and
production designers and directors in Denmark. In Sweden there is a
system where the state would add something like $200,000 to the budget
if the director is a woman and we really disapprove of that. We think
it is humiliating. Sweden is much more feminist and more political and
less pragmatic and in Sweden you get a completely different kind of
respect. But we just don't want that. When I read interviews with
some of the other women directors coming out of Denmark they react the
same way. We want to work because we know how to do the work.
W&H: Why do you think the film has touched such a nerve with people?
LS: I'm hoping it's the integrity. That it's a film
that is accessible and does invite you into a world where you haven't
been and makes you think thoughts you haven't thought yet. I am so
happy that it seems there is space for this film. I have to thank the
press because we really need your help in explaining what the film is
about because it's not that easy to explain.
W&H: Now that you are getting such great notices for your work have you gotten a lot of offers for your next projects?
LS: My only hope is that because it looks like this film
is going to land on both legs that means I will get better scripts. My
fuss is not where the script comes from or who produces it but the
content and the characters.
W&H: Did you have to fight to get this script?
LS: Yes. I had to fight pretty hard but it many be
because I am Danish and not English. I didn't know the rules of the
game. I don't sell myself very hard. I think that Nick Hornby (film
writer) and I have something tonally in common and that his novels and
my films are related. The good thing about being foreign is that when
people hire you as a foreigner they expect that you will influence the
film with something that comes from a different culture and that gives
you more artistic freedom.
W&H: Lastly, the obligatory Carey Mulligan question. Why has
this young woman just taken off? Is it that it just seems so like such
LS: She is a natural and the one main reason for casting
her is that there is no phoniness about her. She's reached a point now
where you can't say she doesn't have an acting education anymore- she's
worked so hard. At that time (we made the film) she had done very
little. She makes good choices is super disciplined when it comes to
preparing. She's strong and has the talent to be able to carry a film
not just play a part. I don't think people will be disappointed when
they see the film. It's tricky when there is such buzz around someone
whose work you have not even seen yet. But I am so happy because the
film gets so much more attention.
An Education is now playing around the country.
Originally published on Women & Hollywood