Thomas made his first short film at the age of 16 and was admitted three years later to the National Film School of Denmark, thus becoming their youngest student ever. He graduated in 1993 with his short Last Round garnering a nomination for a Student Academy Award. He was catapulted to international fame in 1998 when his second feature, Festen, received the Jury Prize in Cannes, as the first film completed under the terms of the Dogme 95 Manifesto, of which he had been co-author alongside Lars von Trier.

In an interview taken on October 14 at Filmmakers Afternoon Tea, Mayfair Hotel, London, as part of the 2012 LONDON FILM FESTIVAL, Thomas reminisces about the “innocent days” of his first shorts:

Dana:”What is your relationship with the short form and how did you find the transition from making shorts to making features?”

Thomas: “I made three shorts before starting making features and I find that form very powerful. Unfortunately the weak point is the distribution, nobody sees them, which is why it is dying somehow, or at least it dies in the career, it doesn’t die in the world…But I find it as difficult and as powerful as a feature, maybe they’ll come back, I don’t know, it seems that things are getting longer, it’s the TV series now, which I also find very interesting. But I miss the days of the short film.

Dana: “Well, you never know, you might make another short one day…”

Thomas: “Yes definitely, and I’m also thinking maybe the best film I’ve done so far is a short…”

Dana: “Which one is this?”

Thomas: “My graduate film, The Last Round.

Last round (Sidste omgang) from bonana on Vimeo.

Thomas: Then I did another one produced by Nimbus and called The Boy Who Walked Backwards. To make good short film you have to be incredibly smart, as it is much more difficult to achieve the same dramatic effect in a much shorter span of time. Also there is an innocence, a purity about my short films which I lost since I started making features, and I’m attracted to purity. The short film can be so powerful, it’s a sort of no-nonsense form of the feature, so I like it…

Dana: “Any tips for filmmakers who make the transition from short to feature?”

Thomas: “Well, I’ve made so many mistakes, so how could I do tips? But what I think is interesting for me is, don’t follow the ideas that seem rational and right, the idea where you say to your friends “This is crazy” and your friends say “Ah, we can’t do that”, this is the one you should do (laughter).

Thomas Vinterberg introducing his new film The Hunt at 2012 LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Thomas: “The Hunt is about a small innocent society/village somewhere in the forest, with good-hearted people, lots of togetherness rituals, a hunting society and this man, male character who works in a kindergarten. One of the girls in the kindergarten is a very close friend’s daughter and slightly falls in love with him, in a non-sexual kind of way, of course, and he’s rejecting her a little bit, she gets angry and lies about it. It’s a sexual lie and a witch hunt begins. And he is ostracised from this society and hell breaks loose, orange turns blue and black. And I made a film years ago called Festen, this is sort of the anti-thesis to that movie, a mirror. So that is the movie. For me it is primarily a film about friendship, love, forgiveness, and primarily maybe loss of innocence. There’s all sorts of naked jumping into the river at the beginning, and there’s also fearful, hostile people”.

Dana: “It is a very challenging topic, and you are known for choosing very difficult, very controversial topics, what is your method of dealing with a subject like that, how do you handle it?”

Thomas: “It is also very dramatic, and it is true to say it was very difficult but also very fruitful as a writer to sit with, because there is a conflict and you can bring people and you can undress the characters through conflict. As a filmmaker, and I have made 20 films in my life.. I wanted to make it about something of importance, not morally speaking, not as a priest, but it has to be something…and I really felt that there was something in this, which made it a very uplifting process, a very joyful ride…”

Dana: “What is it like working with Mads Mikkelsen?”

Thomas:”Well, the first thing that hits you is that he is so strikingly beautiful, so that hurts a little, I wanted to dress his down and destroy his good looks, but then you learn that he’s such a friendly, giving, heroic team-player, he’s a huge enthusiast and very good, extremely good…I changed the character for him because he was more of a hero, strong man, man of few words, Robert de Niro kind of character in the script…and you notice when you see the film that we made him softer, we made him a school teacher, very humble, wearing glasses, and weak somehow, almost Christian, very forgiving, very patient…”

Dana: “Did he want that?”

Thomas: “No, I wanted that, and he agreed on that as we were both inspired by that idea…I initially wrote it for Robert de Niro then Mads came on board and then I rewrote it for him. I always write for specific actors, also if they’re dead or something, there has to be someone…and Mads does not attach to any project without a script, so I couldn’t write for him, until he was attached…it was very complicated”.

Dana: “And what is it about him that made you think he would be particularly great for this role?”

Thomas: “Well, actually, there’s something very truthful in his acting, he’s very very realistic…besides from all the clichés that the camera really wants to look at him, he’s got a huge commercial potential and there’s also something very real about him. And I was curious to work with him, we’d worked in the same community for so many years without working together. And truthfulness is important in a film about lies, I guess basically the film’s theme is about how lies can spread, therefore everything was about making it as “naked” and as truthful as possible, and Mads completely fits into that, he’s born out of the 70’s attempt to make films in the street, American, Scorsese movies from the seventies when realism was reborn.

Dana: “And the little girl, it’s her big screen debut, how did you find shooting the more difficult scenes with her given her age?”

Thomas: “She was wonderful, there’s this child and…normally we say that working with animals and children is something you should avoid. In this case it was the other way around: the dog and the girl were just spot-on…And she was just incredibly good…And Mads and the other actors were, of course with a smile on their face, were almost intimidated by her…’cause she was just wiping the floor with them, every time, it’s incredible. We had a discussion whether to tell her about these matters or not, and of course she doesn’t understand sexuality, and should not, but we told her everything else. ‘Cause listen, we spit in her face and she was thrown around, she needs to know why…And this film is also a revolt against the over-protection and victimisation of children, so we thought, let’s talk to her like to an adult. And of course we agreed with the parents first, and it worked, she didn’t care, she was like, “ok fine, let’s shoot”, and then she did her ping-pong!

Dana: “A very precocious girl”.

Thomas: “A very healthy girl. She was very good but she’s not going to do it again.”

Dana: “About the directing process, David Mamet says that it’s all about where to put the camera and what to tell the actors, would you agree? And do you have a certain method?”

Thomas: “I think that would be pushing it. I have a method, yes. If this is my movie, and this is where the actors have some dialogue, together with the actors, and the writer, I’m creating a big movie around them all. We talk a lot about the past, and not only about the immediate past, like what are you coming with, in the room,  did you just come from a fight, or from having sex, or…But what do they have together, rituals, what do they hide from each other, what are their dreams for the future, their plans. So what I always do is to work very hard and thoroughly with the actors, dialogue and rehearsals, and with the writer before we start shooting. And then we let go, to all the irrationalities, then we’re being charlatans. Because, hopefully by that time, we have solid ground to be standing on….if you can call that a method, that’s my method…and my actors seem to turn the way they want to, which is different from David Mamet. His method works very well though…”

Dana: “There’s an interrogation scene in the movie, with the little girl, where they quite literally put the words in her mouth, and I’ve read somewhere that this was based on a real transcript, can you tell me a bit about that?

Thomas: “Yes, it’s a police transcript, I’m not going to say which nationality because I don’t want to point fingers, I didn’t even want to point fingers at the police, but it’s from the 90’s, late 90s and they have improved, or at least they tried to improve…so I changed the scene to be some kind of interrogator, and I also took out a lot of very very ugly stuff, it was much much worse, and in all the cases it was much worse. You wouldn’t believe how much people put in children’s minds, how leaning the questions are…because they anticipate that the child…who wants to escape from it, because it is very unpleasant, therefore they sort of insist on this, and through that they implant false memories and they’ve done that in many many many cases. And I think that police is not doing a lot of that but the parents and a lot of kindergarten workers, they don’t know shit about this, they don’t know what to do, so they ask the same question to this poor child, and it becomes part of this child’s fantasy, and to satisfy the grownups they start inventing stuff…and again they end up as the victims, ‘cause they grow up to believe it, they grow up with the memory of having been assaulted without having been assaulted…so they grow up with a similar problem, similar needs, and they are violated by the overprotection, the fearfulness of our society…but in my film she appears to be a she-devil in people’s minds, which is not intended, because she was so nice, and she’s in love with him, so it’s an innocent love..and who wouldn’t be in love with Mads Mikkelsen?”

For an in-depth analysis of Thomas Vinterberg’s work, cinematic realism and Dogme 95, we recommend an article from the Film Journal. Click here to read it.



In case you didn’t know what it means when a woman is holding a piece of cake, LOVE STORY will give you the answer! A truly original self-referential documentary/
romantic comedy based on a collaboration with complete strangers on the streets of New York, the film has been a hit with audiences and critics alike around the world. More than a love story, the film is a joyous ode to the Big Apple and its vividly engaging and delightfully eccentric inhabitants.

Inciting factor: In late 2009, Auckland Arts Foundation offers Berlin-born Kiwi filmmaker Florian Habicht the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency Award worth $80,000. Florian is already an established filmmaker at home, being responsible for some of this decade’s most original New Zealand films. His début feature Woodenhead (2003), a Grimm inspired musical fairytale, quickly became a cult hit being renowned for the innovation of recording the entire soundtrack before shooting the visuals. This was followed by the iconic documentary Kaikohe Demolition (2004) which won best digital feature at the New Zealand Screen Awards; Rubbings From a Live Man (2008), a hybrid documentary  performed by and based on the life of performance artist Warwick Broadhead;Land of the Long White Cloud (2009), a documentary about a five-day fishing competition held on 90 Mile Beach in the North of New Zealand…Once in New York, Florian is under no obligation to do a lot of work but for him, making a film is a total adventure and great fun so why not…

Main Ingredients:a double dose of contagious feel-good factor mixed with despair that money is running out and the NYC residency is coming to an end; a psychic reading that tells you NOT to go in front of a camera overridden by the compulsion to do the opposite; feeling inspired by a mysterious girl carrying cake met on the subway;seemingly absurd idea to shoot a film without a narrative, without actors,without casting anyone, without the slightest idea of what might happen next; seemingly crazy idea to track the girl down and persuade her to play in your film; but what film??!; start asking for love advice from complete strangers you meet on the street, and also from your dad via Skype, then act it out with Masha, the lovely cake-carrying girl; surrender directorial control to your audience and rely on them to drive the plot forward; inject humour, a lot of humour and blur all boundaries, between fact and fiction, between art and real life, between being and acting, between love and the illusion of love; add jazzy and clichéd  romantic score from Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone that mocks traditional romantic film conventions to perfect the confusion. End result: a truly original and beautiful love story, but no story as you know it!

Watch the trailer here:

Love Story screened at the 2012 LONDON FILM FESTIVAL on the 11, 12 and 14 October. The following interview with Florian was taken at Filmmakers Afternoon Tea, Mayfair Hotel, London, 12 October 2012

Dana:”Please tell me a little bit about the creative process that went into making a film like this”.

Florian: “I decided to shoot a film before I went to NY, and I arranged to shoot with my DOP Maria Ines Manchego and my editor PeterO’ Donoghue from Sidney who were going to fly to NY. And I told them it would be an improvised feature film and that in three weeks time I’d tell them what the story is. And three weeks later, I still didn’t know…and I sort of felt like a version of Marcello Mastroianni, like having to pretend that he knows what he’s doing when really he doesn’t have a clue. And that’s when I started asking random people I’d met in New York  on the street and told them my problem, my dilemma, that I’ve organised this shoot and that I really don’t know what to do. And they started helping me, giving me ideas. And at that point I always had a camera in my bag…and when I watched the footage I really fell in love with it, I thought wow, I can really make a film out of this”.

Dana: “So how much did they contribute to the film, the people you met?In terms of directing the narrative, ideas etc”
Florian: “I’d say half. And also my dad via Skype, he was very excited I was shooting a film in NY, he was always in New Zealand checking the weather forecast in NY and if it was supposed to rain he’d skype me and give me his ideas, his film ideas…He’s an amazing photographer, he documented London in the 60s, he’s got a few beautiful books out, on London. He actually wanted to be a filmmaker but he wasn’t allowed to by his parents…”.

Dana: “So you made his dream come true…”
Florian: “Yes…He’d give me his ideas and I was like yeah…”
Dana: “Did you give him a credit on the film?”
Florian: “Well, this is the terrible thing, I didn’t give him a writing credit, I totally forgot…”
Dana: “That IS terrible…”
Florian (laughing): “yes, very…I totally forgot…but when I’m with the film and presenting a Q&A I make sure I mention that…”

Frank Habicht began his career as a photographer in 1960 and soon published a book, “Young London, Permissive Paradise”, a social document on London’s youth. He also worked as a stills photographer for film directors Bryan Forbes, Jules Dassin and Roman Polanski.

Dana: “Who is the girl in the film? How did you meet her?Was she a friend?”

Florian: “Her name is Masha Yakovenko and it was a chance meeting encounter…”

Dana: “So that bit is true.”
Florian: “Yeah, I met her for like five minutes maybe…And because I didn’t have a budget for this film, it meant I was the boss, I could do anything…And I was a bit taken by her and I said ‘Would you like to be in the film?’ and we arranged to meet so that I could tell her about it…so she said let’s meet up”
Dana: “Were you casting at that moment?”
Florian: “My whole year in New York, at the back of my mind I was casting, and I had a few different film ideas too but I didn’t really find the right person until I met her and I immediately was like yeah…and we arranged to meet so I could tell her more about it. A few days before meeting at Mars Bar, which is the bar in the film, which is an awesome NY historical place, I emailed her and I said ‘I’ve got this idea, do you mind if we film our meeting and if you decide you want to do this film we could use it as part of the film’…And she was pretty into taking risks so she agreed to that…”
Dana: “But she’s not an actress, is she?”
Florian: “Well I don’t know but she was studying acting and she was really up for the challenge and she didn’t want to watch any of the rushes of herself…”
Dana: “She totally trusted you…”
Florian: “Yes she did, she didn’t even want to watch my early films…I gave her a whole lot of dvds, and yeah she didn’t watch them. Which is kind of strange but yeah…so she didn’t see anything until right at the end.

Masha is studying acting in New York and she currently involved in a project with theatre company Waxfactory.

Dana: “So you say you were stuck in that Mastroianni moment, feeling a bit lost in your project, but once you started making it, did you encounter any difficulties after that?”

Florian: “After that things went really smoothly, it was amazing…There were a few days when I was in a bad mood, or a little sick or grumpy, and on those days I could spend the whole day walking around with my camera and I wouldn’t take one interview or footage…like there were no sparks or anything…But in terms of the process, everything flowed. Getting funding for post-production was a bit of a struggle but enough people came on board to support the film, the New Zealand Film Festival, the New Zealand Film Commission, and getting the music right, to that amazing Italian soundtrack, that was for me like a miracle”
Dana: “How long did the filming take?”
Florian: “It was spread over four months and we had a long break in the middle.”
Dana: “And how many people did you interview in total?”
Florian: “Twice as many as in the film.”
Dana: “You were very lucky, they were very friendly and willing to talk to you.”
Florian: “Incredible, yes”.
Dana: “You couldn’t have made the same film in London, I don’t think so.”
Florian: “I agree, New York is really special like that…I was wearing these pants (points to his pink hipster trousers)…
Dana: “Yeah I remember…”
Florian: “and if people smiled at me, I would pull out my camera…so half the people in the film cast themselves, like they made the first eye contact…”
Dana: “Except the woman in the cab…”
Florian (laughing); “Yeah yeah…”
Dana: “She was a bit aggressive…I hope you didn’t get beaten up by anyone…any other aggressive encounters?”
Florian: “Only one, I knew that you aren’t allowed to film children without the parents’ permission and once a group of children ran towards me and I was just excited and I started asking them questions about love and then the father came, then I got in trouble with the father being caught filming young kids and it was totally my fault…so that was the only time…otherwise yeah it was amazing, and I didn’t ask people, I was just there with my camera, recording, it was like being at a doctor’s being given an injection, if you don’t see the injection coming, it’s a lot less painful, whereas if you see the doctor preparing it, and you’re watching it, it really hurts…and I found that with filming,  people were just natural and it wasn’t a problem, whereas if I explained to them what I was doing, they might not have been as good…”.
Dana: “Overall, your film reminded me of Catfish, only that Catfish is more like an “investigation” whereas yours is more of an “experiment”.
Florian: “That’s amazing because I went to a screening of that and that was my main inspiration for making a film like this…the way it was made in the now and didn’t know where it was going to go…”
Dana: “Have you made any shorts previously in your career? What is your relationship with the short form?”
Florian: “Yes but I moved on to features really fast, I made a lot of low-budget experimental features, always mixing documentary and fiction, all my films do that…I find a short film hard because when I love a short film, I’m sad that it’s over so fast…”

And so was our interview over too fast but if you want to indulge your curiosity about Florian and his LOVE STORY, click here for more information.

KAIKOHE DEMOLITION, one of Florian’s previous films and an equally unique and striking works of idiomatic cinema, is available to watch online here.

To make sure you didn’t miss anything, meet Florian as the artist introduces himself.