“We’re told a completely different story about Danish history”: how Frederik Aspok and Anna Nye Gothenburg created the colonial satire ‘Empire’

Sweden’s Gothenburg Film Festival returns this month after two pandemic-disrupted editions with a successful crop of urgent and highly-political competition titles.

On opening night, Abe Hassan was there ExodusA tender thriller about the lives of refugees in Europe, while Malo Reimann turbulentThe final winner of the festival’s Dragon Prize, uncovers the dark history of institutionalization and women’s rights in Denmark.

Of the nine films in the main Nordic competition, six directly or indirectly discuss the role they play in a specifically Nordic construction of class, race, gender and power; However, none is more powerful than Frederic Aspoque’s fiery colonial satire empire.

Set in 1848 on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, now part of the US Virgin Islands but then a central outpost of the expanding Danish Empire, the film follows two close friends: Anna Higgard and Petrin.

Both are women of color, but their living conditions are very different. Anna is a free woman and shares her life and a strange romance with the white Danish colonial Governor General Peter von Scholten in her country house, where she controls her fortunes and the slave Petrine she owns. Things are seemingly fine until rumors of a rebellion swirl, placing Anna and Petrin on opposite sides of a rebellion.

Aspoke directs from a screenplay written by Danish writer Anna Nye, who plays the lead role of Higgard. Sitting down with Aspöck in a quaint cafe in central Copenhagen, Neye told Deadline that the inspiration for the story came from a 2015 trip to St. Croix to shoot a documentary about Black Danish history. There he uncovers the real-life story of Higgard and the brutal reality of life in the Danish West Indies.

“It was quite poignant because we were told a completely different story about Danish history,” says Nye. “We were told that we had beautiful colonies that were like a social democracy with benevolent colonial masters, and everyone was happy.”

After debuting in Göteborg, empire was picked up by Copenhagen-based REinvent for international sales. The film will get a local premiere on April 20. Below, Aspöck and Neye talk to Deadline about making the film, balancing satire with the violence of slavery, and their hopes for the film’s release.

Deadline: What is the origin of the project?

Anna is not: When I returned from St. Croix in 2015, I pitched the idea to the Danish Film Institute. They said, ‘Yes!’ And I wanted to do something front and center in a Danish historical context with African and Caribbean female characters because we’ve never seen that before. That was the driving force. And then, of course, there was anger. I was angry that such a huge part of our history had been forgotten. Greenland was also a Danish colony, and is still part of Denmark, but we still have this colonial mentality towards them. So it was something in our inability to deal with our colonial past that was so provocative.

Frederick Espock: The project started completely with Anna, and I came two years later, almost six years ago. And I just thought it sounded like an incredible project.

DEADLINE: Is Denmark’s colonial history often discussed in the country? Is this part of Danish history taught in school?

No: No.

ASPOK: It was written quite a bit in the papers in 2017 to mark the centenary of Denmark’s first state journey in 1917. Many events were also held to help reveal what really happened during that time as my generation was given a higher education. Romantic version of Danish history. When I was in school there was only one class for Danish colonial history. Today, I don’t know what they are learning. My kids are over 16, and they haven’t learned about it at all.

DEADLINE: Since colonialism was a taboo subject in Denmark, was it difficult to get funding?

ASPOK: There was great interest in the subject matter and how important the project was. But since it was a period piece, we couldn’t shoot it here, so it took a while to raise the money. We were toying with the idea of ​​doing it on a very low budget and shooting all the scenes indoors, but we couldn’t do that. We went through all kinds of variations in production style because we really wanted to make the project.

Deadline: Where did you shoot the film?

ASPOK: We originally wanted to shoot in St. Croix and found beautiful locations, but it was difficult financially with Covid because it’s quite expensive to get there, so we shot in the Canary Islands.

Deadline: The film is whip-smart and satirical in parts. How did you decide on this tone, and are you ever afraid of being misinterpreted by the audience?

ASPOK: It was part of the DNA of the project from the beginning with Anna, and it continued through production, and how we could strike the right balance where we didn’t neglect the horror of it but rather exposed it. The absurdity of the system. And the formula was trial and error.

No: You can’t, of course, take away the horrors and crimes against humanity caused by the ideology of apartheid, but looking at it objectively, it’s insane. It’s madness. It’s ridiculous. So that’s why we wanted to use humor. This absurd type of humor was a tool to critique power structures.

Deadline: We don’t see any violence in the film. Why?

ASPOK: Anna and I had a conversation about whether we should show black body violence, and we decided we didn’t want to show it. Anna to Katrina gave us a slap on the cheek, but it was very important for us to see if we could avoid re-injuring people. We were also aware of the criticism of past films on slavery that they tended to be too overt with violence that we didn’t think was necessary. The overall tone of our film is also primitive and proper European mask, so when the violence hits, it has a very strong impact on the audience.

Deadline: What do you hope the film will achieve? What would be a success for you?

ASPOK: We want to start a conversation. It doesn’t necessarily come from us, but we hope to have a Denmark that has the voice to discuss these issues and become a country that is aware of its inequality. We hope our film can be a platform for others. Because we need more films that address our romantic history from a new angle.

No: Often when I talk to white Danes about racism, they always ask, ‘What should we do to change that?’ And I’m like, I don’t know fuck. I didn’t invent it, just go and google it. Maybe it’s a bit too optimistic, but if the white Danish majority is starting to get interested in the colonial mentality. Not to feel guilty or self-loathing, but to become more interested in the power structure of the nation we come from and how it distorts history and what we’re still dealing with in Denmark today.

! function(f, b, e, v, n, t, s) {
if (f.fbq) return;
n = f.fbq = function() {
n.callMethod ? n.callMethod.apply(n, arguments) : n.queue.push(arguments)
if (!f._fbq) f._fbq = n;
n.push = n;
n.loaded = !0;
n.version = ‘2.0’;
n.queue = [];
t = b.createElement(e);
t.async = !0;
t.src = v;
s = b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0];
s.parentNode.insertBefore(t, s)
}(window, document, ‘script’, ‘https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/fbevents.js’);
fbq(‘init’, ‘422369225140645’);
fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *