Made in collaboration with Mino Denmark, a Non-Governmental Organisation, Director Mikkel Blaabjerg Poulsen’s Part of Society seeks to bring awareness to the journey migrants take to Denmark and the racial discrimination they are confronted with upon becoming a part of Danish society. Within its short timeframe, Part of Society cleverly weaves itself through bygone eras documenting the journey of a single family through to the modern day. It’s a great example of how film as a medium can manipulate time in efficient yet profound ways to tell important stories. DN is excited to be premiering Part of Society today, and spoke with Poulsen about developing his concept with Mino Denmark, and how he called in favours to deliver on his execution.
How did you come to work with Mino Denmark?
I have been involved as a part of the board, working for free two or three times a year for Mino Denmark, which is a newly formed Non-Governmental Organisation trying to better the conditions for ethnical minorities in Denmark. The NGO is still trying to get its member base formed out of the 120,000 young people, born and raised in Denmark but with a non-Danish ethnical background. I entered because of my experience working with film campaigns.
The first couple of tries were formed too much by my majority view on the minority.
From that collaboration, how did you develop the initial concept for Part of Society?
I had a couple of shots at first, before coming up with the initial idea. The first couple of tries were formed too much by my majority view on the minority. Through a couple of short workshops, I received the input that minority young people felt unsafe about their future. It’s difficult to create a campaign based on fear, so I tried, instead, to create a story, where it was possible for young people from minority backgrounds to identify with their position and some of the negative emotions connected with being discriminated against.
Could you talk about working with your crew to construct the flashback sequences? What was it like to create those environments and a different time period?
We had the big challenge in that the NGO had no money. So everything was done for free with the focus on how we could achieve a different time period with what we had at hand. The team around the film have worked in the Danish film industry for a long time, so we were able to get favours here and there for props and costume, but finding a street that looks like it was from the 1960s or an apartment that still had the walls, door openings, wallpaper, etc. from that period was extremely difficult in Copenhagen, because everything has been modernised.
We found train enthusiasts in another city, that had a train from the 60s, and visited The Old Town Museum of Aarhus where there is a Turkish guestworker apartment. We could not get access to the apartment, but we got very precise inspiration from that and the archives they have there. We wanted everything to be precise, so no one could point a finger at the reality, we created.
And how was the casting process for finding different actors playing the same characters at different ages?
Again, it was very difficult because of the very limited budget. On top of that, the minority environment is a bit closed off, so it is not easy to get access to people. We had to work our way into the network, almost by the word-of-mouth method. In the end, we did not have many people to choose from, so we were very lucky to have pulled it off. A bit of wig-work, the artificial colouring of hair, and coloured contact lenses also helped on some of the characters.
Part of Society works at such a good pace, you really get a sense of the life this family have led throughout their years, did you have a thorough pre-production period or was it a case of editing it down in post?
Because of the limited budget, the fact that everyone worked for free and the amount of locations and cast involved, we had to be very thorough – almost shot by shot planned to precisely know how we could pull this one off. I usually go through every scene on location with the DoP before shooting with a camera to find all the frames, particularly when you’re shooting low budget you have to do this, so that set design knows how much of a room, they need to furnish, etc.
I hope for a broader western world audience to see that this story is universal.
We used most of the material we shot in the final edit though, and sadly we had to cut a couple of scenes a few days before shooting, because of time-issues and other obstacles. There was a scene in the script, where the young guy at the end of the 70s comes home drunk, lifted by danish friends, and gets a beating from his dad. Sadly, we could not keep that one due to time and casting restrictions.
What are you hoping audiences take away from Part of Society?
The reactions in Denmark from Danish ethnical minorities have been extremely good and positive, people have been touched by it. But I hope for a broader western world audience to see that this story is universal. People don’t leave their home countries unless they have a good reason to do so, and most of these people struggle to find a path and a new home in the country they move to, that goes for the US, Germany or England. Being met with a pointed finger or a discriminating behaviour in that society does not make the journey easier. I hope that audiences will respond to the feeling of being the outsider, and maybe, therefore, get a slightly better understanding of how it is to belong to a minority.
What’s next for you?
I am working on a feature about brought together families, and then I have a couple of upcoming commercial jobs. I love working with dramatic narratives filled with emotions in the short form. It thrills me professionally to create intimacy within the line of commercial branding. A cold world needs more warm, humane empathy inside creating stories, and I have found, that the advertisers have the budgets to really get the films out there. And, once in a while, you find passion projects such as this, where the whole success of the film depends on the right people picking it up.