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Carsten Holst • Producer

The challenges for Zentropa


- The Danish producer talks about the latest Zentropa Productions work, by Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth

Carsten Holst • Producer

Carsten Holst: video interview

Carsten Holst, the producer from Zentropa Real, the documentary section of the Danish company Zentropa Productions, is in Venice to present The five obstructions, the docudrama co-directed by Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth.

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What were the production difficulties for this film?
While we were making The five obstructions the only thing we knew was that we had to do five remakes of one of Leth’s short films from 1967. You can’t set a budget on this basis, the best you can do is to try to make one up, and then get on with the job. So we thought of a maximum figure to spend on each of the remakes that we couldn’t exceed, amounting to a final total budget of Euro 1.2m.

Your company, Zentropa, has contributed to making Denmark the most avant-garde country in Europe as far as digital technology is concerned. Was this a deliberate choice?
It was done for economic reasons. Using digital allows you to shoot without having to get wrapped up in the intricacies of film. Von Trier started using the PD1000 digital system for Dancer in the Dark, he could shoot for hours, and this enabled the character to really take shape. At the start we had equipment for both 35 and 16mm, but then we moved to digital and over a 10 year period we became specialised. Today we can manipulate the images in post production, to make them more ‘dirty’ or to give them a look very similar to 35mm. Von Trier is a techno-nerd, he knows a tremendous amount about the technology, he thought about reducing the shooting costs and investing the money in the cast and the story. Things went well and now we’re trying out High Definition.

Do any European companies come to you for their digital films?
We’re very happy with the situation as a lot of companies come to us. We have young and established directors, excellent editors and technicians: a lot of people want to work with them, and they come to us asking to do co-productions, so they can use our equipment.

Digital technology has created a revolution in cinematographic language, also in the field of documentaries...
Digital has helped the documentary a lot, with it’s "one man one camera" concept. You can go out onto the street and film whatever you find. It’s cheap, easy to manipulate and it can capture human life and how people naturally behave, without the need to have 5 or 6 technicians on hand, you can do everything on your own.

There’s been a lot more digital development in Europe than in American. Why is that?
Tradition. We were the first to ‘discover’ the advantages of digital and we had the courage to try it out, we don’t have the problems of professional trade unions and their rules and regulations. Our efforts were repaid by the success we achieved, if it hadn’t worked we would probably have had to go back to the old technology.

Future projects?
There are two main projects on the go. "Dogumentary", by Lars Von Trier, encompassing 9 rules for a documentary exhibition similar to Dogma 95, featuring great directors from Ireland, Britain, Germany Finland, Denmark and Norway. And then there’s Bayreuth- Lars von Trier doing Wagner by Leth. It’s not a making of, it’s more an investigation into Wagner’s operas, which will be ready in 2006.

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