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BEHIND THE SCENES with Sabine Hviid


Will you start by explaining how the documentary/feature department is structured within the Danish Radio system? At Danish Radio we have three departments, covering the variety of documentary expression. First there's the Montage, which specialises in intimate personal storytelling, told with the use of classical dramatic narrative. Secondly we have the Feature department, which digs into more political/investigative subject matters and current affairs, but also uses sound and dramatic editing as in the Montage. Last but not the least there's Ultralyd (Ultrasound), which deals with all kind of stories through more of a sound art approach, and tries to test the borders of where the documentary genre can go. The founder of Ultralyd, Peter Kristiansen, one of the most gifted adventurous minds at the Danish Radio, sadly died a week ago

And which department do you work for

I was trained at the Montage department that back in 2000 had a fantastic schooling for young radio producers, but soon after made my way over to the more experimental department, Ultralyd, ** where I have worked for the last four years

Where did the idea for Leaps and Dunes originate

I had been reading a book, I think Cocteau, describing this happening: A trick performance was held, where a kid from the audience gets into a suitcase, the suitcase is opened, the kid is gone. The audience gasps, the suitcase is closed again, and after the magician whispers a magic sentence – the suitcase is opened once more and the kid comes back out. The audience applauds wildly, but as it is said "no one could see that it wasn't the same kid anymore." This passage made me somehow think of my yearly summer camp as a kid, with my parents waving, wishing me luck on the way out and myself waving back with a nervous beating heart, thinking how it would be without them. I then returned home to the same scenery only two weeks later to the same happy waving hands but suddenly I felt miles away from them, I'd become something of my own. This feeling is what I wanted to grasp in the story, so my colleague Rikke Houd and I sat down and brainstormed memories from that special time

Did you attend camp as a child? If so, does the feature speak to some of your own memories

I did several times from ages 7 to 14, so its basically, with experience from playing with jellyfish in the sea to kissing a boy for the first time. It's therefore really a life journey away from parents, alone or secretly with others in the warm dunes. There is a scene which was in the longer version, where the little boy says that he feels he has become 80 years old but actually only turned 8. I think that describes the camp experience well

How many hours did you spend at this camp, recording

Rikke and I rented a mobile home and placed it in the sand outside the camp, where we stayed from the beginning to the end, over a period of two weeks. Another of our colleagues, Lisbeth Koerner, came for a couple of days and helped record some of the bigger scenes

How did you identify the campers who you followed over the course of the camp session? There were about 40 kids so we spend the first four days or so only "casting" to find the right ones who seemed emotional enough to be expressing that particular journey -- older ones growing younger again and smaller ones growing older

How much of the storyline was scripted before you collected tape? We had written a script consisting of scenes scripted from our own memories of camp, like the cheek dance, packages and letters after meals conjuring homesickness, night trouble, etc. -- and were pleased to find that it was all still there. But we were of course open for any surprises, and found one in the kid (Johannes) who became our narrator of the piece. We quickly found that he had a very special way of talking and decided to place him metaphorically on "Mt. Olympus" as the one looking down on the human behaviour repeating itself all over again

The fun thing about him is of course that he isn't a god, and you can sense his own, very human experiences and emotions -- like describing the night trouble with the small ones adapting the older ones' power-hungry patterns. For his interviews, Rikke asked Johannes to close his eyes and talk in present time but he would slip into his own world, like in a trance, and from our simple questions he would answer in great detail about the sea and patterns and life at the camp

Was it challenging to win the campers' trust and get them to open up to you

Not when they knew we where on "their" side. We also invited them for coffee in the camper which they thought was very exciting and grown up

Also, we made a deal beforehand with the adults working at the camp, that we set out to make a truthful portrait of the camp, and so wouldn't be reporting to anybody when the rules were broken (like when the girls were drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes in their room near the end.

Why do you think the campers DID trust you and Rikke? I imagine because we worked hard to stay involved and never look down on them as just "kids" -- we took where they were at emotionally very seriously. Recording the little boy crying on the phone to his dad made me so uneasy at first, feeling like I was exploiting this private moment AND that it would be really good tape! But luckily it took the more funny turn and he came out in a better mood all together so that made it easier to go through with

Technically, how did you capture some of the most intimate moments, like the boys sneaking around other cabins, ready to draw on unsuspecting **sleepers

We had had many theoretical ideas before we started, about trying to record radio with the use of some of the same techniques used in film -- like using a microphone held at different distances to shape a scene, one of the reasons why we sometimes were three "on set". I am not sure if we succeeded, but we did get to bring a lot of extra equipment than on a normal radio documentary production –- including some sets of wireless lapel mics. We knew the boys would be going on the nightly escapades and schemed with them to come to our caravan before the act. Then we placed a lapel mic on each one of them and then followed the scene from our station. The boys came proud and giggling back to us afterward, to make the report which we then used to intercut with the rest of the radio story

Now to switch gears . . . we've heard about some recent, big changes at the national Danish Radio organization (DR) concerning the documentary/feature department. Can you explain what happened

It's all pretty sad and pointless so I'll make it short: A new building for TV and radio departments, plus an expensive concert hall went several billion over budget, which no one revealed until after the fact. This happens often with state building and normally the government would find a solution. We live in a rich country so it shouldn't really be a problem but unfortunately our current government is not interested in supporting DR since it is basically more interested in commercial radio and market shares than the concept of public service

So instead it decided to to cut 70 million dollars of DR´s yearly budget. The entire radio documentary department (the three subdivisions described above), being the most expensive and time consuming of all the genres, was unfortunately the first to go in a long run of both TV and radio. The documentary department costs one million dollars a year, but in comparison to television and the bigger budget projects this is only like a drop in the ocean, considering how many hours of quality radio are produced. But it was also the will, or lack thereof, from our radio director, who is ruled by looking at the day to day listening measurement numbers. He has decided that even though the documentary department was attracting an increasing number of listeners, it still wasn't as high as with the talk shows and music channels and therefore he didn't see its worth as a public media. But he forgot to count that whereas a talk show is listened to maybe once, a radio documentary is continuously over the years -– some of the old programmes from the 50s are now the most downloaded on podcast

Did producers there have any sense this might happen, or was it a complete surprise? It was a COMPLETE surprise. For instance the Montage department has existed for over 60 years and has won prizes all over the world. It was seen as the flagship of Danish Radio and students at the universities study the genre and its makers over and over. It has been like an archive of national history in oral story telling and therefore as use for writers and scientist as well. Now the collection has stopped and no one had ever thought such a violent act could happen to Danish culture

How will this affect you and your colleagues

One thing is that a lot of radio makers will be out of work from the end of this year, amongst them people who have dedicated their entire lives to this genre and never worked with anything else. Another is the great loss of knowledge that will be gone forever and the way of bringing it on from one generation to the next through one of the older mentor/producers

Even though I am now the holder of an education in a nonexistent genre, I feel very fortunate to have been one of the last to receive those tools and will do my best to keep them alive in hope of a new government taking seat and a radio director with a bit more cultural understanding and visionary mind stepping in

Has there been a lot of anger/protest against this decision? Do you **have any recourse

There is a lot being said and written these days, both from the artistic elite of filmmakers and writers but also ordinary working people with a general love for well produced radio and then of course the political opposition. The society of the blind claimed they had lost THEIR cinema, which I think is maybe the nicest compliment. And there will be a hearing in government this coming Wednesday to discuss the concept of public radio and what's left -- 'cause we are now the only other country besides Russia without a radio documentary department

Do you (and your colleagues) have alternate plans for what to do next

I am slowly trying to move into documentary film instead, because I have worked in films as well and would be sad never to be able to tell stories again. And then my colleague from Leaps and Dunes , Rikke Houd has started an organisation called Polar Radio, founded with the goal of offering the inhabitants of remote polar areas the tools, knowledge, and measures to produce creative sound stories/features of high artistic and professional quality. The aim of Polar Radio is to produce programmes with far-reaching appeal, thus giving inhabitants of remote areas a national or even international voice. Last year we did a workshop in Greenland with a group of kids who neither could read nor write, but simply produced a beautiful radio piece with the old people of their village. The programme, Piteraq , was short-listed amongst the ten best at the Prix Europa. It has also been re-versioned and broadcast in Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Greenland.