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Film director breaks through the glass ceiling with ‘The Crown Princess’

Director Kathrine Windfeld

Kathrine Windfeld has just put the finishing tourches to the television series 'Kronprinsessen' (The Crown Princess) – a large-scale Swedish television adaptation of Hanne-Vibeke Holst’s best-selling Danish novel published in 2002. The series marks Kathrine Windfeld’s professional breakthrough. Here the director tells us how she breached the film branch’s glass ceiling – with her family life intact


FORUM/Stockholm 2005 Kathrine Windfeld, b. 1966, studied at the National Polish Film, Television and Theatre School and has previously directed documentary films and short features, worked as a casting director and was assistant director on the Danish television series Edderkoppen [The Spider], Rejseholdet [Unit One] and Ørnen [The Eagle]. Last year she took on the biggest opportunity of her career so far when she was asked to direct a Swedish television series based on the Danish novel Kronprinsessen [The Crown Princess] by Hanne-Vibeke Holst. The first episode was shown on Swedish television on February 27 2006 – the series will also be broadcast on Danish television.

Why has a Danish novel been adapted for Swedish and not Danish television?
- I would think it’s because the Swedes are more open to the theme and message of the book. In Sweden the word ‘feminism’ doesn’t have the old whiff of the nineteen seventies and the hairy armpit brigade, which is so hard to get away from in Denmark. They’ve managed that transition in Sweden because quite a lot of men – including their prime minister – have openly and publicly declared themselves to be feminists. So suddenly it’s no longer taboo, a no-no or laughable. In Sweden they’ve also defined the word ‘feminism’: equal rights for men and women. And that’s hard to disagree with. I think we should take that route in Denmark too.

The script writers, producer, designer and film editor are all Swedish women. Why do you think they chose a Dane to direct the series?
- Well the text is feminist and so they wanted a woman director. And, the thing is, there aren’t many female directors in Sweden, and those few don’t sell tickets – unlike the Danish women directors: Lone Scherfig, Susanne Bier and so on. I haven’t sold any tickets yet, but the success of these women has a positive knock-on effect for the rest of us.

I’m a feminist!
Besides wanting a woman director, it was also important to the producer, Anna Croneman, that this director had a feminist perspective. For many years Kathrine Windfeld has been a member of WIFT (Women in Film and TV), an association with the objective of supporting and raising the profile of women working in film, television and multimedia.

- When I joined WIFT, and particularly when I became deputy chair on the committee, I thought there would probably be a price to pay career-wise if I openly stated that I’m a feminist. Then suddenly I’m sitting in a job interview with Swedish television where my best card was that I was deputy chair of WIFT. I’m not sure it would have been such a good card to play here in Denmark, laughs Kathrine Windfeld.

- I’ve had huge benefit from being a member of a women’s association – building up a good network and personal contacts. A good network is crucial to success in a business where it’s largely a case of who knows who.

The glass ceiling – the chance to make your first big production – is hard to break through in the film industry. What do you think was the decisive factor for you?
- I’ve been working in this business for a long time. Making films and tv series involves a great deal of money. Kronprinsessen has a budget of 25 million kroner. That’s a lot of money to give to one person, so obviously it’s not going to be given to someone who hasn’t proved their ability. And that takes time – and I’m convinced it’s harder for a woman. It’s harder because in this business men tend to recruit in their own image, and because it’s women who have babies and do the breast-feeding, so you’re going to spend quite a few years on that if you want to have children.

Kathrine Windfeld is on record as saying that having a child actually helped her career because she became more able to focus on the overall picture. Another career-advancing factor was that Kathrine’s partner, a radio journalist, took main responsibility of caring for their baby, Otto, when he was born.
- It’s absolutely undeniable that if you want a big career and you also want children then you have to think about what kind of partnership would succeed. If you’re going to work long hours then you shouldn’t choose a man who also has big career ambitions. There are only 24 hours in a day, which is often the dilemma for women in our time. You have to drop some things and you mustn’t have a bad conscience about the things you can’t fit in.
- It’s just fantastic that women now have the opportunity to go to work and have financial freedom – and for that we owe everything to the generation of women who were active in the women’s movement of the 1970s. The inevitable consequence of this liberation is the question of how to find the time if you want it all. One of the answers is, of course, that men have to do more in the home. And then you can say that Kronprinsessen and my own life aren’t actually about that, but about the woman not being home at all and the man being there all the time. So, in principle, that means the roles have been completely reversed.

In the novel, as in the television series, the story follows Charlotte, who is just about to move to Africa where her husband has been stationed when she is offered a ministerial post in the Danish government. The family changes its plans and now Charlotte’s husband is the one to stay at home with their two children – in the book he says that “it’s difficult to be a wife when you’re a husband”.

What were your considerations before you and your family moved to Stockholm, where you partner was the accompanying spouse?

- When I was invited to the interview I naturally asked my partner what he thought. He said “Go for it!” But, obviously, when you suddenly come back home saying “I got it! – now the whole family has to move to Stockholm” it all seems a bit overwhelming. He was supportive and said he would come along too so that I could see Otto every day.
- He didn’t have a job in Stockholm, so he took care of everything at home. I know he thought it was tedious, but he did it for my sake, and that was lovely. When we were filming I was picked up Mondays to Fridays at quarter past seven in the morning and was home again seven thirty in the evening at the earliest. I had Saturdays off and on Sundays I worked nine hours with the director of photography. It’s hard for your partner if they have to do everything – makes no difference whether that partner is a man or a woman.

- A director works very long hours during the months you’re filming, but then there are many months when you’re not filming and can spend more time with your family.

- The other day I asked Otto what he wants to be when he grows up. I was just about to add that he could be whatever he wanted, but fortunately didn’t get to say it before he burst out with: “I want to be a mum.”

Cathrine Elle has a masters degree in film studies and for six years has been a freelance writer and film reviewer for, among other publications, the magazines Free, Woman and Costume. She has also worked as a freelance project coordinator for the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

Translation: Gaye Kynoch.


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