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Film producer, woman and feminist with a twist

Producer Meta Louise Foldager

Meta Louise Foldager is a film producer with an untraditional turbo career for a woman and refreshing views on gender and equality. Two years ago, she succeeded another female producer Vibeke Windeløv as Lars von Trier’s producer at the Zentropa film company.

Meta Louise Foldager may be young and still young in the business, but she has already received awards and acclaim for three of the films she has produced; The King’s Game, Angels in Fast Motion and the mockumentary AFR.


KVINFO/1.6.2007 With lack of modesty, the Danish media and cinemagoers like to believe that the Danish film industry must be famous for its many women film directors. One of the country’s highest placed female producers, Meta Louise Foldager, responds: 

"Well, have we really got a lot of women film directors? In 2005, for example, there was only one woman director [Charlotte Sachs Bostrup with the film Girls’ Talk, ed.], but 31 feature films. The image we have of ourselves as a country with lots of women film directors is wrong. But that’s how we see it, because that’s the picture in the media and because there have been a few women directors who can fill cinemas – Susanne Bier, Charlotte Sachs Bostrup, Lone Scherfig, Annette K. Olesen and Pernille Fischer Christensen, for example, winning major film awards. 

But if you count up all the men who also fill cinemas and win awards then it’s odd that there’s so much focus on the women. Because the picture is quite different in reality. But if you’re a film director then you stick out just because you’re a woman. And it’s rather curious that you can still stick out even though women make up 50% of the population", says Meta Louise Foldager.

Long way to gender equality in film industry
And indeed the most recent report about the Danish film industry – the WIFT - Women in Film and TV report Gender and work in Film and Television 1992-2002 by Mette Knudsen and Jane Rowley [Køn og arbejde i film og tv 1992-2002] – draws a very different and gloomy picture when it comes to gender equality. In this period, 80% of all Danish feature films were directed by men, which was an increase of 10% from the previous decade. Of producers on Danish feature films, 81% were men and 19% women, and in the same decade the proportion even dropped by 4%.

One of the conclusions in the report is, indeed, that the overall percentage of women in Top 5 jobs – i.e. directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, editors and producers – has decreased and not increased over the period surveyed. But at the National Film School of Denmark [Den Danske Filmskole. Eds.] in both 1995 and 1999, for example, 50% of those studying to be producers were women, and in 1997 it was 83%. The question is if there are grounds for optimism?:

"We can hope so", replies a not totally convinced Meta Louise Foldager, and goes on: But if we look at all sorts of other subjects – at the universities, for example – then it doesn’t look as if that’s the way it’s going.

There are lots of female students at the universities – and they get places on the expensive and long courses. They just don’t get the plum jobs. The men do. Men teach women, even though there might be up to 95% women doing the course. The men get the research jobs and the professorships.

Please, I really don’t want to talk about equal opportunities! It’s so tedious. I really wish it was just happening. But there simply is a great deal of inequality, and so we have to keep on discussing it. It’s terribly tedious to talk about, but it’s also horribly tedious that it’s still like it is. It’s hard to point a finger specifically at a film school or a film industry without also pointing it at the rest of society and culture generally. It’s deep down in all of us. 

I am, for example, also a male chauvinist – at least part of me is. It’s in our culture, it’s inside us with our millennia-long history and culture on top of which we build our community. That’s what has forged our identity. You can try to break the mould and be aware of it. For instance, I’ve drawn up budgets in which I’ve paid the men more than the women. I suddenly realised what I was doing. It wasn’t because I'm in favour of salary inequality between the sexes, but because I could get them cheaper. Women aren’t quite as tough to negotiate with as men are.

Statistics are extremely interesting in connection with equality of opportunity. Numbers are concrete evidence rather than getting caught up in discussions of identity and sexuality, which often make it impossible to approach equal opportunities in an objective fashion.

The WIFT study is therefore important, so that we know the exact figures. For example, that 19% of producers working in Danish feature films are women. To anyone who thinks there are a lot of us now: just wait until we make up 50%", laughs Meta Louise Foldager.

An untraditional career
Meta Louise Foldager’s CV, with its date of birth in 1974, is impressive and surprising. Holding one of Denmark’s most illustrious producer jobs, it might be expected that she was a graduate of the Film School. But no, she has put together her own training to be a producer, starting with a degree in film studies.

"I went to university when I was 18 and very early on decided I wanted to be a producer. So I printed a business card saying 'producer'. I got up in the morning and went about the business of being a producer, and I started making films. And while doing so I studied the theory of what I was creating. For example, one of my university courses was in dramaturgy and, while studying that, I also had a crime series in development at TV2. I could therefore look at the series from both a practical and a theoretical angle.

In the media sociology class I analysed the Danish Film Institute’s reorganisation, and in that way I realised what really interested me about the industry, what I knew something about and where there were holes in my knowledge. I learnt about economics from the library at Copenhagen Business School, because I knew that the financial side of a film plays a central role in a producer’s work.

In order to spare the unwitting senior-school pupils-to-be, I have always worked purposefully towards being a producer so I wouldn’t have to be a senior-school teacher", says Meta Louise Foldager with a playful smile. She also points out that the academic approach, with abstracts and methodologies, is a process she uses on a daily basis in her work.

Ditch the battle between the sexes
Gender was not a major feature of Meta Louise Foldager’s university studies, on the other hand gender has played a key role in her political work as a member of the Danish Social-Liberal Party. 

" We won’t achieve equality until we realise that it is not a case of a battle between the sexes. Equality should stop being a ‘feminine’ issue or something about being a ‘new man’. It’s politics, pure and simple. And a man is no less of a man for taking an interest in equality of opportunity. In many instances our legislation is not beneficial to men either. Particularly in relation to their children. When men realise that it is an interesting project, and they want to come onboard as partners, then we’ll get equality of opportunity. Because then over 50% of the population will see the point of equality, so there will be a majority working for the cause.

Neither Meta Louise Foldager nor her partner in private life, film director Nikolaj Arcel, have shied away from hoisting the flag of equality. For example, Nikolaj Arcel declared in the Danish newspaper Information that Meta Louise Foldager had turned him into a feminist:

"Male chauvinism is a form of racism – that was the argument that made him understand", laughs Meta Louise Foldager, and goes on to tell us how her own awareness of social inequality was triggered:

"When I was younger and the question of equal opportunity was brought up, I always asked rhetorically, 'What are you talking about?' With my energetic mother as role model – she being the one who shouted during football matches, climbed chimneys for Greenpeace and set up businesses – I just couldn’t understand all that talk about inequality. Because I didn’t grow up with a male chauvinist of a father or of a mother. But when, 3 or 4 years ago, I found out that in the course of a working lifetime a man on the same level as me would earn over 5 million kroner more than me…. then I suddenly began to understand that there is something in it! He’ll earn a whole house more than me for doing the same job!"

Grab your chances
Even before she graduated in 1999, Foldager was working first as an assistant and later as a producer at the Zeitgeist film company. From 2001 she was a producer at Nimbus Film for five years, and since 2006 she has been a producer at Zentropa. Just one year after starting at Zentropa she has already made a name for herself with films such as Island of Lost Souls [De fortabte sjæles ø] and the controversial mockumentary AFR about the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. In connection with the latter film, Meta Louise Foldager was active in the public debate, and she has established her own platform both in the film world and in the wider community.

"It was like being shot from a canon. Of course you have to know what you’re doing, but it’s also largely a question of luck. My first feature film was King’s Game  [Kongekabale, 2004, which she made in collaboration with her partner, film director Nikolaj Arcel. Eds.] Then I produced Angels in Fast Motion [Nordkraft, 2005. Eds.] and got the job at Zentropa. There’s something magical about it all happening in such a short space of time. I thought, now I’ll just enjoy it, work hard and see where it takes me. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 18 months – working hard.

I don’t consciously plan strategically"
, says Meta Louise Foldager. - "But I have thought that this could be the summit of my entire career, so now I should just enjoy it, live it and be there. Because you never know, one day it might all slip away, or I might tire of it. So you can always get your feet back on the ground another time."

Male and female roles
Collaboration with a director is a question of being able to communicate on common ground, says Meta Louise Foldager, and therefore the representation of female and male characters, together with many other parameters, is a decisive factor in her choice of projects and collaborators. She would not want to work with someone who was known to be a racist, for example. She has long been interested in the state of the male role in society:

"Male identity is in total crisis, they’re 30 years behind the times. In my opinion, this is where the battle against inequality should be fought now. We must stop discussing inequality as if men are evil, because in doing so we shift the responsibility for thousands of years of cultural history onto them. That’s not a serious discussion and it gets us nowhere. What about the man’s place in the job market today? Could you imagine men dying because they’re the providers? And what does that do to men’s freedom and their personal development? I think it's interesting to discuss how free and powerful men actually are. They might have more official power than women – in parliament and commerce, for example – but what about power over their own lives?

She doesn’t follow any particular role models, but admires features in a number of people – for example, being able to fight like Bruce Lee (on account of her long-standing interest in martial arts), put forth an argument like the Danish newspaper editor Tøger Seidenfaden, or having as fantastic a mindset as film director Lars von Trier.

The film industry’s glass ceiling
In the spring of 2007, Meta Louise Foldager attended the International Female Film Festival in Malmö, Sweden, where she had been invited to take part in a panel discussion on equality in the film industry today. She nonetheless maintains that both the discussion and women’s film festivals in general are problematic:

"I have difficulty in looking at the film industry in isolation, because it is bound up with the rest of society and the overall politics of equality. From the figures in the WIFT report, for example, we can see that there is a glass ceiling. But the question is, what exactly is it made of and how did it get there in the first place?

Because I don’t think it’s the men’s fault that there is a glass ceiling. It’s more likely a manifestation of our culture and the way in which we look at gender. I have become totally allergic to the constant labelling of what is female and what is male. On
International Women’s Day this year we suddenly learnt that Danes see economics as being masculine. It is complete nonsense to say that finances are masculine and that economics can be linked to gender – or, what’s more, lots of the other things we think are determined by gender. We have got to dispel those ideas, because they are part and parcel of creating and maintaining inequality. We’ve got to stop looking upon the job of film director as being something male or female – or making decisions, being interested in financial matters, drinking coffee, having sex in a certain way or taking care of your children.

But it’s difficult. It upsets me, for instance, when people say that I talk like a male General. Because I want to be a woman. Or as happened at the film festival in Malmö when a participant was surprised by a new survey showing that women buy more electronic gadgets than men. There I sat suddenly ashamed of my bag, with its PSPs, iPod, Navsat, headsets and two mobile phones. Or when the discussion turns to men’s and women’s sexuality, I always think that I must be a man…. So there must be something wrong, because I’m a woman, aren’t I. When we link everything to gender, we deprive ourselves of the right to be ourselves.

Therefore I think women’s film festivals are problematic. Because what is a women’s film? What, then, are my films? How can film suddenly have a gender? And then I get unsettled again because I love Kung Fu films, which I can but imagine many people would consider to be a male film genre. So does that mean I’m not a real woman?

According to Meta Louise Foldager, that type of film festival keeps us stuck in notions of gender, and in her opinion a director’s works are also influenced to a large extent by age, class, mentality, upbringing and ethnicity.

Sexist journalism
She hates being asked specific questions just because she is a woman and wears the clothes she likes.

"When I got this job, Berlingske Tidende [Danish national newspaper, ed.] came out to do an article and take some pictures of me. And on that day I was wearing high-heeled, red leather boots and a red leather jacket. A lot of people commented on this. In a later interview a journalist asked me why I had been photographed in that outfit and wearing such high-heeled boots, seeing as I was interested in equal opportunities. My first reply was that I’ve got boots that have even higher heels! And my next response was that I won’t answer questions like that until Mærsk McKinney Møller answers a question about why he wears a tie, or film director Peter Aalbæk explains why he wears trainers.

When the journalist gets an answer that is of interest in a gender perspective from those men, then we can talk about it. But not before. I wear women’s clothes because I am a woman. I’ve also been asked how I use the fact that I’m a woman in my work. My first reaction to that question is that it sounds rather unsavoury. From a less unsavoury angle, we probably all do. But I also use my age, I use all of me, and that can’t be split into separate pieces."

Concepts of gender are at their most restrictive and inhibitive when we put things into categories. Even though the world is more complex if you don’t do that, it is also more interesting and more liberated. And gender boxes ought to be abolished, according to Foldager.

Why set up women’s networks when power lies with men?
Meta Louise Foldager dismisses any idea that it is harder for women directors, scriptwriters and producers to get funding for their projects than it is for their male counterparts.

"For the first time, women have lately been holding the purse strings at the Danish Film Institute. And it hasn’t changed anything. Which is good, even though you might perhaps think it’s a shame. But it certainly doesn’t mean there’s an agreement between the male financier and male film directors. And as the majority of film directors are men, the allocation of funding should reflect that. 

I’m not kept out of anything because of my gender. And not in terms of networking either. I’ve been in some women’s networks. But then I dropped out, because if you set up a women’s network based on the theory that power lies with men and they have a male network, then why would you want to set up a non-powerful network? Why not just network with the men who are in control in order to come to power yourself? There's no point setting up a parallel network, which, what’s more, doesn’t have nearly as much power. It’s fine to network with women, but the theory behind it is illogical."

Meta Louise Foldager also points out that her contribution to the dvoted website – set up at the behest of the Nordic Council of Ministers [Nordisk Ministerråd] with the task of coaching young people interested in the film industry, and where she was one of the first guest mentors – is not gender-based. On the contrary, she wants to inspire just as many boys as girls. 

Working with Lars von Trier
At the end of April 2007, Silver Bear winning director Pernille Fischer Christensen received 6.4 million kroner in funding for her film Dancers [Dansen], which Foldager is producing. A love story which, like A Soap [En Soap], Pernille Fischer Christensen’s award-winning first film, is also about men’s and women’s sexuality. And about dancing.

At the moment Meta Louise Foldager is working on a new Lars von Trier film, Antichrist, in which Satan is of the female sex.

"A lot of research has been done for the film in relation to woman being Satan and Satan being within women. Not that I think it’s true, because I don’t believe in Satan at all. But it’s an intriguing way of looking at men and women, and turns everything a bit upside down. And it’s interesting that Lars sees it as such and finds it inspiring to think along those lines. Some people will also undoubtedly find it enormously provocative. But I haven’t found it provocative because it’s his pictures, his vision of and playing with the difference between men and women. We discuss it all the time."

Translation: Gaye Kynoch

IMDb on Meta Louise Foldager
Visit the website Zentropa Film Company

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