US backers and an international cast are not typical traits of the Dogme 95 school of film-making, but the makers of Kristian Levring's The King Is Alive stayed true to the "back-to-basics" manifesto while shooting in the Namibian desert. Jacob Neiiendam reports.
A collective of Danish film-makers founds Dogme 95 in Copenhagen, with the expressed goal of countering "certain tendencies" in modern cinema. The soon-to-be-christened Dogme brothers comprise Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Soren Kragh-Jacobsen and Kristian Levring.
The first two Dogme titles, Vinterberg's The Celebration and von Trier's The Idiots, premiere in Cannes as the first draft of The King Is Alive is finished. Director Levring co-writes with Anders Thomas Jensen from Levring's premise: a group of tourists find themselves stranded in the Namibian desert after their bus breaks down. Danish producer Vibeke Windeloev, who has just finished The Idiots, is set to produce the film for Zentropa Entertainments5. Windeloev has in recent years handled the complicated co-financing of von Trier's Breaking The Waves and Dancer In The Dark.
A second draft of the script takes shape as the success of the other Dogme movies spurs interest in the project. "The LA-based Dutch producer Patricia Kruijer, who we didn't know at that time, contacted Kristian Levring, and she was very interested," Vibeke Windeloev explains. "We already had support from national broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) and the Danish Film Institute, but the film had to be shot on location in Africa, so we needed further funding. We were very lucky Patricia joined."
In November Windeloev presents the project to possible US partners. The non-commercial story is a stumbling block, as is Levring's long absence from features - his commercials work was well regarded but he has not made a feature since his debut, Shot From The Heart (Et Skud Fra Hjertet) in 1986.
Windeloev takes the final script to the Berlin Film Festival, where the third Dogme movie, Mifune, makes waves. At the following AFM, Good Machine International [GMI] joins with LA-based Newmarket Capital Group [NCG] in putting down two-thirds of the $2.4m budget. "We couldn't have hoped for a better collaboration," says Windeloev. At the same time, Kruijer has been busy putting together a cast with Levring and casting directors Joyce Nettles and Malin Finn. "It was surprisingly easy considering we didn't have much of a budget," says Kruijer. "But when they read the script they all liked it." The cast includes France's Romane Bohringer, UK actors David Bradley, Janet McTeer and David Calder, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Davison and Brion James from the US.
The shoot takes cast and crew to south-east Africa's Namib Desert for six weeks. Windeloev can't go due to her commitment to von Trier's Dancer In The Dark, which shoots at the same time. Patricia Kruijer handles production with Danes Kristina Kornum and Jens Schlosser, who recently lit The One And Only, as production manager and cinematographer.
"Actually the strict Dogme rules made the shoot seem very practical and simple," Kruijer explains. "It was like shooting theatre in the desert. We shot in chronological order, and the actors' appearance and behaviour followed from that." In the film the stranded tourists play Shakespeare's King Lear for each other as there is nothing else to do - and the cast had no problem identifying with that situation. "The harmony between them was great, and the result is very much an ensemble piece," says Kruijer.
The King Is Alive is edited in London, where director Levring has lived for 10 years, and post-production is completed at Zentropa's Mainstream complex in Filmbyen near Copenhagen. The film screened at this year's Cannes Film Festival in Un Certain Regard. It is scheduled to open in Denmark this autumn.
Prod cos: Zentropa Entertainments5, Newmarket Capital Group. Int'l sales: Good Machine International (1) 212 343 9230. Prod: Vibeke Windeloev, Patricia Kruijer. Dir/scr: Kristian Levring. Scr: Levring, Anders Thomas Jensen. Main cast: Miles Anderson, Romane Bohringer, Bruce Davison, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer.
Territories sold: Benelux (RCV), Bulgaria (Aipi Ltd), CIS (West Video), Central America & Dominican Republic (International Motion Pictures), Czech Republic (Bonton), Ex Yugoslavia (Discovery), Germany (Senator), Greece (Rosebud SA), Israel (Shani Films), Lebanon (Italia Films), Poland (Vision), Portugal (Atalanta Filmes), Romania (New Films International), Scandinavia (Zentropa Entertainments), South Africa (Ster Kinekor), Spain (Lauren Film), Switzerland (Rialto Film), Thailand (Right Pictures), Turkey (Associated Euromedia), UK (Pathe).
Writer Anders Thomas Jensen
Co-screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen last year won the Academy Award for best live action short, after having been nominated three years in a row. He wrote the popular feature In China They Eat Dogs, and co-wrote prize-winning Mifune as well as The King Is Alive. He makes his feature directing debut this year with Blinkende Lygter, produced by Tivi Magnusson and Kim Magnusson's M&M Productions and featuring some of Denmark's leading acting talent.