We had a pleasant virtual chat with Danish filmmaker Pernille Rose Grønkjær, who spoke about her latest thought-provoking documentary, entitled “Solutions.” The film world-premiered at this year’s CPH:DOX (April 21-May 12 2021), one of Europe’s largest gatherings celebrating documentary cinema, where it won the Nordic:Dox Award. In detail, “Solutions” follows 15 leading scientists and innovators who meet in a New Mexico facility to speak about the world’s major issues over the course of 10 days and to find feasible solutions. The documentary’s format is rather simple. It is divided into several chapters, each tackling one of the world’s current issues and depicting both talking heads and conversations among the experts. These chapters are enriched by some relevant archival footage and a short on screen summary displaying possible solutions at the end of each sequence. What makes this picture fresh and compelling are the experts’ charisma and innovative takes on these problems. In just 100 minutes, these bright minds are able to deconstruct and re-imagine the founding paradigms of today’s society, economy, labor, mediascape and environment. Notably, Grønkjær leads Danish Documentary, an all-female production outfit behind the making of “Solutions” as well as other non-fiction hits such as Grønkjær’s own “The Monastery – Mr. Vig and the Nun,” Eva Mulvad’s “Enemies of Happiness” and Mikala Krogh’s “A Normal Life.”
When did you start working on “Solutions?”
Everything began back in 2014. I met this Danish scientist called Steen [Rasmussen, Professor in Physics at the University of Southern Denmark and organizer of the bootcamp], who told me something about his project. The idea was to put together a group of very smart people who would look at some of the problems that the world was facing. So I attended several of their meetings held throughout the years and then something happened during the last one – the group, the way we shot it, everything came together, until I realized: “Okay, here’s the film!”
What was the most challenging part of the project?
The interesting thing is that after two weeks my head was exploding. It was about to burst because what they were talking about are such important topics over a very short period of time and with a very complex language. So I wasn’t able to condense many of these conversations in my head. Finding ways to transform these fantastic pieces of knowledge into a film was the biggest challenge. I have to say that, even though it has been very difficult, I experienced a strange feeling of optimism because I was sitting in a room with people who’ve spent their life specializing in their own fields and I realized that they had solutions in their hands.
I was wondering how you worked on organizing the footage and editing it, since it is a very verbose film, and for obvious reasons…
I’ve been doing documentaries for 25 years. I never had to deal with a material that was that “condensed.”
Indeed, they keep on talking for ten days!
Every sentence was important, every sentence was interesting in its own way. There was so much good material. I never had footage with which I could have made a much longer film. I had a fantastic editor on this film, Per Sandholt, who worked meticulously with his “scalpel” to edit their speeches. It’s been like climbing a mountain. But we never got tired of this, and every day in the editing room has been really exciting. I never experienced that. Sometimes you grow tired of your own footage, but this never happened here. We “stayed hungry” the whole time.
I believe one of the most interesting bits was the one dedicated to social media. In particular, I was struck by the concept of applying the Dunbar’s number to limit our number of “virtual friendships” and the idea to separate news feeds from social media to combat fake news. What’s your take on the subject?
I think it’s so interesting the fact that somebody comes and shakes things up! We all know that maybe it’s not so realistic to have 150 friends on Facebook but it’s something we should take into account. We’re all so absorbed into this social media sphere and we’re all part of this. So many things are now taking place there, even though I don’t think it was supposed to be this way. For example, there are discussions about democracy on a platform that measures your data… It’s a complex and fantastic area to explore. Obviously there are other films that discuss these themes, but what is visible here is how these problems are connected to each other. [..] This is also the narrative we try to create within the film, this [the troubled state of the information sector] is not only a problem that affects social media, but it also involves our institutions, the economy, the environment and so on. It’s a circle.
Another part that was particularly engaging was how it covered the world of labor. To summarize, it seems that the main idea is that “everyone should work, but everyone should work less.” I was also fascinated by this novel concept of “eu-capitalism,” introduced towards the end of the film.
That is one of my favorite parts. It’s an attempt to see our economy as something different. Before making this documentary, I didn’t think we could actually change the foundations of our economic system. Currently, we’re in a paradigm that worked once, but doesn’t work anymore. This already happened throughout history, but we tend not to think in these terms. Even gaining awareness on this process, it’s really important. The technology is advancing at a pace that nobody had anticipated, challenging the established models. Somehow, this process is just a natural way of progressing as a species, and as Nick Hanauer [American progressive entrepreneur and venture capitalist] and Eric Beinhocker [Professor of Public Policy Practice at the University of Oxford] point out, it implies a different focus on what humans do and who they are. The economic model we live in now is very fixed and assumes we’re all rational beings. But people are emotional, have connections… These experts want to consider things from a different angle, and bring their scientific expertise to build a new way of viewing capitalism. So economy might based on something else, for instance on morals. As they say, every economic act should be a moral choice. Is that choice good or bad for humanity? That moment was one of the most revealing.
Are you already working on a new project?
Yes! I can’t say much about it yet, but I’m just gonna say it will be so much fun and entertaining, and it has some science in it as well! [laughs]