The Eclectic: Caroline Sascha Cogez on her GSFF retrospective

Caroline Sascha Cogez brings her eclectic short films to a retrospective at Glasgow Short Film Festival. The Skinny spoke to this graduate of Super 16, Denmark's punky film school, about her colourful career ahead of her trip to Scotland

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 30 Jan 2013

Caroline Sascha Cogez is not your typical filmmaker, and those who venture to Glasgow Short Film Festival’s retrospective of her work on 8 and 10 February will realise this fairly quickly – probably during the first film of the programme, Cogez’s charming debut Bus. Its hero is Karina, a mousey young woman who begins the film by going about her daily commute. We all know someone like Karina. When a curb-jumping cyclist mows her down on the pavement it’s she who does the apologising. And after staying up half the night preparing a Power Point presentation for work she feebly hands it over to her arrogant colleague, who plans to take all the credit for himself. In other words, she’s a walking doormat.

The standard operating procedure for such a protagonist in a Hollywood production would be for her to crack under the pressure and lash back at her wrongdoers; histrionics are required to achieve catharsis. What Cogez gives us instead is a modest protest. When the bus she's on reaches her workplace she remains parked in her seat, and spends the rest of the day and night on the bus awkwardly chatting with a widowed former dancer who’s gone AWOL from her old folks’ home and joins Karina's unofficial sit-in.

This is the kind of cliché-free filmmaking that refuses a label. It certainly resists categorisation alongside the kitchen sink traditions of her home nation or the boundary pushing Dogme 95. When Cogez speaks to me from her home town of Copenhagen before her trip to Glasgow, she's quick to agree that her filmmaking sensibility is difficult to pin down. “I’ve always been considered ‘very exotic’ by the Danish industry. It has never known what to make of me.” Perhaps this explains why she’s drawn to characters who like to disturb the status quo.

“I’m interested in eccentrics, for sure,” she explains. “Or the underdog, the artist, the queer – the outsider through whom the norm becomes visible.” And in her films these two extremes, the extrovert and the introvert, the rockstar and the square, are often thrown together, creating friction. “I like that space, the space between the absurd and the real. That’s part of the challenge: how far can I go with putting the staged with the non-staged, or the outsider with the ordinary.”

Corgez gained her first filmmaking stripes as assistant to Lars von Trier, whose infamous oddball press conferences and bizarre soundbites would make him an ideal protagonist for one of her films. She worked by his shoulder during the most fruitful period of his career, on the exhilarating triptych of The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark and his masterpiece, Dogville. “It educated me as a human being, on many levels,” she says when I ask about her experience under the wing of European cinema’s ultimate enfant terrible, “and has undoubtedly coloured the path I’ve been on ever since.” There is a downside to starting at the top, though, as she explains: “Of course it’s a revelation to be in the midsts of film history, with the Dogme movement and Dancer in the Dark winning Cannes, but it’s also a burden to some extent. You know, all superstars have fucked up kids,” she says while laughing at the other end of our Skype connection,”because you set yourself up for failure if you only allow yourself to do the sublime.”

While the collection of small, warm, deeply humane, and yes, often sublime, films being shown in GSFF’s retrospective bear little aesthetic or thematic similarities with the films she worked on with von Trier, the pair seem to be kindred spirits in their quixotic approach to choosing projects. “I love to experiment and I love to challenge myself with a new project,” she confesses. A glance at the titles in the retrospective, which takes in a poetic documentary about a sex worker (Between Rooms), a woozy existential drama set onboard a ferry (Emmalou), and a wry music video for Peaches' Show Stopper, supports this statement. It’s a refreshing antidote to the dominant, risk averse working practised by most industry filmmakers. For Corgez, the continued possibility of failure, of flying too close to the sun, is part of the appeal. “I’m a curious person and making film is more a lifestyle than a sensible, reasonable, economically feasible thing to do. I set out to do something that I haven’t done before, for better or worse. I could never be self sufficient enough to repeat, to have one question that I want to ask my whole life. That, to me, would be more limiting than reacting to the colourful world that I like to be a part of and from which I want to learn."

Emmalou Trailer

Caroline Sascha Cogez 1 | 8 Feb | 9.15pm @ CCA

Caroline Sascha Cogez 2 | 10 Feb | 2pm @ CCA