Step into my office, the man says.
Peter Aalbæk Jensen nods towards a corner of the cafeteria at Zentropa HQ. The 58-year old CEO and movie producer is wearing a casual grey Hilfiger polo shirt, cotton trousers, and black sneakers. The office, it turns out, consists of two small sofas around a wooden table next to the employee lunch buffet. There is as much privacy here as you would find in a train station during rush hour. He leans back on the sofa. The Palme d’Or – won by Zentropa partner and director von Trier for Dancer in the Dark in 2000 – hangs rather unceremoniously on an eclectic trophy wall behind him, next to an axe used in A Royal Affair, a rubber vagina from von Triers Antichrist and a very large stuffed fish from Chop Chop. This is where Aalbæk Jensen conducts his business as head of one of Denmark’s most successful and controversial film companies.
Zentropa is located in Filmbyen, Danish for ‘Movie City’, tucked away in the suburb of Avedøre, 10 kilometres southwest of Copenhagen. Here, in a concrete wasteland of middle-income family homes, public housing projects, and abandoned corn fields, lies the not so glamorous Filmbyen, in what used to be an army barracks. The place was founded in 1997 by von Trier and Aalbæk Jensen. The two men had met on a commercial shoot years earlier and hit it off so well that they decided to start a company together, Zentropa, in 1992. Filmbyen was their artistic and commercial gamble; a large studio complex mimicking the likes of legendary movie factories such as Hollywood in LA or Cinecittà in Rome.
In many ways, it proved a spectacular success. In others, an epic fail.
Paris, 1995. The film industry is gathered to celebrate the first century of motion pictures and contemplate the uncertain future of commercial cinema. Lars von Trier is called upon to talk about the future of film, but instead he showers a bemused audience with red pamphlets announcing Dogme 95, a new movement with the goal of ”purifying” filmmaking. Central to the movement’s idea of filmmaking is the ”vow of chastity”; ten simple rules of production to combat predictable plots and technological trickery. Among other things filming must be done on location, music can only be used if it occurs in the scene being filmed, and the camera must be hand-held. It is an instant hit.