St. Croix, the Danish West Indies, 1848. Anna Heegaard and Petrine are close friends. Although both are women of colour, their living conditions are very different – Anna is free and owns the enslaved Petrine. Anna shares her life with Danish Governor General Peter von Scholten at her country house, where she manages the home, her fortune, and her beloved and trusted housekeeper Petrine. Things are seemingly fine until rumours of a rebellion begin to swirl. Which side are Anna and Petrine really on, and is it the same one?
It is in itself ambitious to make a film about one of the most shamefully under-examined topics in Danish history, namely the Danish slave trade in the West Indies. But it is seriously brave to do it in a playful way that mixes satire with dramatic seriousness in the depiction of the friendship between two black women of different status at St. Croix, leading up to the slave revolt of 1848.
This is what makes Empire so unique in Danish film and in a Nordic context. Conceptualist and screenwriter Anna Neye, in partnership with director Frederikke Aspöck, portrays the racist power structures that permeate Danish colonial rule with a sharp and indignant gaze, all packaged in an original aesthetic, with a sensational soundtrack and impressively executed scenography that emphasise the absurdity of the atrocities.
While the vast majority of historical films play it safe, Empire boldly breaks free of the templates, which is why a unanimous Danish jury nominates this film for the 2023 Nordic Council Film Prize.
Screenwriter – Anna Neye
Anna Neye (born 1969) is a writer, director, and actor. She studied at the Arts Educational Schools of London and then at the National Film School of Denmark, where she obtained her degree in screenwriting in 2005. Her credits as a screenwriter include the comedy show Normalerweize (2004), the series Tvillingerne & Julemanden (2013), and the satirical sketch show about Danish colonial history Fra kolonimagt til kolonihavemagt (2015). Neye continued with the same theme in the feature film Empire, in which she played the title role. The film had its world premiere as part of the competition at the Göteborg International Film Festival where it ran for Best Nordic Film.
Director – Frederikke Aspöck
Frederikke Aspöck (born 1974) is a seasoned writer, director, and composer. She holds an MFA in filmmaking from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, and a BA in set design from Wimbledon School of Art in London. Her graduate short film from the Tisch School Happy Now (2004) won the Cannes Cinéfondation First Prize. Her feature debut Out of Bounds had its world premiere at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2011 and won best film in Marrakesh. Her second feature film Rosita received two nominations at the local Robert awards and won best director in Moscow. Her third feature Out of Tune (2019) had its world premiere in Rotterdam and was a box office hit in Denmark. Empire had its world premiere at the Göteborg Film Festival in 2023.
Producer – Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen
Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen (born 1974) is one of Denmark’s most prominent independent producers and is CEO of SAM Productions and its sister company Meta Film. She holds a Master of Arts in Film Studies from the University of Copenhagen. Foldager Sørensen has produced, executive-produced, and co-produced more than 60 shorts, feature-length films, and drama series in the last two decades, working with such esteemed directors as Lars von Trier, Nikolaj Arcel, Pernille Fischer Christensen, Mikkel Munch-Fals, Kasper Barfoed, Per Fly, Ali Abbasi, and Björn Runge. Her numerous award-winning films include the Oscar-nominated A Royal Affair and The Wife, Cannes award-winning film Melancholia, and the hit series Borgen-Power & Glory, The Chestnut Man, and The Orchestra. Most recently she has worked on the Netflix series The Nurse and the feature film Empire.
Producer – Nina Leidersdorff
Nina Leidersdorff is a producer, currently working for Copenhagen-based SAM Productions. She holds an MFA in production from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and a BA in Film and Media Studies from Copenhagen University. She joined SAM Productions in 2020 after several years in the US where she worked as Head of Development and Production for Primeridian Entertainment. Her feature film credits include Alonso Mayo’s multi-award-winning The Story of Luke (2012), Ulrich Thomsen’s In Embryo (2016), and Fredrikke Aspöck’s Empire. On the television drama side, she produced the Netflix series The Nurse (2023).
Producer – Pernille Munk Skydsgaard
Pernille Munk Skydsgaard (born 1971) holds a BA in Economics and a Master of Arts Degree in Film and Media Science from Copenhagen University, and has studied at UCLA in the US. For the last 25 years, she has worked in the Danish audiovisual industry, in both the public and private sector, across production, distribution, financing, and festival strategy. Most recently she has served as producer for the production powerhouses Drive Studios (2021-2022), and for the twin companies Meta Film & SAM Productions (2019-2021). Her production credits include YouSee’s series Sunday, voted Best TV Satire at the Copenhagen TV Festival 2020, the family film Captain Bimse by Kirsten Skytte and Thomas Borch Nielsen, and this year’s candidate for Best Nordic Film at the Göteborg Film Festival Empire.
Original title: Viften
International title: Empire
Director: Frederikke Aspöck
Screenwriter: Anna Neye
Producers: Pernille Munk Skydsgaard, Nina Leidersdorff, Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen
Production company: Meta Film
Length: 93 minutes
Danish distribution: SF Studios
International sales: REinvent