Lone Scherfig

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Lone Scherfig
Born (1959-05-02) 2 May 1959 (age 61)
Occupation Film director, screenwriter

Lone Scherfig (Danish:  [ˈloːnə ˈɕɛɐ̯fi] ; born 2 May 1959) is a Danish film director and screenwriter who has been involved with the Dogme 95 film movement and who has been widely critically acclaimed for several of her movies, including the Oscar-nominated film An Education (2009). Scherfig's movies are generally romantic comedies, including her film One Day (2011), based on the David Nicholls novel. Through both experimenting with creative constraints and her astute attention to detail, she has come to be recognized as a significant talent in the film industry. [1] [2]



1980s – 1990s: Early beginnings

Scherfig graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 1984, [3] and began her career as a director with the television film Margrethes elsker in 1985. Previously, she had been involved in the advertising business and had won awards (including the Lion d'Argent) at the Cannes International Advertising Film Festival. Her directorial debut in film came with Kaj's fodselsdag. The film was critically successful and garnered her the Grand Jury prize and the Club Espace Award at the Rouen Nordic FIlm Festival. For a period of time following such success, Scherfig wrote and directed a few short films and worked with both radio shows and the stage. In 1998, she directed the film Nar mor kommer hjem, which was the recipient of the Grand Prix at the Montreal Film Festival and the Cinekid Award in Amsterdam.

2000s: International breakthrough, Italian for Beginners

Scherfig found her international breakthrough with the film Italian for Beginners (2000), which was critically acclaimed and won several awards, including the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival. [4] Hailed as a feel-good movie, the film is consistently preoccupied with themes of hope, happiness, and choice. It is credited as the most profitable Scandinavian film to date. [5]

The film, following the creative constraints of the Dogme 95 movement, is set almost entirely on location within a small space, uses sound only found at the source, and it's shot on video. The film involves several characters and their various romantic or otherwise interactions that unfold across this limited setting. As opposed to many other Dogme 95 films, Scherfig's is rather upbeat and comedic, and has been noted for its rather amusing tone. [6]

Following Italian for Beginners, Scherfig made the deadpan comedy Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself , released in 2002. This film, not considered a part of the Dogme 95 canon, is a touching movie centered on a suicidal man who is constantly saved and cared for by his brother. Noted by critics to be a surprisingly lighthearted affair, the movie was praised for Scherfig's ability to craft deep and interesting characters. [1] A.O. Scott mused that the film's tone "ranges from stoic to diffident to quizzical, at least on the surface. But there is an undercurrent of deep and complicated feeling beneath the Scottish reserve; it is signalled by the music, and by Ms. Scherfig's exquisite sense of nuance." [7] This film found Scherfig working closely with the prolific writer Anders Thomas Jensen in developing a screenplay. It also allowed her to align her work with the production companies Sigma Films and Zentropa. Although well received, Wilbur was not as commercially successful as Italian for Beginners, although it did act as a catalyst for a Dogme 95 related project called the "Advance Party," in which both Scherfig and Jensen helped write characters for Lars Von Trier. [2]

As with Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Scherfig wrote and directed another character focused film: Just Like Home , released in 2007. In this comedic endeavour, set in a little town, several characters unite to discover who could be causing commotion in the streets at night. The movie concerns itself primarily with the various citizens of the town and their interactions with each other. In the style of constraints learned by being involved in the Dogme 95, Scherfig claims that the film was written piece by piece every day it was shot. [8] Further proving Scherfig's fascination with lighthearted and sweet affairs, she has claimed the story is "about trust...the fundamental belief that people you hardly know will want the best for you." [9] The film received very little commercial or critical spotlight, instead acting as a bridge between Scherfig's earlier experiments and her more American successes.

2010s: Further success, An Education

In 2009, An Education , Scherfig's most critically lauded film, was released. Written by esteemed fiction author Nick Hornby, the movie was based on journalist Lynn Barber's experiences as a teenager in post-war Britain. The film's story follows 16-year-old Jenny (played by Carey Mulligan) as she is picked up one rainy night by David (played by Peter Sarsgaard), and brought into the bustling and exciting London society. Centered on this tender and somewhat morally ambiguous romantic relationship between David and Jenny, the movie was hailed as being subtle and deliberate in its pacing and tone. [10] Many reviewers noted the exceptional performance of Carey Mulligan as the protagonist. [11] She went on to gain a nomination from the Academy Awards, as did the film itself (for Best Picture) and Nick Hornby (for his Adapted Screenplay). [12] On making the film, Scherfig has talked about her focus on the theme of being an American teenager examined throughout the story, saying, "my guess is about America is that it’s this combination of innocence and freedom that attracts you. Here in Denmark, as well, it was more liberated than it is now, and was definitely more innocent and less dangerous. I mean, when I was a teenager, the world was a lot safer than it is now for my daughter as a teenager, which meant that I could have a lot more fun. It wasn’t risky the way it is now." She has also discussed the pleasures of working in a more collaborative spirit for this movie, commenting that the movie was "the same piece that we [were] all working on, and that was really important to me as a director that everyone was making the same film, that everyone contributed to the package and tried to strengthen it and get as many facets as possible but not be over-inventive, [to] just tell the story as well as we possibly could." [13] Coming off the success of An Education, Scherfig had many opportunities to develop a more expansive American career in filmmaking.

Scherfig's next film titled One Day , released in 2011, follows the lives of two romantically engaged individuals as they intersect one day each year. Based on a novel and then adapted by David Nicholls, the movie marks a more obvious turning point for Scherfig's career in reaching a mildly larger audience than any of her previous films. The plot and story of the movie has been commented on being somewhat simple and predictable, but critics were also aware of Scherfig's ability to give the dialogue and tone of the film a distinct freshness. [14] Leading actors Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess both lent the film access to a wider audience. Scherfig herself had stated expressly her interest in working with Hathaway on this project. She has also commented on the difficulties of working with someone else's screenplay, saying in an interview that:

It’s so much easier to work with something you’ve written, because you can cut things or add things on the spot. You can be much more at home and at ease with what you do. You don’t feel unfaithful to the writer because there is no writer. Most of the other films I’ve done I’ve co-written, and I prefer it. But having said that, when you work with someone else’s characters, you get a lot of gifts. You get an entire world, you get to portray people that you couldn’t have made up, and entire worlds that are fascinating because they are not yours. It’s much harder, I really think it’s much harder [15]

Scherfig at the 2017 Miami International Film Festival Lone Scherfig, Director.jpg
Scherfig at the 2017 Miami International Film Festival

Ultimately, the film was a moderate success commercially, grossing over $56 million worldwide on a $15 million budget. [16] It also furthered Scherfig's career and her capacity to reach a broader audience.

Scherfig worked as a consultant writer for the Danish film Alting, and has worked on other projects (such as Red Road and Donkeys) in helping write and develop characters. [17] Her most recent work is The Riot Club , based on the stage play Posh by Laura Wade, released in 2014. The film follows two first-year students amongst the privileged elite of Oxford University, determined to join the infamous Riot Club, where reputations can be made or destroyed over the course of a single evening. Universal Pictures distributed the film in the UK and Ireland. [18]

Awards and nominations

Kaj's fodselsdag won both the Club Espace Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Rouen Nordic Film Festival in 1991. Nar mor kommer hjem won the Cinekid Film Award in 1998.

At the Berlin International Film Festival, Italian for Beginners won the FIPRESCI Prize, the Prize of Ecumenical Jury, the Reader Jury of the "Berliner Morgenpost," and the Silver Berlin Bear, and was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear. It was also nominated for a Bodil (as was Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and An Education). Italian for Beginners was nominated at the Chicago International Film Festival, the European Film Awards, the Goya Awards, and picked up awards at Bordeaux International Festival of Women in Cinema, the Festróia-Tróia International Film Festival, the Flaiano Film Festival, the Hamptons International Film Festival, the Paris Film Festival, the Robert Festival, the Valladolid Film Festival, and the Warsaw International Film Festival.

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself garnered nominations from the British Independent Film Awards, the Chlotudis Awards, the Robert Festival, the Valladolid Film Festival, and came in second place at the Emden International Film Festival. It took home awards at the Festróia-Tróia International Film Festival, the Hamptons International Film Festival, the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, and the Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival in Canada.

Although Just Like Home was shunned by critics, Scherfig's fourth film was offered the most recognition. An Education was nominated at the BAFTA Awards, the British Independent Film Awards, the European Film Awards, the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards, the Satellite Awards, and the Academy Awards. It won various awards at the Chicago International Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Mill Valley Film Festival, the Robert Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival. [19]


1985Margrethes elskerDirectorTelevision film
1986Flamberede hjerterAssistant Director
1989A World of DifferenceScript Supervisor
1990Kaj's fødselsdagDirectorWon Club Espace Award Rouen Nordic Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize Rouen Nordic Film Festival [20]
1993Den gode lykkeDirectorTelevision film
1994Flemming og BeritDirector6 episodes
1997TaxaDirectorTelevision series (unknown episodes)
Writer2 episodes
1998Når mor kommer hjemWriter, directorWon – Cinekid Film Award, Grand Prix at Montreal Film Festival [21]
2000Morten Korch – Ved stillebækkenWriter, director11 episodes
Italian for Beginners Writer, directorWon 20 awards, Nominated for 22 [22]
2002 Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself Writer, directorWon 11 awards, Nominated for 20 [23]
2005 Krøniken Director1 episode
2006 Red Road Characters
2007 Just Like Home Writer, director
2009 An Education DirectorNominated for 3 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, Won 25 Awards, Nominated for 56 [12]
2011 One Day Director
2012AltingWriter, consultant writer
2014 The Riot Club Director
2015 The Astronaut Wives Club Director, executive producer2 episodes
2016 Their Finest Director
2019 The Kindness of Strangers Director

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Further reading