Female Filmmakers: Spotlight on Documentary Activist Line Hadsbjerg

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“ALTAMAR is an independent production company specialising in multimedia documentary films focusing on stories that impact humanity. We are a dedicated team with years of experience working throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Our passion is to share powerful stories of humanity.” – altamar.tv

While at the Evolution Mallorca Film Festival screening, I watched one of the most moving documentaries I’ve seen in a long time… a gorgeous piece of filmmaking called Forced: Child Labour and Exploitation. This film focused on the young girls and boys of Bangladesh, and shed light on the gruesome jobs they’re forced into everyday to survive. Captivated by the stunning visuals, profound interviews, and horrifying subject, it left me thinking for days about an issue I’d heard little about before. I was later informed that a woman named Line Hadsbjerg, together with the Altamar team, was behind this documentary, and after being introduced via the web (she is based in Europe) I had the honor of watching her production company’s portfolio of groundbreaking work (altamar.tv). Being a huge supporter of art as activism, I was impressed to find several documentaries artistically covering subjects like what it means to be a girl in South Africa, the migrant journey in Johannesburg, birth identity issues in Tanzania, transgender obstacles in South America, and much more. With an interactive web documentary focusing on the shared humanity of refugees in Denmark and Danish citizens called Fortunes Gift on the way, I absolutely had to ask Line some questions about her incredibly important work as a storyteller and activist.

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Your website states you are Denmark born, South African-raised writer/storyteller/journalist who’s travelled around the world. I want to start a little bit at the beginning and ask you where your artistry and love for storytelling comes from, and how you got your start in journalism and documentary filmmaking?

I have always wanted my life to have a positive impact. With a degree in Anthropology and a Masters in Development Studies, I envisioned my life stationed in refugee camps around the world, helping save people’s’ lives.

However, life does not always turn out as planned, and after sailing across the Atlantic and falling in love, I found myself in the Mediterranean and wondered how much saving the world I could do from there.

I then started an online giving platform called betterplace.org, together with some friends in Berlin, which is now Germany’s leading online giving portal. This gave me a foothold back into the human stories that I longed to experience.

Writing my book, Remarkable South Africans, was a 2 year venture, and brought me into contact with photographer Pep Bonet. We travelled the length and breadth of South Africa together capturing inspiring stories of humanity.

That was the beginning of our collaboration and the founding of Altamar Productions. We then went on to produce Into the Shadows together, which has won numerous awards including 1st prize World Press Photo multimedia. We have since continued producing documentary films that shine a light on injustice in its many forms.

What is your book Remarkable South Africans about, and how did your upbringing in South Africa shape who you are today?

Remarkable South Africans sets out to capture the essence of the human spirit. It is a coffee-table book, with striking photography by Pep Bonet, and shares the stories of 27 South Africans who have reached out to their communities and contributed to humanity. The book features well known figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Trevor Manuel, through to the “everyday giants” in society; individuals who seek no recognition, but work tirelessly for their communities.

I see it as a great privilege to have grown up in South Africa. It is a country that is complex and rich in its history, and I was raised with a political conscience. I am reminded of the words by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I am very conscious that I grew up on the privileged side of Apartheid. My parents were very liberal, and my mother was an active member of Black Sash, a non-violent white women’s resistance organization against Apartheid. I was also raised by my “African-Mama”, her wisdom and resilience as a proud African woman had a profound impact in my life.

Writing my book, Remarkable South Africans, was a way of giving back to the country that gave me my childhood, and instilled in me that equality and freedom are worth fighting for.

Your creative work can be considered artistic activism at its core; what causes speak to you the most and how were you inspired to make that the central focus of your art?

Inequality, prejudice and injustice, especially against women, ignites my deepest sense of rage.

FYI – I am the co-founder of SEED Community: www.seedcom.org

I also have a deep empathy towards refugees. I am very often inspired by their resilience, their capacity to persevere and their intellect. The strength of character needed to overcome such loss, and the stamina needed to pursue the dream of a better life – refugees deserve our admiration rather than our animosity.

Writing is my medium. Even in visual-storytelling, the written word has its place. The challenge has always been how to combine my passion for humanity with storytelling – it is my life’s work – it is who I have become.

 

Tell us about Altamar Productions, your team of filmmakers and how long it’s been around. What you aim to accomplish with your films?

Altamar is an independent production company specialising in multimedia documentary films focusing on stories that impact humanity. They say that when you surround yourself with stars, you shine. We are a small team who have worked together for the past 6 years, and I feel very privileged to work with such talented and accomplished artists. Pep Bonet creates visual masterpieces. As an award-winning photographer and cinematographer, his work captures beauty even in the darkest of places. Jose Bautista is the master of sound – and he edits films in the same way he composes music – with rhythm, flow and poise.

A majority of your films focus on various issues in South Africa like the refugee situation, citizens’ rights to identity, and female upbringing. How do you decide on the subject of your films?

Subjects seem to find us. We are either commissioned to produce a film, for example by an NGO or a Foundation wishing to share the impact of their work. Or we initiate films ourselves, where we have access to a powerful story, and believe it is worth pursuing. We are a small team, we move fast and intense, we aim high when it comes to quality, and we are willing to confront difficult stories. Most of our work is human centered – tuning into the pulse of our common humanity.

Bangladesh, Tangail Brothel. April 2013 Rothy is a sex worker at Tangail Brothel, she is 17 years old now. Rothy went to Dhaka in search a better life and to find a job, because she needed to provide for her family, she was concerned for her family and was never forced to leave home. But she was fooled by a broker and she thought she was going to work at the Garmin Industry, but she was sold to a “madame” at the age of 9 she was forced to work as a sex worker. She arrived at Tangail brothel two years ago. Rothy was attacked 3 days ago and she was bitten at her throat, some times mentally disabled people also go there and give her a hard time. Rothy has about 10 clients a day and she charges 200 Taka for sex. Tangail brothel is in the center of Tangail district, next to the police station about 900 sex workers work and live. They have to pay every night 200 to 250 Taka for the rental. The living conditions are not good and good toilets and access to water are not always available…Fights for clients are common because sometimes there are not enough clients and they need to pay the rental fee. (please note all the real names of the children is this story have been changed to protect their identity).

Bangladesh, Tangail Brothel. April 2013
Rothy is a sex worker at Tangail Brothel, she is 17 years old now.
Rothy went to Dhaka in search a better life and to find a job, because she needed to provide for her family, she was concerned for her family and was never forced to leave home. But she was fooled by a broker and she thought she was going to work at the Garmin Industry, but she was sold to a “madame” at the age of 9 she was forced to work as a sex worker. She arrived at Tangail brothel two years ago. Rothy was attacked 3 days ago and she was bitten at her throat, some times mentally disabled people also go there and give her a hard time. Rothy has about 10 clients a day and she charges 200 Taka for sex.
Tangail brothel is in the center of Tangail district, next to the police station about 900 sex workers work and live. They have to pay every night 200 to 250 Taka for the rental. The living conditions are not good and good toilets and access to water are not always available…Fights for clients are common because sometimes there are not enough clients and they need to pay the rental fee. (please note all the real names of the children is this story have been changed to protect their identity).

Another film project you have in the works is FORCED, a compilation of 5 short films documenting child labour and exploitation across 5 countries (the first one being Bangladesh). This one I had the pleasure of seeing at a film festival, and I can honestly say I was extremely moved and had NO idea this was happening to this extreme in today’s time. Why do you believe it’s important to show these sometimes rough stories/images through film to an audience that may not necessarily have any ties to the culture or exposure to hardship like that?

I believe that as human beings we are all connected. We do not exist in isolation. The suffering of one vibrates across society and we are all accountable. In the example of FORCED, a documentary film that documents child labour in Bangladesh, it is easy to push the emotions aside and say that these horrors are taking place elsewhere on the globe. However, the reality is, especially in the case of child prostitution and the sex trade, these horrors are taking place on our doorsteps. I think of my daughters. It chokes me. We cannot turn a blind eye. My motivation, in producing these films, is to ensure that history may never turn around and say “We did not know.”

Rasel (right) and Mohamed work at “Nice” brick factory. Their work entails shifting and carting sand from one place to another, as well as stacking bricks. On a good day they can earn up to 130 Taka a day. They are forced to work to help support their families. Although the law prohibits child labour, the practice is consistent throughout the region. Enforcement of existing laws is inadequate. Child labour is technically illegal but extremely widespread. Driven by poverty, it is often parents who are forced to push their children into work at an early age. (please note all the real names of the children is this story have been changed to protect their identity)

Rasel (right) and Mohamed work at “Nice” brick factory.
Their work entails shifting and carting sand from one place to another, as well as stacking bricks. On a good day they can earn up to 130 Taka a day. They are forced to work to help support their families.
Although the law prohibits child labour, the practice is consistent throughout the region. Enforcement of existing laws is inadequate.
Child labour is technically illegal but extremely widespread. Driven by poverty, it is often parents who are forced to push their children into work at an early age.
(please note all the real names of the children is this story have been changed to protect their identity)

You’ve produced many documentaries through Altamar Productions that have won various awards for not only your social impact, but for the stunningly powerful visuals. What has your experience been traveling to these sometimes desolate locations to film, and being surrounded by cultures and people that may be foreign to you? Have you met any adversity going to these places as a filmmaker?

It is a curious thing, but the more I travel, the more I realize that at the core of our beings we are all the same. We have different cultures and languages and customs. We rock our babies to sleep in different ways and we eat different food. But when you strip away these socialized behaviors, you discover, that we are all human beings trying to get on with our lives. We all suffer. We all feel pain. We all have dreams and hopes and fears, and we all love our children and would forsake our lives to protect them. We all feel hunger. We all feel love. We all need to be nurtured and cared for. I have learned from making films in difficult places that it is the community that protects you. Often a trusted “fixer”, who knows the place, the people and how to communicate, provides the access to a whole world. Gaining this ‘trust’ is the key to any meaningful story.

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Last but not least, you mentioned an exciting interactive project in the works about your birthplace Denmark. Anything you can share about that?

Fortunes Gift is an interactive web documentary that captures the voices of refugees in Denmark, as well as of “ordinary” Danish citizens, and seeks to highlight what connects us as human beings. Our shared humanity. It is made for digital mobile devices, and users can explore the depths of the lives featured. The project is being published by Politiken.dk. The vision for this project is to extend it across the “migration route” being travelled by refugees into Europe.

Any advice you have to young activists who want to make a difference through their art?

“If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” Channel your rage. It will fire your passion, ignite your talent and send ripples of positive change through society.

Want to learn more about all of Line’s incredible films?

Visit altamar.tv for links and information on all their past, present, and future projects.

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Kaytra Parkman

About Kaytra Parkman

Actress. “An old cosmic soul disguised as a 21st-century earthling”. Kaytra has no recollection of “catching” any acting bug... it was always there. At the ripe age of 3, she pointed to the television enthusiastically and declared, “I want to be IN THAT!”. After her parents jokingly reminded her she would have to be really small to fit in there, Kaytra skipped and tripped her way through adolescence until she landed a coveted spot at the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCSA). There she spent 4 years studying everything from stage combat to documentary filmmaking amongst a wide variety of young artists. A professional nerd on the side, she also freelances as a social media manager/video editor/techie, and spends her free time Netflixing and obsessing about space. Kaytra hopes to combine her love of acting, filmmaking and activism to evoke positive change both individually and globally.