A (Brief) Conversation with Malene Flindt Pedersen (FAT FRONT)
One of the more unusual topics to be spot-lit at last year’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam was the body-positive movement – specifically the “revolution in Scandinavia” that sparked it. Danish doc-makers Louise Unmack Kjeldsen and Louise Detlefsen’s Fat Front – now available on YouTube and Google Play – is the latest film from longtime female-focused producer Malene Flindt Pedersen. It’s a clear-eyed yet fun, upbeat look at four young Nordic women who have defiantly thrown off the oversized mantle of shame, and wholeheartedly embraced the word “fat.” The ladies also proudly display their stomach rolls, and shake their jiggly thighs, for thousands of enthusiastic Instagram followers around the world.
In addition to premiering in the Frontlight program, Fat Front also arrived at the prestigious fest with an accompanying provocative photographic exhibition presented at Amsterdam Centraal. (Wake up, morning commuters!) And to discuss all this and more I sat down for lunch last fall with the thoughtful co-directors and their dogged producer – who I later followed up with via email – at the Danish Film Institute restaurant SULT while I was in Copenhagen just a few weeks prior to the doc’s international premiere.
Hammer to Nail: So what draws you to female empowerment stories such as those presented in Fat Front? How do you know whether a topic is cinematic material?
Pedersen: In 2015 I realized that even though I work with female directors, we tend to make films about men. So I turned my focus towards getting female protagonists onscreen.
In 2018 I produced a film about a middle-aged, wrinkled woman who wanted to be head of all the unions in Denmark. The film looked different than all other films because it is so seldom that you see this kind of protagonist onscreen. Regarding Fat Front, it was the same feeling of wanting to get different kinds of women onscreen. The way they free themselves from self-hatred is by showing their body on Instagram. We immediately felt this would be interesting to work with. Looking at the body in a cinematic way, with a loving camera, would be an ambition for this film.
HtN: The women in Fat Front are refreshingly complicated – not one claims the body-positive movement as a magic bullet for self-esteem. Though they’ve all found strength and acceptance in the fat community, they nevertheless all continue to struggle with weight and food issues, as well as with self-love. Why was it important for you to avoid any sugarcoating – and was it difficult for these Instagram-addicted women to go on camera and present their IRL reality?
Pedersen:Life is complicated – and that is why documentary is so needed. Because you have time to tell complicated and nuanced stories.
Of course it has taken a lot of courage for our protagonist to go on camera. But they are activists, and they saw this as an opportunity to send the message to all women who feel bad about their body, “There is nothing wrong with your body. You are okay.”
HtN: How difficult is it to get funding for the female-focused films that you produce? Did the #MeToo movement open up more opportunities for your work?
Pedersen: MeToo has had a huge impact on the debate regarding equal rights – in Denmark as well. So yes, there is a much bigger focus on female storytelling and women protagonists in Denmark. But we still have to fight everyday.
HtN: These women strike me as both inspiring and quite vulnerable. How do you go about ensuring the emotional safety of your characters?
Pedersen: This is a very big job, and the directors and our publicist worked night and day to make them feel ready to be out in the public with their story. There are a lot of opinions in the body activist movement, and also in society about fat acceptance. They have to be ready to handle this.
– Lauren Wissot