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Lars Von Trier got a prize and a million kroner - here are 18 quotes from his acceptance speech

Prize Winner — Lars von Trier was awarded the Sonning Prize on 19th April , Denmark's biggest award in the realm of culture. In his acceptance speech, he spoke of his time as a student at the University of Copenhagen and, playing on the medieval title, that rector was 'the nicest magnificus in the world'. Here are 18 of the best quotes from his speech.

“I am very proud. And this doesn’t happen often for me.”

This is what Lars von Trier said when he received the Sonning Prize on Thursday the 19th April at the University of Copenhagen’s Ceremonial Hall – in front of an audience that included a Minister of Culture, and the author and filmmakers Jørgen Leth and Peter Aalbæk.

The prize, which includes DKK 1 million, was presented by Rector Henrik C. Wegner – or ‘rector magnificus’, which von Trier in his acceptance speech insisted on calling him. The filmmaker is only the fourth Dane to receive the award, which was awarded for the first time in 1950. He is also the fourth film director, as the honour has previously gone to Ingmar Bergman, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Michael Haneke.

About the Sonning Prize

Denmark’s largest prize in the realm of culture at DKK 1 million, set up by the author and editor C. J. Sonning (1879-1937), which is awarded to an individual who is “considered to have made an outstanding contribution to European culture.”

Previous winners include Winston Churchill, Albert Schweizer, Karl Popper, Laurence Olivier, Dario Fo, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Jürgen Habermas, Günther grass, Václav Havel and many others.

The winner is appointed by a prize committee under the University of Copenhagen, chaired by Rector Henrik C. Wegener.


The ceremony took place on the same day as it was announced that von Trier’s upcoming film – the horror movie ‘The House that Jack Built’ – has been nominated for the Cannes festival, where it appears outside the competition. The director returns thereby to the festival that had banned him since his controversial Hitler statements at a press conference in 2011. The winner spent part of his speech explaining the statements (“to the chagrin of some, I have never been, and will never be a Nazi”) – and also the large personal consequences that the incident had had for him (“The sad turn of this press conference cost me many years of anxiety”).

But the speech also contained much more – including several soundbites about his time as a student at the University of Copenhagen in 1976-1979, where he studied film science and never passed an exam. Here are 10 of the best quotes from his speech.

1. About Trier-expert Peter Schepelerns just-finished celebration lecture

“I just realised when I was listening to Peter, that I have heard many of his lectures before. And this was probably the dullest of all the ones I have heardl. I fell into a trance. There were whole sections that I missed out on. It was as it should be. ‘

2. A thank you

“Rector magnificus, the friendly Sonning Committee, wherever it is. Honourable audience, family, ex-family, friends and enemies, collaborators and especially Jenle Hallund, without whose cooperation in both the idea and in research, my two last films would not have seen the light of day […] Thank you, now I have said it. That was my acceptance speech. But the 20 seconds of this introduction, will be found wanting. My acceptance speech has been set to last 20-30 minutes, and I cannot imagine in any way that it will last this long.”

3. About public speaking

“I hate giving speeches.” I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Clearly if I repeat everything three times, the actual speech only has to be one third the length, but I have not used this method so far, even though it is an obvious trick.”

4. Rector Henrik C. Wegener

“When rector magnificus called and told me the joyful message, he became, for me, the nicest of all magnificuses in the world. Wait, it says in parentheses, give a pause so that the scattered nervous laughter and sporadic applause can take place. This was, moreover, the only regular joke in the speech.”

5. About the podium in the UCPH Ceremonial Hall

“I stand here in a box of half a cubic metre – it is bigger than I had thought – it looks a lot like something you would find in a warehouse of Nordisk Film stage sets. And it reminds you in particular to Dreyer (his film Gertrud, ed.) where – is it the pianist? – welcomes the rector magnificus, and the rector magnificus looks like one of the dishwashers in the Riget (The Kingdom, ed.) film

I stand here in a box of half a cubic metre. I have been diagnosed with various mental disorders like OCD, and the like, and suffer unfortunately also from claustrophobia and a social phobia. A bad cocktail for a director you could say. But in one of the booklets, in one of the self-help groups that I frequent against my alcohol abuse, it says that these symptoms will likely hit me right now: Breathing difficulties, choking sensation, chest tightness, nausea, stomach upset, dizziness, feeling of unreality, fear of losing self-control, fear of dying, chills and so on and so on. The rector magnificus has therefore promised that you cannot fall out of the box in sheer shame or panic.

And as a precaution I have included this little prop in the event of a total meltdown. I think it is here”. (Trier bends down and picks up something, a white flag that he waves.)

6. About Lars von Trier’s green woodpecker book

“As a child and young person I did 8 mm films and I can safely say that the handbook I am filming, publisher by Politiken in 1965, was the golden egg that I got a hold of. My claim is that never has it been surpassed by any other film technical work. A real green woodpecker book, and if I have any ability, it comes from this.”

7. About applying to get into Film Studies in 1976

“I had applied for theatre school. They had no use for me after I claimed that there was no sound in the room when I was told to imitate a lonely babbling satellite. School of Journalism, Film School several times, Academy of Fine Arts et cetera. So I sat back with a particularly diminutive secondary school exam in my hand and, disillusioned, let myself enroll into the KUA campus with the subject of film studies. It was before there was restricted admission. The university was just happy if someone turned up.”

8. About the first people he met at UCPH

“It was a tremendous experience to suddenly be a part of something bigger than yourself, and many others were also interested in movies. The first people I met however, wanted something else from me. They wanted to win me over for their cause: The Leninist Labour Party, the Maoist Workers’ Party, the Trotskyist Workers’ Party, but I kept myself free of them, confused about all the hatred between the different factions, which often exceeded their hatred of capitalism – and no, I was not a Nazi “

9. About what he got out of studying at the university

It will delight rector magnificus, that I spent three very exciting years here, and that I was also able to pass an exam, which admittedly was just a test on a guide. The whole course took three hours in total and everyone passed. But I saw a lot of films and this included the backlog of film experiences in my own head, which I, when I had to practice making films myself, always took my direction from.”

10. About making movies at university

“I quickly found a small group of enthusiasts going by the name of Film Group 16. They had decided to practise and produce small films in parallel with classes. There was, however, not much going for the practical side of things, when I joined them. On the other hand, I was elated by the small but exclusive collection of equipment, topped by a fantastic, spring winded, Bolex 16mm camera. I immediately set out to write manuscripts and during my time at university managed to produce two fiction films of one-hour length. I enthusiastically, personally participated in every technical detail, and I taught myself in this way a very broad, basic, knowledge. “

So I sat back with a particularly diminutive secondary school exam in my hand and, disillusioned, let myself enroll into the KUA campus with the subject of film studies. It was before there was restricted admission. The university was just happy if someone turned up."
Lars von Trier

11. About the reactions to the first film he made while studying at UCPH

“When I showed my first film to students, there was, at the end of the film, a deep, profound silence and one question to the director: Why? This why has followed me over the years and I have not really got any closer to finding an answer.”

12. About the time he was a part of an occupation of one of the university buildings

“Fortunately, there were other entertaining things going on at university. Suddenly the maoists, trotskyists, maoists, et cetera settled there differences amicably, which naturally led to the occupation of the university, as is traditional. All the instructors were kept away, and we prepared our building just behind the Saga cinema in Copenhagen for a siege with round-the-clock guards. I was not quite in the clear about what we were fighting for, but my task was to detach the doors from their hinges and, for some reason, place them across the doorways. I thought that a normally locked door would be a better obstacle to intruders, as doors that were lying down you could easily step over. I presented my argument to the group, but did not receive any support – and had to instead rejoice over references to hand-to-hand fighting in the Russian Revolution, with bayonets and rifles and kneeling shooters behind each and every disassembled door.

By the way, the teaching staff, and in particular the former rector magnificus, took things in his stride, and made absolutely no moves to counterattack. This meant that the revolution died within a few weeks.

13. About the film school

“Film School… I can’t recommend film schools. I do not like them, especially small countries like Denmark.”

14. About the film school instructors

“I once wrote a piece of verse that contains these two lines that would describe the main problem with the Danish film schools: To ask your teachers – no thanks, they’re only here ‘cos they got no grants. […] We were taught by bad teachers, t’would be foolish rely on their counsel.”

15. On dramatic composition

“There was only one thing worse than the teaching: Dramaturgy To pretending a scientific approach to the composition of a film is sacrilege, and yet the number of instructors in dramatic composition grows explosively. Should an original idea ever be found in a paper, it would not take the dramaturgical stormtroopers any big effort to effectively put it into the grave. ”

16. One piece of advice for film school students today

“Should there be any film school students among the audience, let me give them a piece of good advice on how to exploit a teacher. Ask the teacher about specific things, but do the opposite of what he has said. If the teacher recommends a higher sound level, then turn down the volume dramatically. «

17. About making films

“I usually say that my goal is to make the movies that are missing, and that my method is to choose an existing genre and to then twist it beyond recognition. Reproduction is no virtue and does not leave many opportunities for evolution. In short, nature lives and changes using a certain number of genetic mutations. I believe the film should be kept alive. ‘

18. A prophecy of blood

“To conclude, I exhort the people of today.. Politically, we have lived in the golden age of democracy without realizing it. In several places, we have neglected to take the global turn to the right seriously and have reacted in different ways to the threats – often, unfortunately, with measures which, in my opinion, make the situation worse. Considerable increases in, for example, film censorship. Hysterical cultivation of political correctness, which results in great harm to our most important freedom, the freedom of expression. The internet was supposed to be the guardian of our democracy, but it proved to be a two-edged sword. This, and other things, lead me, sadly, to have to predict blood. We can expect a whole new political reality, including totalitarian states in Central Europe in my lifetime.”.