Dokumentarfilme für Kinder

"My intention was to let children tell to children about their sorrows, misery, wishes for the future and for a better world to live in."
Filmdirector Lizzi Weischenfeldt

Interviews concerning Documentary Films for Children 4
Europäisches Symposium 2001

Lizzi Weischenfeldt is a filmdirector from Denmark. Her documentaries LIKE BIRDS IN A CAGE (1994) and WAR IS NOT A CHILDREN'S GAME (1996) were the first parts of her trilogy about children of war. FREE AS A BIRD completes the trilogy about Ivana, a girl that Weischenfeldt met in a refugee camp in Croatia. Weischenfeldt has edited over 100 feature- and documentary films. Periodically she is teaching editing at the National Film School of Denmark.
LIKE BIRDS IN A CAGE will be screened during the Symposium on Saturday, 22nd September at 2.30 p.m. Afterwards the director will take part at the workshop "What do the festivals show?"

How did you get to know Ivana and why did you choose her as your protagonist?
In 1993 when the war was going on in Ex-Yugoslavia I went to see different refugee camps in Croatia and interviewed many children. Among them I found two orphan children Ivana and Dalibor from Bosnia with different fates in a refugee camp in Croatia. Ivana made a strong impression on me. Even though she was only 8 years of age she was very mature and determined to survive and her story touched me deeply. Dalibor was just a little lonesome boy who lived in his own world with nobody to take care of him. Coming back from research I thought of the many tragic lifes of children, but Ivana and Dalibor were the two I couldn't forget. Therefor I decided to follow their stories in the film LIKE BIRDS IN A CAGE.

Did your work change a lot as she was getting older?
After finishing the film I kept in touch with both Ivana and Dalibor. Ivana and her adopted family became very close friends to me. After they got asylum in England I visited them in their new home several times. As Ivana along the way learned English we both found it rewarding and opened up a new world with possibility for all kinds of small talks and made the work between us much easier. As Ivana was getting older she still was the same kind of girl with a strong will to survive. And when in 1999 I talked with her of making a film about her new life in England she agreed without any objection - she only wanted to read the script before shooting and to be the first one who saw the final cut of FREE AS A BIRD. Concerning Dalibor and his sister Daliborka, whom in the meantime was moved to a children's home in another part of Croatia, I followed up their story in 1996 with the film WAR IS NOT FOR CHILDREN.

How long was the shooting altogether? How were the circumstances of the shooting and the pre-production?
For preproduction we spend about 10 days visiting different refugee camps. It's a big country so it took time to go across. I went on research together with my cameraman and we made a lot of videorecording with children in the camps. Before we went back to Denmark I decided which refugee camp I would use in the film and made necessarily agreements with the authorities in the camp in order to come back.
Out of my experience with the research I wrote a script, which were basis for financing the project. In April 1994 we went back to the refugee camp. Before we started working with Ivana and Dalibor; we spent time together getting to know each other. Ivana specially, is not the kind of girl who opens up to everyone she is very controlled. Opposite Dalibor who followed me everywhere from the very first moment. Anyway you can't just come down and say "tell me your story!" You have to get their confidence, and I was very happy they showed me their trust and believed I wouldn't let them down. Of course it was difficult because they didn't speak English but in spite of an interpreter we communicated fantastically.
The actual shooting lasted about 3 weeks in the refugee camp. It was a terrible place to stay, very dirty and with lots of desperation. Children without their parents helping each other, old people whom had lost everything, but also a place with hope and dreams for a better future. The hospitality we met in the camp among the refugees was unbelievable. The family Ivana lived together with invited the whole filmcrew for dinner in their little hut, although they didn't had much them selves. After finishing our work in the camp we went around in the country, making film of the tragedy of war, bombed houses etc. It was not an easy task to travel around; we were stopped several times because of check points and war zones. Further more it was very difficult to drive around as most of the signs were missing and all the time you could hear the noise of the bombing.

Was it difficult for you to keep up the documentary-gaze towards Ivana that you have been knowing for such a long time? How was it for you to keep on working for many years on a very personal level?
It wasn't difficult to keep up the gaze towards Ivana - on the contrary - it was difficult not to. You can't just stop thinking of a girl who has let you into her life. Ivana and her family have been in my thoughts since the very first day I met them. When I made LIKE BIRDS IN A CAGE it was not my intention to make a trilogy, but once you have met destinies like these you can't just forget them and leave them behind.

It seems that one essential aspect of your work was to stay with the camera on the level of the protagonists' eyes to show their perspective. Can you talk about this?
I wanted to tell to children in the more peaceful part of the world, what it means to be a refugee and to help them understand how heavy a luggage some of their foreign friends are carrying. Their childhood is very different from what we regard as "normal" but it has many similarities as well. My intention was to let children tell to children about their sorrows, misery, wishes for the future and for a better world to live in. Showing the consequences of war through the eyes of the children hopefully gives a greater understanding and identification if the children themselves tell their story instead of an adult person.

What were the reactions from the children who watched LIKE BIRDS IN A CAGE?
Reactions from children has been overwhelming - even at age 6 to 7. It can be difficult to keep attention for 45 minutes, but I have met children audience being intensely concerned, and after the screening they have asked so many clever questions and expressed their wishes to help Ivana and Dalibor. Allthough none of the children in the audience has ever been involved with war, they showed a great understanding for the children in the camp, who never got the same possibility for a save childhood as they have had.
The two following films in the trilogy WAR IS NOT FOR CHILDREN and FREE AS A BIRD has made the same interest. From a school class of young children, I received 20 drawings, showing situations from the film with their own comments. I was surprised to learn how much they remembered and their reflections to unreasonableness. LIKE BIRDS IN A CAGE won the 1st Price at a Children's Festival in Copenhagen selected of a children jury, among much more enjoyable films - cartoons etc. As they said LIKE BIRDS IN A CAGE affected them most, and made them understand the sorrow and absurdity of war. They said that everybody should see the film.

Kontakt und weitere Informationen /
Contact and further information:
Petra Schmitz (Leitung / director) •
Stefanie Görtz • Bettina Schiel (Presse / press)
Dokumentarfilminitiative im Filmbüro NW
mail: dfi(at)