Arthouse darling Lars von Trier and Peter Aalbæk Jensen’s Zentropa has a work culture that centres on sexual harassment, intimidation and coercion, author Anne Mette Lundtofte alleged in an op-ed in The New Yorker about the “dark side” of the Danish film production company.
Lundtofte, who came into contact with the production house while writing her book Zentropia, alleged that von Trier and Jensen forced employees to strip and go skinny-dipping with them as an “initiation ritual”.
Lundofte has spoken out about the purported culture of harassment at Zentropa earlier too and Jensen has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.
Lundofte wrote that when she first visited Zentropa, she was captivated by the place and work culture. “But, the more I visited Zentropa, the more I saw behavior that made me feel uncomfortable – both as a woman and as a Dane.”
Lundofte said her conversations with an unidentified woman employee whom she dubbed Sarah confirmed her suspicions. Sarah, the writer alleged, was fired from the company because she refused to strip when she was asked to step into the pool.
“On a cold day in January, 2011, von Trier wandered into the legal department and casually proposed to Sarah that she should take off her clothes and get in the pool with him,” Lundofte wrote. “Skinny-dipping in the pool is a Zentropa ritual. When you’ve stripped naked in front of Aalbæk Jensen and von Trier, you are accepted into the circle of the initiated...But, that day in January, Sarah didn’t want to strip, and she said so.”
Lundofte alleged that Jensen told Sarah, “Either you jump into the pool with me, or I’ll have to fire you... When Sarah refused to comply, a familiar Aalbæk Jensen cry rang out through the hallways of Zentropa: ‘Fire that bitch!’”
According to Lundtofte’s article, Jensen often used the words “bitch” and “hooker” in the context of his female employees. She has also accused Jenson of habitual sexual misconduct, alleging that he groped his employees, whipped out his penis on occasion and spanked interns in front of their co-workers as “punishment”.
Lundtofte had first detailed these accusations in her 2013 book Zentropia, but the founders did not respond. “Neither von Trier, Aalbæk Jensen, nor Zentropa commented publicly on what I’d reported,” she said. “Even more surprisingly, no journalists whom I know of asked them to. For two decades, the Danish media had focussed on how von Trier’s indie powerhouse revolutionized Danish film and made it a global brand. Nobody seemed interested in stories that might undermine that image at home or abroad.”
Earlier in November, Jensen was accused of sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying in the workplace by nine women in a story published by the Danish newspaper Politiken. In a memo released shortly after, Zentropa managers said that Jensen was stripped of some of his responsibilities at the company.
Von Trier was also accused of harassment by musician Bjork, who acted in his acclaimed 2002 movie Dancer in the Dark. Bjork made allegations against an unnamed Danish director in a Facebook post. Von Trier later issued a statement to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten denying the allegations.
Started in 1992, Zentropa’s productions include von Trier’s Depression trilogy (Antichrist, 2009; Melancholia, 2011; Nyphomaniac, 2015) and an erotic series for women. Zentropa has produced many of von Trier’s acclaimed films, including The Idiots (1998) and Festen (1998).