Astrid Henning-Jensen

Astrid Henning-Jensen
Born (1914-12-10)10 December 1914
Copenhagen, Denmark
Died 5 January 2002(2002-01-05) (aged 87)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Other names Cora Inez Sheppard
Occupation Film director
Years active 1941 - 1996

Astrid Henning-Jensen (born Astrid Smahl; 10 December 1914 – 5 January 2002) was a Danish film director, actress, editor and screenwriter.[1][2]

Early life

Henning-Jensen was born in the Copenhagen district of Frederiksberg in 1914, to parents Ferdinand Smahl (1887-1950) and Ruth Hanner (1879-1974).[3] She graduated from secondary school (realskole) and began working as an actress in the theatre. She acted from 1935-38 in theatres such as Alléscenen and Riddersalen in Copenhagen.[4] On 10 August 1938, she married Danish film director Bjarne Henning-Jensen.[3]


Her marriage to Bjarne Henning-Jensen was of great importance to her career. She began working as his assistant in 1941 at Nordisk Film. The duo worked together on a number of films as co-directors, co-writers as well as assisting one another on individual projects.[5]

Henning-Jensen worked as a filmmaker in multiple capacities; writing, editing and directing. In her career spanning more than 50 years she made a large number of short films, films for Danish television, documentaries as well as feature films.[6]

In 1981, Henning-Jensen was a member of the jury at the 31st Berlin International Film Festival[7] and, in 1996, she was awarded with the Berlinale Camera award at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival[8]

Notable works and themes

Ditte, Child of Man (1946)

Ditte, Child of Man is a feature film adaptation of Martin Andersen Nexø's novel Ditte Menneskebarn (1921). Henning-Jensen worked on the film as Assistant Director along with her husband. The film marks the international breakthrough of the Henning-Jensen duo.[3] Furthermore, it has been called the film that gave hope to the future of Danish cinema following the second world war, and is in this effect compared to Italian Neorealism.[9]

The film was part of the 2004 Danish Culture Canon (Kulturkanonen), an initiative from then Minister of Culture Brian Mikkelsen, which displays a selection of 108 "cultural works of excellence".[10] The film is also an example of a theme that has been addressed numerous times throughout Henning-Jensen's career: that of childhood. In an article written to present the duo with "the most esteemed Danish children's film prize" (Unibank og Danske Børnefilmklubbers filmpris 1990) they are praised as pioneers of Danish children's cinema. The article views Ditte, Child of Man (1946) as the start of a flourishing tradition, and Those Damned Kids (1947) as the first real Danish children's film.[11] These filmsas well as Paw (1959), Early Spring (1986), and a number of Henning-Jensen's other filmsdeal with the emotional lives of children in a realist fashion. Two major styles are used in the way of portraying children in Henning-Jensen's films: one being that of a humanitarian dichotomy between the welfare of the few and the social impotence of the many, the other of children's drive to play versus lack of opportunities for expression. Another major style is the portrayal of children's imagination free of adult restriction. At the same time, many of these films deal with the importance of security from parents and adults; there needs to be restrictions to dream them away.[12] Ditte, Child of Man is noted as the film where children were given their own voice in Danish cinema for the first time.[13]

Paw, Boy of Two Worlds (1959)

Paw, Boy of Two Worlds is the story of a young boy who is brought to Denmark from the West Indies after his Danish father dies. The film deals with Paw's introduction to a new way living, and was noted for being one of the first in Denmark to openly discuss racism in society.[14] The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 32nd Academy Awards in 1959,[15] as well as being awarded the Grand Prix Technique at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. In addition, it was awarded the Council of Europe Film Award at the Venice Film Festival and received a diploma of honor at the Edinburgh Film Festival.[16]

Humanitarianism and realism

Paw, and especially its portrayal of racism, is an example of one of the most important aspects of Henning-Jensen's career: her themes of humanitarianism, as well as social issues and justice, in which she gave center place to children and women.[17] This is also the case in her 1978 adaptation of Dea Trier Mørch's bestseller, Vinterbørn. The film follows a series of women experiencing difficulties with their pregnancies and explores the bond that forms between them at a hospital.[18]

Another important part of Henning-Jensen's films is realism. In her career, she made a substantial amount of documentaries dealing with the lives of people in different environments, such as ballet children in Ballettens børn (1954),[19] or the recovery of torture victims in Trods alt (1990).[20] But realism also plays a part in her fictional works. While Still Young (1943)the feature film debut of husband Bjarne Henning-Jensen on which Henning-Jensen was co-writer and assistantdeals with the life of young artists in the Copenhagen art scene, and was regarded as neo-realist.[21] Henning-Jensen's films are also noted as retaining documentarist influences from her early films, by shooting on-location, having a natural acting style, and dealing with realistic problems.[22]


In 1999, Henning-Jensen published an autobiographywritten with Danish author Barbara Gressin which she tells stories about her life and career. In a very open and intimate manner, she talks about her experiences making movies, meetings with others, and her personal life. The book was compiled and edited by Barbara Gress.[23]


Selection of Astrid Henning-Jensen filmography.[24]

Year Title Contribution Notes
1937 Cocktail Actress
1940 Pinocchio Co-Director Henning-Jensen and her husband directed the 1940 Danish version of the Disney film.[25]
1941 Cykeldrengene i Tørvegraven Director Documentary
1942 Mødrehjælpen Assistant Photographer Documentary
1943 The Foal (Føllet) Co-Editor Short Documentary
1943 While Still Young
(Naar Man Kun Er Ung)
1944 Danish Police in Sweden
(Dansk Politi i Sverige)
Director Documentary
1946 Ditte, Child of Man
(Ditte Menneskebarn)
Assistant Director Film adaptation of 1921 Martin Andersen Nexø novel Ditte, Child of Man.
1947 Those Damned Kids
(De Pokkers Unger)
1947 Denmark Grows Up Co-Director, Writer
1948 Kristinus Bergman Director Film adaptation of 1938 Arthur Omre novel.
1949 Palle All Alone
(Palle Alene i Verden)
Director, Writer Short feature adaptation of 1942 children's book by Jens Sigsgaard and Arne Ungermann.

Henning-Jensen's son Lars played the lead character Palle.

Received special prize Priz pour le sujet for its story at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival.[26]

1950 North Sea Boys (Versterhavsdrenge) Director Film adaptation of A. Chr. Westergaard novel Klit Per.
1951 Kranens Konditori Director, Writer Film adaptation of 1946 Cora Sandel novel Kranens konditori.
1959 Paw, Boy of Two Worlds (Paw) Director, Co-Writer Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 32nd Academy Awards in 1959.[15]

Part of the Official Selection at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival where it won Grand Prix Technique for its photography.[27]

1961 Een Blandt Mange Director, Writer, Producer
1962 Pan (Kort Är Sommeren) Writer Film adaptation of Knut Hamsun novel Pan.
1966 Unfaithful (Utro) Director, Co-Writer, Co-Producer Film adaptation of 1960 Tove Ditlevsen novel To som elsker hinanden.
1969 Me and You (Mig og Dig) Director, Writer
1978 Winterborn (Vinterbørn) Director, Writer, Co-Editor Film adaptation of 1976 Dea Trier Mørch novel Vinterbørn.

Won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 1979 Berlin International Film Festival.[28]

1980 The Moment (Øjeblikket) Director, Writer
1984 The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element) Actress Directed by Lars von Trier.
1985 Hodja from Pjort
(Hodja fra Pjort)
1986 Early Spring
(Barndommens Gade)
Director Film adaptation of 1943 Tove Ditlevsen novel Barndommens Gade.

Was entered into the 15th Moscow International Film Festival.[29]

1996 Bella, min Bella Director, Writer Henning-Jensen's last feature film.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Film Result
1949 Cannes Film Festival Special Prize: Prix pour le sujet Palle All Alone Won
1959 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Paw, Boy of Two Worlds Nominated
1960 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix Technique Paw, Boy of Two Worlds Won
1978 Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear for Best Director Winterborn Won

In addition to receiving numerous special prizes and nominations for her films, Henning-Jensen was named Årets Æreskunstner (Honorary Artist of the Year) at the 1995 Copenhagen Film Festival.[30]


  1. "Astrid Henning-Jensen". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  2. Morten Piil (2005). Danske filminstruktører (in Danish). Copenhagen, Denmark: Gyldendal. pp. 161–. ISBN 978-87-02-02981-9.
  3. 1 2 3 Pedersen, Vibeke. "Astrid Henning-Jensen". Kvinfo. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  4. "Astrid Henning-Hensen". Gyldendals Åbne Encyklopædi. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  5. "Astrid Henning-Jensen". Gyldensdals Åbne Encyklopædi. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  6. "Astrid Henning-Jensen". Danish Film Insiture. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  7. "Berlinale 1981: Juries". Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  8. "Berlinale: 1996 Prize Winners". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  9. Pedersen, Vibeke (22 February 2002). "Filmdivaer bag kameraet". Information. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  10. Kanonudvalget - List of Works in the Danish Culture Canon Archived 11 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 13 March 2014
  11. Lauridsen, Søren K. (1990). "To af dansk børnefilms fornemste pionerer!". Pråsen - Tidsskrift om film for børn og unge. nr. 59: 5–7.
  12. "To hovedlinjer i Astrid og Bjarne Henning-Jensens mange film". Pråsen - tidsskrift om film for børn og unge. 59: 19. 1990.
  13. Nielsen, Ulla Hjort (1990). "Barndommens Fortolkere". Pråsen - Tidsskrift om film for børn og unge. 59: 8–9.
  14. "Paw". Pråsen - Tidsskrift om film for børn og unge. 59: 15. 1990.
  15. 1 2 "32nd Academy Award Winners". Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  16. "Paw". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  17. "Astrid Henning-Jensen". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  18. "Vinterbørn". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  19. "Ballettens børn". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  20. "Ballettens børn". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  21. Nielsen, Ulla Hjort (1990). "Barndommens Fortolkere". Pråsen - Tidsskrift om film for børn og unge. nr. 59: 8–9.
  22. Nielsen, Ulla Hjort (1990). "Barndommens fortolkere". Pråsen - tidsskrift om film for børn og unge. 59: 8–9.
  23. Gress, Barbara & Astrid Henning-Jensen (1999) Da verden var vores. Aschenhoug. ISBN 87-11-15112-9
  24. Danish Film Institute - Filmography of Astrid Henning-Jensen. Retrieved 13 March 2014
  25. Danish Film Institute - Pinocchio (1940). Retrieved 14 March 2014
  26. Danish Film Institute List of Cannes Awards given to Danish Cinema. Retrieved 14 March 2014
  27. Danish Film Institute - Paw (1959). Retrieved 14 March 2014
  28. Official Berlinale Website 1979 Prize Winners. Retrieved 14 March 2014
  29. "15th Moscow International Film Festival (1987)". MIFF. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-22.
  30. Mini Biography. Retrieved 13 March 2014

Further reading

External links

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