CPH:DOX met up with DOX:AWARD nominee David Sington to talk about ‘The Fear of 13’ that has its world premiere at the 13th edition of the documentary film festival.

What is it that you wish to tell with the documentary?

– It is a prison story, so it does want to tell a story about the American justice system. But that to me is not the main point. To me it is really about two very simple, but profound truths. One is that in order to be someone that is loveable and who can love others and care about others, then you really have to love yourself first. And the people that are hateful in the world are hateful first and foremost to themselves.

– Nick finds a better version of himself through literature and in books. There is a very important scene in the film with the two men, who sings to each other in prison. And where he says I wanted someone to care about me so much that even in this place they would risk being beaten up in order to express themselves. That is where the drama is. He is someone who is in a terrible state, he is a drug addict, he is in prison, he lies, he is a thief, so all these things that we don’t like. And why would we. He has been kicked out of his own house by his own family. But he sees that even in the worst place, human love is possible. He wants it. And the story is really “Can he become someone who is worthy of other people’s love?”. That is really what it’s about. And that is a very universal story. And a particular interesting way he does that is because he is in solitary confinement in prison, where he transforms himself through literature. It is really a universal truth – coming to terms with yourself. That you can be worthy of other people’s respect.

– And secondly it is about the value of books and literature, and that is what we can learn from them. Particular from fiction and the great fiction of Sinbad, Homer and so on that Nick mentions. Because I think if it’s good literature, you do learn something about yourself, how to behave, what’s right, what’s wrong. So it is sort of a film about love and literature.

What do you hope the documentary will result in?

– I slightly resist the idea that documentaries have to be a piece of social activism. I have made lots of film about for example climate change and there I definitely want to change people’s views and the way that politicians do things, so sometimes that is what I am trying to do. But sometimes I am just trying to entertain the audience in the theatre and then make them think about life and themselves and take them away from themselves and then put them in someone else’s shoes. That is just a very interesting thing. So my ambition for the film is that it should entertain and that they should be moved by it. Not that necessarily there is some great social movement. It’s a bit redundant to think that that is really the function of documentaries is to somehow create social change. I think that is to reduce documentaries. I think it is like all art.

How did you feel when you found out that you were nominated in DOX:AWARD at CPH:DOX?

– I was very happy. It’s great festival and it was a lovely theatre, the audience was lovely, and it was full. And that is really what you want at a festival. You want the festival to be well attended, a wonderful reaction from the audience and an enthusiastic public. And it is really flattering to be in the DOX:AWARD at CPH:DOX.


Watch ‘The Fear of 13’ on November 15 at 16:40 at Dagmar Teatret. Read more about ‘The Fear of 13’ here