Sonja Henrici Creates: The Journey So Far

One of the things that became obvious to me from the beginning of the company was that co-productions and collaborations would be an integral part of our journey. While there are different organisations and companies that support documentary filmmakers, they tend to go for films that are more clearly defined from the ideation stage, that is to say: a story where we already know the ending, or the protagonist - celebrity docs reign supreme!

The kind of documentaries I lean towards do not always fit that process. With observational documentaries, the story is not really formed until we have developed or shot a lot of it. Trusting us with an early vision is always a big ask from investors and commissioning editors. Often we have to produce first and finance and sell a bit later. Pulling resources together through co-productions and public funding makes this less risky, and it allows us to bring a more culturally rich experience to our audiences.

The past three years with Sonja Henrici Creates have been fulfilling, with a slate of inspiring and challenging projects that I’m quite proud of: Launching The Oil Machine and Merkel in the same year, post-Covid was a real achievement, and they’re still going strong. The Oil Machine is currently enjoying its US educational Tour thanks to our partners at Bullfrog and Twin Seas Media, and Merkel is available on Netflix across Europe and DocPlay in ANZ and Curzon Player in the UK.

So what’s next for SHC? We’ve teamed up with French Producer Estelle Robin You from Les Films de la Grande Ourse to produce a documentary with Douglas Gordon, whose art has been a source of inspiration and introspection for decades. I saw one of his famous installations “24 Hour Psycho” when it was on at the Hayward Gallery in London in the 90’s. In it, he plays with the pace of Hitchcock’s Psycho, so that it becomes a 24-hour experience. Douglas Gordon: Self Divided (working title) is directed by Finlay Pretsell, who has been in Gordon’s orbit for many years, and we pitched it at CPH Dox this year.

After our long collaboration at Scottish Documentary Institute and producing Time Trial together, Finlay and I figured that we have more stories to tell and we’re also developing Cyclovia – an uplifting documentary about cycling as a vehicle for positive change, which will be shot in Colombia in co-production with our local partners Casatarantula, Real Lava in Denmark, and Story in Sweden.

I’ve always loved modern art, but hadn’t actually tackled any films with artists before. It’s amazing studying their process closely through a documentary, and I’m fortunate to be in co-production with Thomas Riedelsheimer’s German company Filmpunkt, in association with Leslie Hills at Skyline Productions, for Tracing Light. The film explores the most fascinating and significant of natural phenomena – LIGHT, with leading artists and physicists and with nature itself, as they develop artworks through which the ineffable nature of light is made tangible to our senses. The film has finished principal photography, in Germany and Scotland, and we’re going into the edit now.

Beyond art, one of the things I’m deeply committed to is health and the idea of wholeness. As a storyteller, I look out for opportunities to explore these themes. We are in the final stages of Love & Trouble, directed by Amy Hardie (Seven Songs for a Long Life), and in the film, we delve into PTSD through the experiences of a young married couple who both suffered different trauma, he in the military and she in her childhood. The film reveals their journey to recovery, the different methods they use to heal and understand their condition. Stories like these bring us closer to ourselves. They make us more conscious of our own experiences and create empathy towards self and others.


Tracing Light - photo credit: Julie Brook
Tracing Light
Love & Trouble

And with Night Gardener, Daniel Gough directs a hybrid animation/documentary feature that revolves around his father’s story about trauma in the medical profession. The story of Gough’s father who was a high ranking doctor in a Welsh hospital, allows us pull back the curtain on the profession, and lets people understand how doctors experience and deal with trauma, and the effect it has on their families. We are developing this closely with Daniel and with filmmaker / producer Anne Milne of Hand-Drawn Pictures.

Along with these collaborations, we have enjoyed the partnership and funding from Screen Scotland, BFI Doc Society, BBC and SWR/ARTE.

Outside the company, I also took on other short gigs this year; I joined as co-host of the Future Producer School, organised by Bungalow Town Productions and Sheffield DocFest, and was invited to be on the First Feature Jury at Sheffield DocFest. This gave me a great opportunity to meet emerging talent and watch their work, which you can never do enough of.

I’m optimistic about the slate of documentary projects we have lined up, and I can’t wait to get them in front of audiences. 

2023 Interviews:

Sonja was interviewed by Geoffrey McNab for Business Doc Europe here and for Screen International here.

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