Læsetid: 4 min.

For years Lars von Trier’s producer partner systematically spanked trainees as punishment

It has been a long standing tradition that trainees at the Danish film production company Zentropa get punished by producer Peter Aalbæk – sometimes by getting smacked in the behind. After media coverage the company has now forbidden Aalbæk to smack employees. 'I am already thinking about other demeaning ways to punish them,' says Aalbæk
Peter Aalbæk Jensen is director Lars von Triers long standing producer. Together they co-founded the Danish film production company Zentropa

Peter Aalbæk Jensen is director Lars von Triers long standing producer. Together they co-founded the Danish film production company Zentropa

Linda Johansen

11. november 2017

If the mood feels right, you are supposed to lean over a table. It may hurt if Peter Aalbæk is in the mood for it. At first, it feels completely inappropriate and unpleasant for some, but little by little you get used to it. And finally, when you've been working at Zentropa’s for some time, you eventually tell your new colleagues that this thing is quite normal here.

This is how two former småtters [’little ones’] describe being punished by their boss, Peter Aalbæk Jensen. A småtter is a young student/trainee who has signed up for a three-year informal education course at Danish film production company Zentropa.

Whenever a trainee at Zentropa makes a mistake at work, he or she is punished. Typically, the trainee can choose between mucking out the stables at Zentropa founder Peter Aalbæk's farm or bend over and take a spanking from him.

Peter Aalbæk Jensen founded Zentropa in 1992 together with world famous director Lars von Trier, who is noted for films such as Dogville, Breaking The Waves, Dancer in The Dark and Nymphomaniac – all produced by Zentropa. In an interview with Danish Radio 24/7, Mr. Aalbæk briefly confirmed that ’småtters’ can choose between the two punishment methods.

Subsequently, Information has talked with several of Mr. Aalbæk's former trainees from recent years who confirm the spanking.

When Information interviewed Zentropa CEO Anders Kjærhauge after publishing the first article about spanking at Zentropa, he said that it »does not interest« him that trainees at his company are being spanked as a punishment, and that some of them don’t like it. He also said that he himself does not punish trainees with spanking, that he has not seen it with his own eyes, but that he has heard that it sometimes happens at Zentropa.

However he changed his mind the following day. After a meeting between the company management and Aalbæk Zentropa sent out a press release describing that it would no longer be accepted to smack employees at Zentropa. 

It is not clear if the spanking will be replaced by another type of punishment, or if other kinds of punishment are still allowed at Zentropa. Mr. Kjærhauge does not wish to be interviewed again and to answer questions about this.

Peter Aalbæk himself does not know yet if he will follow the new rules set by his CEO. He fears that Zentropa will educate less good filmmakers now that spanking is not allowed. Asked about alternative punishments he says:

»Believe me, I am already thinking about other demeaning ways to punish them. They will be lying on their knees begging for the spanking to be reinstated,« says Aalbæk

'It totally sickens me'

One of the trainees who did not mind talking openly about the spanking with Information is 27-year-old Anne Falkesgaard, who finished her traineship at Zentropa’s this past spring.

»I realise this sounds crazy … that we we are actually spanked. But it was just for the fun of it – and part of Zentropa’s culture of celebrating ’incorrectness’,« she said.

Did it hurt?

»It could hurt sometimes. It's a matter of Peter's mood – whether it's something he wants to be over with or not.«

Peter Ahlén who finished his ’småtter course’ a year ago, was also spanked on a number of ocassions.

»I would definitely say that for some people, this was an unpleasant and offensive experience – but they were too afraid of the consequences for their future in movies if they refused. But it's just important to understand that there are a lot of others who didn’t perceive the spankings as harassment and violation, but as love,« said Peter Ahlén, who is currently working for Zentropa's sales deparment, Trustnordisk.

Peter Ahlén is a homosexual and Aalbæk has asked Ahlén to hand out spankings to male småtters.

»It all turns into some comical cliché, where the old man slams the girls, and the homo slams the boys, and both of us get a thrill out of it,« said Peter Ahlén.

However, not everyone find it amusing to be punished by Peter Aalbæk.

Information has talked to another ’småtte’ who wants to remain anonymous. She found her experience of being spanked »humiliating and unpleasant«.

Aalbæk confirms that he can administer a severe beating, if he feels like it, and that he has delegated punishment of young guys to a homosexual employee on the permanent staff.

»Yes yes, that’s right,« he says.

A spokesman for Denmarks’s trade union for film and television workers, FAF, secretary director René Christensen, is not at all thrilled with Zentropa’s practices of punishment: »It totally sickens me«, he said.

Since Information's articles about Aalbæks punishment methods, the Danish newspaper Politiken has published an article where nine previous female employees at Zentropa describe how they have felt sexually harassed, bullied or in other ways unpleaseantly treated by Aalbæk while working at the film production company. Similiar stories appeared in the 2013 book Zentropia by journalist Anne Mette Lundtofte.

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