“Men’s emotional health – I didn’t think about it that way,” says Maja Bugge casually via Skype.
It’s 10 a.m. on a Friday morning and 5 p.m in Denmark. The falling snow in Calgary is making me envious of the “green” Danish spring Bugge is describing.
Bugge is the Danish filmmaker behind About Men, a documentary that focuses on a men’s group. It was a project for her Masters in New Media she took in New York City.
During her studies there, Bugge became interested in gender studies and took notice of gender stereotypes and inequalities. From there, the topic of men’s emotional health fell into her lap and, little did she know, she would embark on a journey to the Midwest, to the small town of Sandpoint, Idaho, where one men’s group had been going strong for close to 10 years.
“I was doing a bunch of [research] in Denmark on the topic of masculinity and then, when I came to the U.S. [for my Masters], I had a course in documentary filmmaking. I was searching for a topic and then I heard a radio interview with Owen Marcus talking about the Sandpoint men’s group,” she says.
Men’s emotional health is a topic of tremendous potential and yet it is little known to the general public due to a lack of marketing that can help make people aware of such support groups. It is necessary for men to be perceived as strong and unemotional, says Bugge.
“It was the first time I had heard about men’s groups and it sounded intriguing to me. I was interested in what it meant to be a man, how we view [the] changing masculinity and how men themselves relate to that,” she says.
About Men is screening on May 3 at Fort Calgary as part of Womentum’s film screening they sponsor each year.
Womentum is a women’s group founded by Lana Wright three years ago. It focuses on bringing women together every month in form of support and community rather than competition and exclusion. Womentum was as intrigued as Bugge about the topic of men’s groups and thought it was an important topic to share within their group and the community as a whole.
“It’s a bit of a new concept and I don’t think men [know] that this is available to them,” says Wright.
Although Womentum is a women’s group only, Wright is quick to point out their love for men and their desire for them to get the same emotional support than women do.
“We’re inviting women to bring their men but also [men] to come on their own, [too],” she says.
Bugge captured the essence of Marcus’ men’s group in beautiful Sandpoint, Idaho for about a month. It did not take much for Marcus to convince the men in his group to partake in the documentary as they had already gone far ahead in their emotional development.
Usually, getting used to the presence of a camera is not an easy task at hand, but somehow, the men’s group had already gotten comfortable.
“They were practicing with a camera two months before I got there [to see] what it would feel for them to have the camera’s presence in the room and what it would do to the process,” she says.
As a rule of thumb, Bugge stayed out of the circle of men during their four-hour long meetings to avoid being in the way of a discussion. That being said, she tried to capture as many angles and faces as possible for post-production. At this point, Bugge did not even know who her main characters were going to be. She kept it unstructured, which gives the documentary a raw and unedited look that ends up becoming the charm of the film.
“It was my first film and a school project [at the same time]. It turned out to be a great bigger success than I thought [likely] because of the topic, I’m sure, not because of the quality,” she says humbly.
Bugge’s documentary is, in fact, at the heart of the men’s movements that have been happening worldwide despite film festivals rejecting the film due to its lack of cinematographic grandeur, which Bugge says at first brought her optimism down. Regardless, the film still manages to bring up deep emotions to the surface, which is, at the end of the day, what truly matters.
In reality, About Men has already touched quite a few people in the States, in Denmark and now in Canada. It’s been sparking interest in women’s magazines, on Danish television and a screening in Detroit will be happening soon.
“The idea that [a men’s] group is open to everyone is new to people. When regular guys watch the film, they are like, ‘This is me; I feel there’s something inside of me that’s being accepted for the first time.’ I had a number of reactions like that so it’s been amazing,” says Bugge.
About Men will screen on May 3 at Fort Calgary. For more information, go to owenmarcus.com and gainingwomentum.com. Get tickets to the Womentum’s film screening at eventbrite.ca. Owen Marcus will be at the screening to answer questions.
By Claire Miglionico
Photo: Maja Bugge