EXCLUSIVE: Following allegations of sexual harassment and workplace bullying made by several women against Zentropa co-founder Peter Aalbæk Jensen, the powerhouse Danish production company is taking steps to redefine its culture. In an internal memo obtained by Deadline, management including Anders Kjærhauge, Rikke Ennis, Sisse Graum Jørgensen and Louise Vesth say they have met with employees to begin a process that will “update, hone and specify our guidelines for a sound and healthy working environment.” The memo (read it in full below) also states that Aalbæk Jensen has been stripped of any influence on the daily leadership of the company and has been banned from speaking on its behalf.
This comes after nine women, including Antichrist and Melancholia producer Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen made allegations against Aalbæk Jensen, providing detailed testimonials to local paper Politiken about their experiences of sexual harassment and intimidation at Zentropa headquarters, and at company Christmas parties. The Danish Working Environment Authority is currently investigating the claims.
Aalbæk Jensen co-founded the company with Lars von Trier in 1992 and has produced more than 70 films. He retired in 2016 and was replaced by Kjaerhauge. However, he has continued to produce, most recently von Trier’s upcoming Matt Dillon horror pic The House That Jack Built. Deadline has confirmed that he is remaining an exec producer on that title.
Zentropa execs in their memo note they have all been employed at the company “during the time where these experienced violations and offences have taken place. Therefore, we also assume co-responsibility for those events, which the employees have experienced as offensive or violating.”
Further, they say, “we have all been a part of the old culture, while it was in effect but we have not perceived it as being neither violating, offensive nor systematic. Nevertheless, with the knowledge we have today and in the light that the whole world is currently shedding on these issues, it has become clear that it was not a good culture for everyone and therefore, it must be changed.”
In a statement on Friday, the company said its culture will “continue to be colourful and alterative, but we do not wish to violate anyone’s rights or insult anyone… We will encourage sincerity and frankness about personal boundaries and needs as well as respect for the boundaries and needs of others.”
Here’s today’s memo in full:
Dear Collaborative Partner,
As the current management at Zentropa we would like to provide you with a status of our initiatives following the serious allegations, which in the course of the past few days have been directed at Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Zentropa’s company culture.
We are deeply affected and moved by these cases and very sorry that there are people who have felt violated or harassed while they have been in the company’s employment. Based on the knowledge we now have, and the new light our culture has been placed in, we have launched a series of initiatives.
We will invite the working environment authorities to carry out an investigation of our workplace in order to get a professional evaluation of our place of work and insight into possible areas of improvement.
Monday morning we had a meeting with our employees with regards to staring a process, which will go through, update, hone and specify our guidelines for a sound and healthy working environment. Monday Nov. 20th this process will be concluded. Thereafter, management will produce a set of valid guidelines that will be implemented with immediate effect.
All employees will be required to abide by these guidelines and within 6 months management will formulate a written follow-up and carry out employee satisfaction surveys.
Since 2008 Zentropa has carried out anonymous workplace evaluations. These evaluations have never implied that there were any significant problems with the physical or psychological work environment and the problems, which have arisen, have been dealt with in collaboration with the employees. Moving forward we will be sharpening our focus on the workplace surveys and encourage all our employees to utilize this opportunity to express themselves and stress that we welcome any and all concerns no matter how large or small they may be.
In addition, management has made the following decisions regarding Peter Aalbæk Jensen effective immediately:
– In the future Peter has no influence on the daily leadership of the company. He will not partake in any management meetings.
– Peter has no influence on our trainee program and is no longer authorised to have trainees under his administration.
– As of today Peter is no longer allowed to speak on behalf of Zentropa.
We have all been employed at Zentropa during the time where these experienced violations and offences have taken place. Therefore, we also assume co-responsibility for those events, which the employees have experienced as offensive or violating. We would like to contribute to creating a workspace that is safe and builds on a sound culture, where it is appreciated that our attention is drawn to any failure to thrive.
At the same time we whish also to draw attention to the fact that we have all been a part of the old culture, while it was in effect but we have not perceived it as being neither violating, offensive nor systematic. Nevertheless, with the knowledge we have today and in the light that the whole world is currently shedding on these issues, it has become clear that it was not a good culture for everyone and therefore, it must be changed.
Zentropa’s culture should be changed into something that is better for everyone and it is crucial that we now solve these problems with dialogue and an open state of mind so that we may rebuild the fundamental trust between people, which is so essential to people’s everyday well being. Now that we have all grown wiser, everyone should get a fair chance to improve him or herself.
Many kind regards,
Anders, Rikke, Sisse, Louise