Zentropa sues film magazine for libel

Danish cinemas association chairman claims the action is groundless and merely a smokescreen to bleed the magazine dry through legal fees

Peter Aalbæk Jensen, the CEO of Zentropa Films, is suing the editor and a writer of the film magazine Ekko for publishing an online piece in January 2012 that claimed 750 actors were each charged 350 kroner to audition for a Zentropa project in 2009.

Jensen claims that the film, ‘Klar til optagelse’,  was never an official Zentropa project and is now demanding 250,000 kroner in damages plus interest.

He has also demanded that Ekko stop writing about Zentropa, and appealed to the Danish film institute, Det Danske Filminstitut, to withdraw the magazine’s 400,000 kroner annual financial support.

“The magazine Ekko has wrongfully accused me of taking a quarter of a million kroner from a bunch of young people paying to be cast in the film,” Jensen told Politiken newspaper. “That is why I have decided to start libel proceedings because it was a wrongful accusation.”

The conflict between Ekko and Jensen started this September after the magazine published an article in which the director Anders Rønnow expressed his frustration at working for Zentropa. Jensen argued that the piece was one of several articles critical of Zentropa, drawing attention to how none of them had asked him for a comment.

“I’m not ready to bury the hatchet. They need to be busted big time before they learn their lesson,” Jensen told Politiken newspaper before launching the libel case against Ekko.

Jensen’s libel case is based on an article written by the freelance writer Mikkel Kofod, which was published on Ekko’s website on January 6, claiming that “750 actors paid money to go to a casting for a Zentropa film project that never happened”. The practice was condemned by the Danish actors union, Dansk Skuespillerforbund, who withdrew the casting call from its website once it discovered the fee.

Following the publication of the article in January – in which it was also claimed that the 250,000 kroner raised through the fees went missing in 2009 – Jensen denied that Zentropa had anything to do with the film.

“You are only involved in a project if you own the copyright for a script or the concept being developed, and if this has also been integrated into the company’s books. We have done none of these things,” Jensen said according to Ekko. “I can understand if there are people that think we are involved, but we are not and I need to explain this. Some media are stating that we have stolen money from some young people, and I need to politely point out that this is not the case.”

Ekko denies that it has done anything wrong, however. On its website it has published press material released prior to the casting call that, it argues, links Zentropa to the film.

Ekko also claims that Jensen repeatedly admitted to Ekko that Zentropa was working on the film before he changed his tune this January.

As a result, Ekko’s lawyer Asger Thylstrup denies that Ekko has committed libel.

“Firstly, Ekko has never accused anyone, neither the plaintiff Zentropa Folket Aps, Peter Aalbæk Jensen or anyone else, of taking the money, so there is nothing libellous in what Ekko wrote,” Thylstrup stated on Ekko’s website. “Secondly, Mikkel Kofod acted in good faith when he wrote his article. He did not invent the story that Zentropa was involved in ‘Klar til optagelse'.”

He added: “Finally, this all happened in January 2012. Libel cases have a statute of limitations of six months so Zentropa Folket is, in other words, starting a case about something the court cannot process because the case is procedurally outdated.”

Jensen has been criticised by Kim Pedersen, the chairman of the association of Danish cinemas, Danske Biografer. In an op-ed for Politiken newspaper, Pedersen argues that Jensen is simply trying to bleed Ekko dry through legal fees.

“Jensen and Zentropa have filed a libel suit against Ekko even though Jensen has not managed to point out one libellous line in the article the case is based on,” Pedersen said. “There is not a shadow of doubt that Jensen is simply trying to silence critical journalism in a battle brought about by two articles critical of Zentropa’s finances.”

The first court date is set for November 12.