Hanna Nordenswan, 2017-18 Thanks To Scandinavia Kim Wall Memorial Scholar
Hanna is pursuing an MFA in Documentary Film at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and has studied documentary film and journalism in Tanzania and South Africa. As a journalist Hanna has mainly worked with radio, but she considers herself as a written word journalist as well. She has written from Zanzibar and reported from the border of Burundi and Rwanda to tap into Rwanda’s environmental challenges. As a documentary filmmaker, one of her films was featured in America’s largest documentary festival (DOC NYC). Her versatility of gifts speaks of a woman of the world, expressed through her natural intelligence, her curiosity and open-mindedness.
Hanna is the first recipient of the Kim Wall Memorial Scholarship, named after beloved TTS alumna Kim Wall who was tragically murdered in Denmark in August 2017. We hope that Hanna, and future recipients of The Kim Wall Memorial Scholarship, will fulfill the promise that once shone so brightly in Kim.
You are the first recipient of Kim Wall Scholarship. How is this significant to you?
To receive the Kim Wall Memorial Scholarship from Thanks To Scandinavia means a lot to me and is a great honor for many reasons. As a female journalist, seeing other women succeed in the field I’m pursuing is very important. Kim Wall moved freely between subjects, countries, languages and cultures in her work and prospered in the world of foreign reporting internationally. To be considered as someone who might try to walk in her footsteps is humbling and moving. I was never fortunate enough to meet Kim, but having met people who knew her I understand that she was a one of a kind journalist and an extraordinary friend. To receive the scholarship inspires me to work harder and also to fight for equality in my field, in which women are threatened every day – no matter what part of the world they work in.
You have been a journalist in Johannesburg, and Tanzania among other places. Why the Sub-Saharan continent?
I have always been interested in that part of the world, and especially in how narrowly it is represented in media. I try to focus on more in-depth issues that we might not be aware of in Europe. For example, I’ve done stories on the rise of tech startups in Lagos and environmental policies in Rwanda.
In what way would you represent Africa that would be different from mainstream media?
I believe it is important for foreign reporters all over the world to learn to represent African issues in a more balanced way than we currently are.
In Johannesburg, I studied documentary film making in an exchange program between my university in Helsinki and schools in South Africa and Ghana. I was fortunate enough to pursue my bachelor in journalism in a school that offered many international programs, including a few on the African continent. The two programs I attended through my school, one in Johannesburg and one in Dar es Salaam, really pushed me towards reporting on Sub-Saharan Africa from a different point of view than what we traditionally see. After having studied in South Africa and Tanzania I have done some freelance work from East and West Africa, Rwanda, Benin and Nigeria, and I hope to keep doing similar work in the future.
Have you ever felt vulnerable or in danger in your work as a journalist?
I have experienced some situations that were a little threatening, but I’ve never felt unsafe. I know my rights and am usually able to talk my way out of tricky situations, and I try to be as prepared as possible if I visit a place that’s new to me. As you know anything can happen anywhere in the world, and being a female journalist makes us more vulnerable. But the best we can do is to keep working and keep supporting each other; working together and building a safe net of contacts. I’m not willing to let my gender limit the work I do.
You produced a documentary on three old women ballroom dancing called “My Turn”?
The short documentary “My Turn” was made in 2013 as a part of a school project with a crew from Finland, South Africa and Ghana. I was the director of the film. The film is about three elderly women who go to dance once a week. Each of them live alone for different reasons, and in the film, they reflect on their relationship to dance, and how it gives them a different perspective on their loneliness and the importance of love in their lives.
Are you currently working on a documentary?
I am working on my thesis on documentary film making in New York as a part of my Master’s degree in documentary film at the School of Visual Arts. My thesis documentary is about people who work as night cleaners in different interesting spaces in New York City.
What is the role of the School of Visual Arts NYC in your academic and artistic pursuits?
The Social Documentary program at SVA has been a perfect fit for me, because we are taught the basics of everything you need to know on how to make a documentary film including how to find our own artistic voices. My background in journalism has certainly helped during my studies, but this program has really given me a chance to investigate and find a style, not to mention all the technical knowledge I have gained. But perhaps the most important part of my studies so far has been the connections I have made. I have met and worked with people from all over the world and formed both professional and personal friendships that will be important in my career in the future.
What are your future dreams and goals?
I hope to be able to keep working as both a journalist and documentary filmmaker. My dream is to work all over the world both with news reporting and with more in-depth stories through film. I would love to keep collaborating with people from all the different countries I’ve met and to produce meaningful stories that change people’s perspectives on the world.
Interview by Liv Grimsby, December 2017