Anniken Hoel talks ‘Cause of Death: Unknown’

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Directed by Anniken Hoel / Produced by Andrew Grant for Manifesto Film /  Country: Norway / Language: English


Anniken Hoel

What was it that made you decide on turning what happened to your sister into a documentary?

It was when I started meeting other families that had experienced the same thing I went through, and understood that this was a global problem. I also decided to turn it into a documentary when, through leaked documents, I saw deaths among children given antipsychotics and these deaths were completely ignored. I felt like it was my duty as a film-maker to get to the bottom of this story.

How has your attitude to pharmaceutical drugs changed during the process of making this documentary?

I had always believed that medicine was tested and approved by authorities and that they were safe. I now know this is not the truth; prescription medicine is the third leading cause of death in Europe. The doctor who prescribes the medicine does not always have a true understanding of the medicine’s side effect, and this is done by the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t take any medicine myself, and if I had to I’d investigate the side effects and studies before taking anything.

What was the biggest struggle when making the documentary?

Making sense of the science, and condensing years of research into a very simple and understandable story, combined with my very personal experience.

The documentary took ten years to make; what surprised you the most during this process?

The fact that only pharmaceutical companies conduct research before a new medicine is approved. It really surprised me just how our society has been shaped and changed by the industry, and how they target us when we are in vulnerable stages of our lives – purely for profit.

Has there been a strong reaction to the film from either side of the pharmaceutical debate?

Cause of Death: Unknown has been very strongly received by audiences. Many people get angry after watching the film. The strongest opposition is coming from the ‘old school’ psychiatrists; those who see protecting the drugs as their primary interest, rather than being interested in the people who take them. Not coincidently, I suppose, the psychiatrists who have been the loudest have been on the pharma-payroll for a long time.

Do you remain actively involved in highlighting the issues in the pharmaceutical industry?

Yes. The Norwegian Minister of Health has ordered a limited number ‘drug-free-treatment’ spots at all hospitals in Norway. This is a very big move into what is the start of the paradigm changing of psychiatry as we know it today, and there are many psychologists, psychiatrists and others who are now working to change the system. •

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.