Mikkel Juel Iversen
I see every female as my sisterdia
By Lena Zechner
It was one particular encounter that sparked off a life-changing series of events for Mikkel Juel Iversen. Initially establishing a career in the financial business sector, he was eventually introduced to meditation and the world of films in his late twenties. Overnight Mikkel experienced the power of meditation which provided him with the ability to cast off his medical afflictions of the last few years.
After improving his mental wellbeing, Mikkel dared to step into the film business where he found himself happier than he had been in other previous occupations. He now found himself in a position to combine his interest in finance with his fascination for films and mobilising communities for good causes – including setting up the campaign “Under One Sky” to fight the social exclusion of the homeless. By working on his own business ideas to kick-start positive social change he was thus able to avoid his childhood apprehension about spending his life on monotonous activities.
Over the years plenty of supporters have joined Mikkel to successfully support his mission to empower and inspire fellow humans. The following interview finds out more about Mikkel’s approach to helping others with more empathy and why we he believes we sometimes take life far too seriously!
Why did you pursue a career in the filmmaking business?
Though I’ve always loved to tell stories I was never a film buff. In my late 20’s I’d become disillusioned with my career in the financial sector. It was not working out the way I had envisioned as a finance graduate. In my first job I was made redundant as the dot.com bubble burst and then I found myself facing redundancy in my second job as my employer was pulling out of Europe after the collapse of energy giant Enron.
At the same time I had been struggling with a herniated disc and sciatica. This stopped me from doing sports which used to be the centre of my life. For two years getting out of bed each morning was a painful experience and I was not able to fully extend my left leg during that period.
At that moment a man who’d spent all his life in the film industry entered my life out of nowhere. The gift he brought me was introducing meditation into my life. Meditation had an instant impact on my life and it opened my eyes to a world that was everything but black and white. This new openness to alternative views led me to a book on mind-body medicine and back pain. After just thirty minutes of reading this book I looked down and saw I was sitting with my left leg fully extended for the first time in two years. Three months later I was completely pain free.
Clearly I had just opened a door to a new understanding of the world and with that a big shift happened in my life. The film industry man suggested I take a look at the industry and that is when the penny dropped. The clouds that had surrounded me lifted and I could look at the future with a new clarity. It felt like for the first time I’d found a path where the purpose and the person were aligned. And with that all the dynamics shifted.
The company making me redundant paid for me to go to film school in Hollywood and not too long after my return I landed a job at Universal Studios. Despite getting into a studio working on the money-making side of the business my game plan was always to produce my own films. Eventually I set up a film production company called “Dignity Entertainment” with a close friend. The aim was, and still is, to produce films that inspire positive social change. Currently I am also working with a team to launch an exciting new start-up facility for independent film producers.
Can you remember the dream job of your childhood? If so what did you want to become?
I grew up in a remote area of Denmark and our house was even in a remote place in that area. So I had plenty of time with my own thoughts and plenty of space to wonder. I always felt there was something I was destined to do but could never put my finger on it. If asked I’d often say I just wanted to be a ‘somebody’. As I grew older I’d pick some job like professional footballer and stick with that for a while. But deep down I knew it was not what I really wanted. I guess I felt most jobs would be too mundane and limiting to invest a whole life in. The one thing I was sure of was that I needed to go out and be part of the big wide world.
How important is family for you?
Our family lived quite far away from the rest of the family so I wasn’t brought up with a strong family tradition. In addition my brother, my sister and I were very different so we didn’t develop strong ties. That might have been part of the reason I developed a rather loose view of family.
In essence I see every female as my sister and every male as my brother and for me it really is that simple. We are all spirits with bodies. We originate from the same place and we return to the same place. That means it feels like I’m being surrounded by family wherever I go. Even if that Jamaican grandmother or Japanese tourist opposite me on the bus doesn’t know it – that is how I see them.
How did you discover your passion for filmmaking?
When I took a serious look at film production I realised it had all the elements I was looking for in my career. It is creative, commercial and entrepreneurial. Each film is essentially a start-up business with a short life-span. After one film is made available to audiences you move on to deliver the next film. There is no routine to it. As all stories are essentially about the human condition, working in film keeps me curious about life, people and the world at large.
My passion for film however is really about how films affect audiences. I wish to invest my life in informing, inspiring and empowering people to take positive action in their own lives and the lives of others. Film is a powerful messenger of such values. And with the blessing of the internet those who support certain causes can easily connect and support each other. In this way films can be effective in building and mobilising global communities.
Positive social change seems to be one of your biggest missions. In what way do your films raise social responsibility issues?
Our films are an invitation into another world where the viewer gets to establish an intimate relationship with the characters. Each character is first and foremost an emotional being just like you and me. When we get to understand the motivations behind actions our judgement about that action will often change. Film gives us an opportunity to “spend time” with individuals who are different than us in a safe environment. It asks us to re-evaluate our preconceived ideas.
The media is a powerful force in shaping our ideas about the world we live in. But often the colouring takes place at a group level be it race, political orientation, religious beliefs or any other label. But one individual cannot be held responsible for the actions of the group. I hope our films will remind people to meet others from a point of empathy not judgement. And in that same vein that people will meet themselves with empathy not judgement.
Clearly there are other ways in which our films raise social responsibility issues. But the point about seeing ourselves in others is fundamental.
What are your personal aims for the upcoming years?
To live in “the flow” as much as possible. By that I mean to stay open to the signals that are sent our way every day and to respond to them. I believe we have been gifted with an incredible system for guiding our lives that is often neglected…the system of feelings. Living this way requires listening and trusting my inner voice rather than looking outward for all the external answers to life’s questions.When being in a state of flow I have on several occasions experienced arrival of life gifts that could never have been planned.
So my aim is simple…try to stay in the flow as much as possible and enjoy the adventure.
What was been your most important life lesson so far?
Understanding that we are here on earth to explore, experiment and learn. I think we take life too serious and that robs us from experiencing life in all its splendour. When we stop taking ourselves so serious we can quieten the nervous ego that imprisons us. I work on this everyday so I can approach the world with open arms. There is this sense that we constantly need to justify our existence by proving our worth. There mere fact we were born should be enough proof that we are meant to be here.
Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, ins and outs – yet we keep trying to plan it by drawing a straight line with a ruler on a blank page. It is nonsense and if we try to plan too much we miss the fun of being on the rollercoaster.
What is the story behind setting up “Under One Sky”, a community which engages people to fight homelessness?
Soon after I began meditation a voice came to me saying “your passion is people”. Since that day I started altering my ways to follow that path. It was a step by step process and through it I discovered a deep love for people. To me, a marker for how evolved we are as a species is how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters.
Each time I see a homeless person I am reminded of how we need to wake up from this individualistic materialistic dream we are lost in. Homelessness is not an issue we can simply throw money at and hope it will go away. Many people living on the streets bear scars that run deep so it requires patience and empathy to achieve real progress as opposed to lip service.
It is well documented that social exclusion is extremely damaging to human beings in various ways. Homeless people are the most visible yet they are often treated as completely invisible. The motivation for setting up ‘Under One Sky’ was simply to encourage people to engage on a personal level rather than just dropping a coin in the cup while walking by. Having a conversation, holding eye contact or giving someone a hug are simple gestures that are all about human beings connecting.
‘Under One Sky’ was created 4 years ago when my Dignity Entertainment business partner Yaqub Hussain and I decided to go out on the streets before Christmas to hand out food and presents to the homeless. I posted our plan on Facebook in case some friends wanted to join us and then other friends started donating money out of nowhere. A group of 8 people went out on the streets that night and now our community has more than 130 members.
How did you experience accommodating homeless people yourself?
A couple of times I have established a very close relationship with homeless people to the extent I became their lifeline. Those periods were incredibly challenging because you are confronted with all your ghosts. It is easy to walk around proclaiming that you are all about the people but to what extent are you really? It put me on the spot when it came to areas such as patience, money, time and trust. They have been significant learning experiences for me but I wouldn’t recommend it unless one feels emotionally ready for that kind of commitment. It has helped me establish an appreciation that living a path of passion for people also means setting boundaries.
When facing hard times, what motivates you to keep going?
If life is about exploring, experimenting and learning then it applies to both the light and the darkness. I think is important not to let one dark area overshadow life in its entirety. Daily meditation and staying healthy gives me a peaceful centre. It helps me deal with challenges in a calm fashion. Further it is important to remember that working through dark patches often brings great learnings.
There is a lot to be grateful for in life and it is important to always keep that in mind on sunny days and gloomy days. There is always something to smile about.
If you were to name the best decision of your life, what would it be?
I believe taking up meditation has had the most profound impact on my life. That put me on a path that I feel is true to myself. In that way it is bringing me home to who I really am. To me it is common sense to keep one’s energy system clean just like we brush our teeth or shower each day.
Where do you see yourself in 15 years time?
There is a lot of focus on where we want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years but less focus on how much we get out of each minute of those years. My focus is more on living a deep and satisfying experience today. Looking just one year back my life has changed in ways I could never predict. So I will just try to stay in the flow and be excited about what worthwhile endeavours are to come.