Inspirational women in the film industry
MARI BAKKE RIISE / Director & Producer

Photo of Mari Bakke Riise

A while ago we launched a blog series about “Inspirational women in the film industry”. Today we would like to open the 4th chapter by interviewing Mari Bakke Riise, an award-winning documentary director and producer. She has worked over a decade with documentaries and documentary series. Her documentary “Kayayo – The Living Shopping Baskets” won numerous international first prize awards and got shortlisted for an Oscar at the 90th Academy Award.

She is one of the owners of the Norwegian award-winning A5 Film production company, which focuses on high quality documentary features and series. Mari and A5 Film have been delivering to NRK, TV2, as well as international television channels such as SVT, DR or Al Jazeera, and have also won awards and given pitches at film festivals such as Berlinale, IDFA, CHP:DOX, Big Sky, Chicago International, Prix Europa, Thessaloniki Film Festival, and Palm Springs to mention some.

Lately her new documentary “A New Kind of Wilderness” has won the Grand Jury award in the world cinema competition at Sundance 2024.

Mari Bakke Riise’s focus and passion are tied to the many untold stories that surround us, to lift the stories and give new insights through documentary films.

Mari Bakke Riise (portrait)
Mari Bakke Riise, director & producer.


1 How did you initially get access to the film industry? Were there any mentors? Who/what inspired you? What was the ultimate impetus behind your decision to pursue a career in the film industry?
It started in a masterclass with a woman who is/was a Norwegian documentary filmmaker, talking about how she worked and approached topics and people. I thought that it sounded like something that could fit me and it did.
2 What were the reactions from people around you (family, friends, fellow students…) when you decided to work as a documentary filmmaker?

I have always been supported by my family in this. Even though it is a very unstable and hard business, they always told me to do whatever I wanted to do. So I feel lucky that way.

My friends have also always supported me. Among my fellow students there are actually not many left working in this field. It is not the easiest and I have to admit that sometimes I wish I had chosen a path that was a little less unpredictable. But at the same time it makes the reward even greater when you manage to capture something golden and the story falls into place the way you worked for it to do.

3 What challenges do you face as a woman in the documentary film industry? Were there any obstacles that were put in your way as a young female documentary filmmaker?
Hm. good question. It has been a male dominated industry, but I think there are more and more women working in this field now than before and more focus on it. I don´t know how that is for other countries, but I think Norway isn´t too bad nowadays. But I think as a young female you can be easily underestimated and need to prove what you are good for.
4 You received an Academy Award nomination for your documentary film “Kayayo: Ghana’s Living Shopping Baskets”. How did this film project come about?
I have a friend who worked in Ghana on a project helping these girls. She told me about this phenomenon, and I got intrigued. I felt immediately that there was a story here I needed to tell, so I started doing more research and went down there to visit and to see for myself if it could be a film.
5 Why did you follow the invitation for being a judge and what do you expect from this duty in terms of seeing all the entered documentaries?
My passion is good documentaries. If I can use my knowledge to help lift up the filmmakers who deserve it, that makes me happy.
6 Imagine being completely free in your choice of topic and not having to think about the budget. — What would your dream production(s) be?
My passion is untold stories about people and topics that I feel should be lifted up and shed a light into. The big story in the small. I don´t have a specific film I know I want to make right now, but I am always looking for the good ones and I know what they are when they show up!
7 And finally, our last question, please finish this sentence: If I were a film, I would be… And why?
The last great documentary I saw was "A House Made Of Splinters" from Simon Lereng Wilmont. It won Sundance last year and was shortlisted or nominated for an Oscar. It is an absolutely beautiful film that I wish I had made because it was so good. I get so inspired watching really great films.

Discover more about Mari Bakke Riise at the A5 Film website: