When Norway’s culture minister Trond Giske spelled out his vision for the film industry in March 2007, it was clear that Norway no longer wants to be the minnow in the Scandinavian film pond. Ambitiously raising the stakes to put the Norwegian film industry on a par with its neighbours, Giske laid the gauntlet down: by 2010, the country should be producing 25 films a year and local market share should reach 25 percent, while the main national film organisations (the Norwegian Film Institute, the Norwegian Film Fund and the Norwegian Film Development Institute) were to be merged into one centralised body under newly appointed director Nina Refseth.
The overwhelming reaction amongst local producers and distributors to Giske’s revamp is optimism and excitement, and much is expected of the new film institute, which has an annual operational budget of 70 million Euros and officially launches on April 1. “It’s ambitious but Sweden and Denmark have managed to do that so there should be no reasons why we can’t do the same,” says Giske of his targets. “We have to do two things: make more films and make better films. In my head, that’s two sides of the same coin. If we make more films, we can afford to fail but we will also have more successes.”
The current structure was set up in 2001 and authorised state support launched a so-called Norwave, with an influx of cash, young talent and new kinds of stories into the market; locals responded in kind, turning out to spend their money. “Norwegian films are seen as successful the last five or six years,” says Lene Loken, Director of the national exhibitors organisation Films & Kino. “So local communities are turning out to support them.” Cinema admissions were down last year from 2006 by ten percent, but local films managed to hold firm at 16 percent. “I was kind of disappointed even if it was the third best year ever,” says Giske. “That shows the change in the level of our ambition.”
Local producers and independent production companies typically develop projects to the point where they can get attract financial support from the government coffers, mainly via the Norwegian Film Fund. Without their financial backing, producers have little hope of getting their film made, with the Film Fund only supporting roughly 10 percent of the projects submitted for consideration annually. In 2008, the country is on course to produce 18 films.
If public funding for film production goes back to 1950, Norway has a historical and unusual system whereby cinemas operate under a monopoly, owned and operated by local municipalities and accounting for 80 percent of Norwegian box office (independent cinemas represent around three percent of Norway’s 450 screens and are growing slowly). One benefit of the system is that the national exhibitor’s organisation, Film & Kino, offers distribution support to arthouse releases which run alongside Hollywood blockbusters and pays for prints for smaller cinemas (last year, Films & Kino gave financial support to a third of films released in the country). “It has pros and cons,” says Scanbox’s Jim Frazee. “The cons are that you have no alternative. Competition, especially in the key cities, would be advantageous for both the distributors and also the exhibitors because they would have to work harder in terms of marketing and cooperate more with the distributors.”
The primary feature production entities in Norway include Nordisk Films, 4 1/2, SF Norge, Maipo, Paradox and Film Kameratene. All are waiting to see how much Refseth shakes the status quo up come April. “It’s going to change a lot of things for everyone,” says Elin Erichsen, Director General of the Norwegian Film Fund which will now fall under the super body’s umbrella.
Family-oriented and children’s films have always enjoyed a huge presence in Norway, in common with its neighbours, but Norwegian new filmmakers have been tackling more provocative and diverse themes, storylines and genres in recent years, although some saw a danger of things becoming stale. “We had a period where the films were slightly criticised because they more or less looked alike,” says Erichsen. “We had a Norwegian joke about contemporary films being about young men trying to find their souls.”
One problem has been plenty of talent coming through the system but not enough projects to work on. “One of the main strategic changes will be that the most talented people will get to make more movies, rather than now-it’s-my-turn thinking,“ says Giske. “You have to put the resources into a few talented people that you really want to develop. With time and money, we will have our great Norwegian directors.”
In the latest white paper, the ministry recommended Norway join the co-production treaty and launch a tax-refund scheme for 2009 to attract international shoots to Norwegian shores. Whether this new optimism can double film exports, as Giske hopes, is the million-krona question. “We’ve been this little brother in Scandinavia,” he says. “But I think now the most interesting development is happening in Norway.”
THE KAUTOKEINO REBELLION (KAUTOKEINO-OPPRORET)
The biggest budget Norwegian film of 2008 (NK50 million), Nils Gaup’s period drama depicts a shameful episode in the country’s recent past. Set in 1852, the film shines a light on a tragic culture clash that sprang up when the native Sami people of northern Scandinavia rebelled against repressive Norwegian Christians and were brutally suppressed.
COLD LUNCH (LONSJ)
Starring no less than three former Shooting Stars (as endorsed by European Film Promotion at the Berlin Film Festival), Aksel Hennie, Nicolai Cleve Broch and Ane Dahl Torp, Cold Lunch is a multi-stranded mosaic about five people living in the same Oslo neighbourhood. Director Eva Sorhaugh makes her feature debut.
NIGHT OF THE WOLF (ULVENATTEN)
Nordisk Films has produced Tom Egeland’s best-seller as both a feature film and a three-part TV mini-series. Shot mostly in English, the edgy political thriller is set in a Norwegian TV studio that’s taken over by armed Chechen asylum seekers, who demand that the subsequent turn of events be broadcast live around the globe. Swedish veteran Kjell Sundvall directs.
FALLEN ANGELS (FAINE ENGLER)
A co-production between SF Norge AS and Miso Film, the second of the Varg Veum crime series after Bittersweet Flowers follows the adventures of the titular private investigator as he journeys back in time to the late 1980s. Like Flowers, Angels will receive a cinema release, with the other four Varg Veum productions premiering on Norwegian television.
Ambitious wartime biopic about one of Norway’s most renowned resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation. Produced by leading producer John M Jacobsen, who has appointed the commercials team of Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg to direct, Max Manus has been awarded $3.1 million by the Norwegian Film Fund (a third of its total budget) and is currently in production for a planned 2009 release.
THE TEN LIVES OF TITANIC THE CAT
This children’s live-action movie is playing in the Generations section at Berlin. A kidpic adventure penned by Alex Hellstenius (Elling), it’s the tale of a ghost cat who comes out of the past to warn an 11-year-old girl and her best friend about an impending catastrophe. Director Grethe Boe makes her feature debut.
KURT TURNS EVIL (KURT BLIR GRUSOM)
Rasmus Sivertsen’s animated film is based on the children’s books by Erlend Loe and is currently shooting as a co-production between Nordisk Film, Siverton’s Qvisten Animation and the Danish company A.Film. The tale of a truck driver who turns vicious when society treats him badly, Kurt is slated for release in Norway this October.
TROND ESPEN SEIM
After breaking through in 2004’s Hawaii, Oslo, Espen Seim landed the starring role of Varg Veum after Aksel Hennie dropped out, appearing thus far in two of the six instalments, Bitter Flowers and Fallen Angels. He’s also starring in director Erik Poppe’s Hawaii follow-up De Usynlige, an urban drama about destiny also starring Anneke von der Lippe and Danish actress Trine Dyrholm (Festen).
Besides his featured role in Cold Lunch, Norway’s Shooting Star at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival is currently making Through A Glass Darkly with Liv Ullman and has been cast as the lead in the big-budget Norwegian war film Max Manus, which goes into production soon. The 32-year-old, who also wrote and directed the 2004 inner-city drama Uno, will play Norway’s most illustrious and ingenious World War Two saboteur.
ANA DAHL TORP
Touted as a major talent of both stage and screen by nearly everyone in the Norwegian film industry, Torp was Norway’s 2006 Shooting Star and is adding to an already impressive resume in 2008 with her starring role in Eva Sorhaug’s Cold Lunch, opposite Aksel Hennie.
ULRIK IMTIAZ ROLFSEN
Since his action film debut Izzat was nominated for a Norwegian Oscar in 2006, 35-year-old Rolfsen has directed the first Varg Veum release, Bitter Flowers, while his next film, The Last Joint Venture, is due for release in October. A dark comedy about two hash-smoking slackers accused of heroin smuggling in 1979 Oslo, the film stars Nicolai Cleve Broch (last year’s Berlin Shooting Star) and Kristoffer Joner.
INGRID BOLSO BERDAL
Following her Best Actress win last year at the Norwegian Amanda’s for popular horror film Cold Prey, the 27-year-old actress is starring this year alongside Brian Cox and Lauren Bacall in director Robert Young’s Wild Blue Yonder and House Of Fools for director Eva Isaksen.
Managing Director, Norwegian Film Institute
The newly appointed czar of Norway’s national film body was appointed by the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs. Refseth will have five area directors under her guiding different divisions and plans to rely on them to run day-to-day operations, but her new post still makes her the most powerful figure in the industry. Like her counterparts in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, Refseth was recruited from outside the film business, with a background in book publishing. Her appointment becomes official on April 1st (although she’s already started), when she will assume responsibility for over 90 employees and an operating budget of almost NK100 million plus another NK310 million in subsidies.
Director, Film & Kino
Like Refseth, Loken is in control of her own budget, which is raised through a tariff on cinema tickets and DVD sales, to run the national video and exhibitor sectors, the latter made up almost entirely of municipally owned cinemas (a historical peculiarity to Norway, where only three percent of the country’s 450 screens are independently owned). Operating independently of the new super film institute, Film & Kino’s brief has been widened to manage all film festival activities in Norway, including Haugesund, with a budget of NK14 million for the task. Loken’s organisation will also supervise film activities aimed at children and youth.
Acting Director General, Norwegian Film Fund
Even as it falls under the new united film umbrella, Erichsen’s division will still have overall responsibility for choosing the films that get government financing – and therefore end up getting produced – in Norway. Erichsen has NK310 million at her disposal (roughly 40 million Euros) and the Film Fund will typically not go beyond supplying 50 percent of a film’s budget, although they can in the case of “difficult” films with less obvious market potential. The Film Fund also has a smaller support scheme in place for co-productions, which largely operates in the Nordic arena.
JAN ERIK HOLST
Executive Director of International Development, Norwegian Film Institute
Aside from supporting production of local films and promoting them abroad, Holst hosts international sales agents in Oslo every year during a Norwegian mini-market, where his department screens the most recent releases and makes connections between buyers and local producers.
Head of Production, Nordisk Films
As of April 1st, Boysen takes over from Aage Aaberge as Head of Film Production at Nordisk’s Oslo-based outlet, which is currently the largest producer of films in Norway with five titles released this year. Nordisk’s emphasis continues to be on broad family features and children’s films, although Aaberge is setting up Nordisk offshoot Neo Films, which will focus on films with arthouse-friendly themes that need co-production financing. Aiming to make one to two films per year, Neo’s first production is slated to be an adaptation of Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel The Model, about a painter offered an experimental operation to save his eyesight.
CEO, SF Norge AS
Pettersen runs local distribution and production entity SF Norge AS, which distributes films in cinemas and on DVD, many through its output deal with 20th Century Fox. Recently, Pettersen produced Norway’s biggest ever movie project – six features based on the Varg Veum detective novels with a combined budget of $12.8 million. Bitter Flowers was released in the autumn, and the second in the series, Fallen Angels, directed by Morten Tyldum who helmed 2003’s Buddy, is about to come out. The other four films will premiere on Norwegian television.
Based in Oslo, Frazee covers the Norwegian market for the Danish producer-distributor Scanbox, serving as one of the company’s three buyers [do you buy for Norway only?]. Buying up to 110 titles a year, of which 20 percent are released theatrically, and dominating Norway’s upscale film market (Cassandra’s Dream, I’m Not There and The Diving Bell And The Butterfly are all Scanbox releases), Frazee also oversees the production of 2-4 local films annually, with budgets ranging from $3-5 million, alongside Norwegian co-production partners Paradox.