For Danish Film Biz, ’90s Are Hard Times

“Hard times” seems the most precise term to describe the condition of film biz in ’90s Denmark.

Domestic production and imports for theatrical release are suffering from ever-decreasing cinema attendance among the Danes. And the outlook for the remainder of ’91 seems, in a word, bleak.

Danish Oscar winners “Babette’s Feast” and “Pelle The Conqueror,” and ’90 Oscar nominee “Waltzing Regitze” not surprisingly constituted a renewed optimism among Danish filmmakers. However, most last year quickly discovered life was still a constant fight for survival.

Thirteen Danish feature films were released in ’90, but only four registered any kind of boxoffice returns: “Waltzing Regitze,” “Jut Nuts 3,” “The War Of The Birds” and “Dance Of The Polar Bears.”

$10 mil doesn’t go far

In Denmark, film production is totally dependent on state subsidies controlled by the Danish Film Institute and, whereas film production there is relatively cheap compared to international figures, approximately $10 million won’t go far when divided between more than a dozen pics.

The state subsidies have traditionally been torn between serving as a subsidy of the arts or as a purely industrial subsidy. They have so far been awarded from a quality-oriented point of view; a production consultant has examined the artistic merits of the applicants.

However, 1990 saw for the first time $3 million earmarked for an industrially oriented subsidy called the 50/50 deal. Producers can apply for this subsidy without having their project estimated by a consultant. The institute will provide half the budget of a pic, up to a maximum of $545,000, provided the producer raises the other half (or more).

So far, the 50/50 deals have only resulted in a sorry collection of broad comedies that have proven unable to win mass appeal. So, now the DFI plans to bring in some part of quality control regarding future projects – rather at the risk of defeating the purpose.

In ’91 the DFI coffers are at an all-time low and, in distress, the institute has asked the Ministry of Culture for an additional $4 million in order to stay above water. However, in times of general recession, this seems likely to be turned down.

Fewer Danish features, approximately 10, will see the light of day in ’91 and the majority will be withheld for fall premieres. In the first four months of the year only one pic, the mildly experimental feature-length documentary “Giselle,” of very modest boxoffice potential indeed, has been released.

Only two Danish features show real potential: Lars von Trier’s ambitious drama/thriller “Europa” and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s “The Boys From St. Petri.” The latter a result of Nordic Co-production Year 1991, an attempt to help the ailing Nordic film culture.

One of the more interesting new initiatives has been undertaken by industrialist Asger Aamund and new DFI topper Bo Christensen, working for the establishment of a foundation that, hopefully, will be able to provide Danish film production with an additional $5 million on a yearly basis.

The absence of successful domestic features and an increased number of feature films shown on the national networks has hampered cinema attendance throughout 1990 and, by the third quarter of ’90, boxoffice results were down 15%.

From bad to worse

Things went from bad to worse with a drop of 20% in the Copenhagen boxoffice in January 1991.

More or less as a result of this crisis Svensk Filminclustri’s Danish subsid Dansk Filmindustri, specializing in theatrical distribbery only, folded this year and will be closed down entirely by July 1991. The company’s lucrative distrib deal with Fox has been turned over to Pathe-Nordisk theatrical distrib arm, Constantin Film.

Despite handling a good number of successful titles, Dansk Filmindustri seemed to lack the all windows for Scandinavia strategies that has managed to keep most of the majors, like Pathe-Nordisk, Egmont and Metronome afloat during these trying times.

Most likely Danish distribs will have to depend on homevid and tv rights for some time to come, as there is no evidence that the upcoming domestic features will be able to spearhead a renewed interest in cinema attendance.

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