Sweden’s Film Fests Heat Up A Lively, Historic Film Scene

This year’s Variety Film and Market guide lists a dozen festivals in Scandinavia, a sign that the film arts are alive and well in the North. But like the rest of the world, art film is not immune to the pressures of the market.

The dilemma facing the organizers of the six-year-old Stockholm Intl. Film Festival defies a simple solution. Even though it concluded its 10-day run in November with lots of turnaway crowds for its 123 films, the popular appeal of the fest’s films and the reliance upon hip, youth-oriented programming choices has undermined its quest to taken seriously.

One longtime Swedish film pro describes the fest as “the victim of their success in bringing Quentin Tarantino over here last year. They got so much press for that, it seemed that this year they were trying even harder to appeal to ‘the kids in black.'”

This view is underlined by the fest’s fondness for the American independents, leading to questionable competition choices, like Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado,” as well as spotlighting the scheduled (but canceled) appearance of Amanda Plummer by touting her role as ‘Honey Bunny’ in Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” This doesn’t automatically go over with the intelligentsia in the land of Bergman.

And his observation is echoed by others in the Swedish film scene. This has led to a perplexing situation where audiences in Stockholm are flocking to the fest’s selections, while at the same time, the fest has seen its yearly Swedish Film Institute stipend carved down to about $10,000 annually, with the lion’s share – closer to $100,000 – of this key state subsidy being given instead to the rival Gothenburg Film Festival. In fact, Gothenburg has been officially designated the National Feature Film Fest by the Institute.

The Stockholm fest’s “too hip” rep is a bum rap, according to Philipe Maarek, who served as president of this year’s Stockholm fest FIPRESCI jury. “The Nordic section of films was very strong this year,” says Maarek, noting that “the rest of Europe generally doesn’t get to see many of these really interesting films. And the other sections were filled with really terrific discoveries for me, like ‘ Live Nude Girls.’ And I really enjoyed seeing the pleasure that the audience took from the films. Regular people were taking notes, not just cinephiles.”

The irony of the fest’s dilemma is that the less state money that comes into its coffers, the more it needs to rely on popular appeal films. In turn, the more it programs to pay its bills, the more it will be perceived as a pop film club for locals instead of a worldclass film launching pad.

The 19th Gothenburg Fest, unwrapping Feb. 2-11 next year, is making moves to raise its profile even higher, both locally and in the international film community. Fest director Gunnar Bergdahl recently announced that Gothenburg will be managing the Draken cinema, with 713 seats, the city’s largest, on a year-round basis.

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