Producer Dag Alveberg has been battling against the prevailing Nordic gloom for two decades, and finally seems to be winning.
His feel-good comedy “Elling,” to which Kevin Spacey recently bought remake rights after it was nominated for an Oscar, has broken records across Scandinavia for a Norwegian movie. Now Alveberg’s working on a sequel, or possibly two, and Universal has signed him up to a four-pic deal.
Perhaps because he started out in props and special effects, he never shared the intellectual pretensions of so many Scandi filmmakers.
Alveberg is a slight, enthusiastic man with curly blond hair and a light-hearted manner. In contrast to the stereotype of the intense and pessimistic Scandi artist, he wants to have fun, and he wants the audience to share in it. An associate says, “He’s always exactly five minutes late for meetings, but if you can’t find him, you know exactly where he is — lying on his boat on a fjord.”
“When I started as a producer 20 years ago, the subsidy system was very soft and culturally driven,” Alveberg recalls. “I was trying to make audience-oriented films, but I had real difficulty getting public money because that was supposed to be for art.”
But in the 1990s, his populist attitudes started to gain wider currency in Scandi film circles, and he was hired to run the Nordic Film & TV Fund, bringing a more market-driven approach. “The new fund system is backing films to reach a larger audience and to build a company,” he says.
Now back as an indie producer, Alveberg’s Maipo Film is one of a small group of companies across Scandinavia that are leading the box office revival for local movies. In Sweden, there’s Memfis Film and Sonet; in Denmark, Zentropa and Nimbus.
Maipo’s upcoming projects include “Johnny Vang,” about a love triangle; and “Bullet,” a thriller about a small Norwegian company menaced by a greedy multinational. In the “Elling” sequel, the mentally retarded hero is taken by his mother on a holiday to Spain.
Although Alveberg is determined that his films should stick close to the everyday experiences of his local audience, and scorns Scandi filmmakers who are attempting to make “international” movies, he is savvy enough to recognize that a local story with an international angle gives him the best of both worlds.
But he’s not trying to make Hollywood-style genre pics in a Norwegian setting. “We are still looking for good stories, we’re not that industrial yet,” he says. “There is a lot of American culture which has lost touch with genuine humanity, and some stories coming from Nordic territories have a broader sense of what human life is really like.”