STOCKHOLM — To outsiders, the people of Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway seem to be one homogeneous, blond-haired, blue-eyed, Ikea-loving population. But local film distributors know better: Scandinavian films don’t travel well within Scandinavia.
There are many reasons, perhaps the biggest being the language barriers. Indeed, a Swedish film in Denmark is a foreign film and must compete against American imports in that market.
“I think that we have to be very clear about what kind of profile we give a certain film when we put it out there on the market. And we have to be very aware about the fact that if we try to compete with American film, we lose,” says Mikkel Berg, distribution manager at Nordisk Film.
But that’s not to say they lose all the time — and arthouse sells well across the region. Berg cites Lukas Moodysson’s “Show Me Love” as an arthouse regional success, saying it was marketed in such a way to highlight it as a unique cinematic experience.
He also notes that “someone like Lars von Tier is by definition special and unique in his approach to the medium,” Berg says.
Despite the fact that all the big Nordic production companies have distribution infrastructure in every Scandi country, and regional co-productions are part of the common business plans of most production houses, Danes still snub Swedish pics, Finns skip Norwegian films and so on.
“It is strange. I mean there is a fantastic amount of integration between the Nordic countries, and partly that has to do with the Nordic Film and Television Fund, where you have to bring another Nordic country to the table to be able to look for money — but not even the films that in strict economic terms are (Nordic region) co-productions actually always make it to the other countries,” says Staffan Gronberg, outgoing director of the international department at the Swedish Film Institute.
The latest example of this is Norwegian film “Reprise,” which was a hit on the festival circuit but still has not found Swedish distribution, even though the Swedish Film Institute pitched in for the project.
“I have won awards for ‘Reprise’ in Karlovy Vary and Toronto, and my film has been sold to 15, 16 countries. But it still hasn’t gained distribution in Sweden,” “Reprise’s” Norwegian director Joachim Trier said in a Swedish newspaper recently.
Some say it seems as if Scandinavian films have to charm the rest of the world first before they can actually just cross the borders and charm their fellow Scandinavians.
Or, as Pernille Munk Skydsgaard, head of international relations for the Danish Film Institute, puts it: “I think there’s a brother-sister love-hate thing going on between the Scandinavian countries, where you really have to prove yourself before you can get accepted.”
Her colleague Jan Erik Holst at the Norwegian Film Institute has a different insight: “We’ve suffered a long tradition of cultural clashes and little-brother complex since we were a colony for a long, long time. When it comes to film, the unfortunate movies we made in the ’70s and ’80s weren’t very interesting for our neighbors — and that didn’t help. But that is slowly starting to change, not least with films like ‘Reprise,’ ‘The Bothersome Man,’ ‘Sons’ and ‘Free Jimmy’ — films that are very different and modern in comparison to the Norwegian tradition.”
Film biz folk think this is a great topic for discussion — again.
Throughout the years it has come up over and over — in articles, seminars and debates. But now, as the Scandinavian region suffers a decline in moviegoing in general, intraregional pics have found the going tougher than ever.
Languages certainly play a part. To a non-Scandinavian, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Danish might sound a lot alike, but in reality the differences are big enough for auds to skip over a film made in another Scandi country not their own.
“It could have to do with a language barrier,” Berg says. “Another thing is perhaps that we’re not always familiar with the actors from the other Scandinavian countries.
Berg spins a scenario in which a Swedish family is at a cinema, deciding between a Norwegian and Danish film. But if those films don’t offer something unique, they’ll just go to the American film.
“Take a film like ‘Evil,’ for example,” Berg says. “In Sweden it is a unique film, based on the writings of famous Swedish writer Jan Guillou. But in Denmark it will compete with, say, a Robin Williams (picture). Because then it is not a local film, but a foreign film.”
When it comes to what does work in the other Scandinavian countries, people seem to agree it is the arthouse films that do better than the mainstream ones.
“Over the years you get more careful, since you’ve been burned so many times,” says Eivor Zimmerman, exec VP of acquisitions at Sandrew Metronome. “But a couple of years ago, we really tried with the Norwegian film ‘Buddy’; we said that perhaps we had been too careful in the past, and that we for once would really try. So, we decided to go out on a bigger scale, put up some more money for the marketing and made a united effort in Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
“But it still didn’t work — because it wasn’t an art film. And I think it really has to be one to work.”
“Scandinavian films do great on the festival scene, just like arthouse films,” Munk Skydsgaard says. “In fact, they are considered to be arthouse films. So, perhaps what we need to do is work on how we brand them.”