Norway flexes film production muscles

Pumped-up local box office posts record grosses

STOCKHOLM — In April, Norway got a “new” film institute when three separate institutions were merged into one. The Norwegian Film Fund, Norwegian Film Development and the Norwegian Film Institute became one entity, under the moniker the Norwegian Film Institute. Six months later, the org is still feeling its way, but the industry is looking to a bright future.

“We’ve been off to a good start. There have been a lot of administration questions during these first months, but now we’re getting ready to get a lot of real work done,” says NFI CEO Nina Refseth.

Coming from the world of book publishing, she took over the reins in a period when Norwegian film has started to make a stronger mark at international fests, eclipsing higher-profile neighbors Sweden and Denmark. The box office is up for local product, and there are more features being made than ever.

Indeed, the market share for domestic films in Norway hit a record 26% during the first six months of the year, with local films grossing $18.2 million — that’s up from 2007’s market share of 16.4%.

“The Kautokeino Rebellion” topped the B.O. list with $4.6 million, eclipsing “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which made $4.5 million. Local comedy “Lange flate baller II” was third with $4.1 million.

“Norway is in line with the European trend toward local product, while Hollywood loses ground,” says Birgitte Langballe at film org Film & Kino.

“There is a strong, clear will to concentrate on making films,” says Age Hoffart, head of cinema distribution at distrib/producer SF Norge. “We used to make seven to eight features per year; now we are up to 20-25. That’s pretty good for a small country. Previously, private investments in Norwegian films were only 10%; now the pendulum is swinging the other way. Distributors take bigger risks, and invest more. The increased production shows that we are on the right track.”

Asle Vatn, who produced hits “Kissed by Winter” and “Uro,” says: “I’m positive, even though it’s too early to say too much about the new institute. One bad thing is that right now there is only one feature consultant. We are waiting for another one to be appointed, which we have been promised will happen shortly. Several projects are waiting for that person.”

Ducats moving

That sentiment is echoed by other Norwegian producers. Refseth says it will soon be resolved. She sees a very bright future.

“We sell a lot of tickets; the business answers by making more and more films. And there is everything from small arthouse films to blockbusters like the epic ‘Max Manus,’ which will open at Christmas.”

Refseth wants to make sure producers continue to take risks, and that they feel supported when they want to make small or arthouse movies. “You can’t be scared to fail. It’s better to make a film that fails than to be scared and not try. I’m not concerned about the commercial films, but we have to send strong signals of support to the art movies.”

Despite bureaucracy, producers say getting access to the institute’s decisionmakers is easy.

“Of course, there are a lot of rules and a lot of red tape. We are an arm of the state, and this means a lot of administration,” Refseth says. “But our goal is that we all should be reachable, that every filmmaker that contacts us should get a prompt answer.”

Community spirit

Producers have found that support within the filmmaking community helps get projects off the ground. Jorgen Storm Rosenberg, who produced “The Bothersome Man” and hit epic “The Kautokeino Rebellion,” has now created a company and is ready to go into production on a children’s film. Like many of the other filmmakers who graduated from the Norwegian Film School, he says there is a strong bond between the graduates.

“We help each other; we work together,” Rosenberg says. “Many of us left the school with working units already formed, and we have continued to work together.”

Indeed, Swedish producer Borje Hansson (“The Kautokeino Rebellion”) says his experiences within the Norwegian biz are very positive: “I think the production support is very generous. Maybe it’s a little bit more formalized than in Sweden. Overall, there is a lot of enthusiasm and pride, and there are a lot of interesting new films coming this season.”

Also supporting the locals are the string of Norwegian festivals and, increasingly and unusually, these fests are now slowly talking about cooperation instead of competition.

“We are talking about possibly having a contact person in the U.S. to try to get the big American actors to our festivals, to have a more Hollywood presence,” says Gyda Myklebust, who runs the New Nordic Films section at the Haugesund Film Festival. “The festivals are all very different … (but) we need bigger stars to visit the festivals, since this will also generate more attention.”

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