Svensk eyes international co-prods

LONDON — By poaching Swedish Film Institute topper Charlotta Denward to become its new production chief, Scandi major Svensk Filmindustri has signaled its ambition to reclaim its status as the powerhouse of Swedish cinema.

“This is about positioning Svensk where it should be in Swedish film history,” says CEO Rasmus Ramstad. “Svensk used to be the driving force in the Swedish market, and that’s what I hope to achieve again.”

Founded in 1919, Svensk made everything from the masterpieces of Ingmar Bergman and Carl Dreyer to classic family movies based on Astrid Lindgren’s hugely popular books. It’s still the region’s leading distributor and exhibitor, but its production arm has dwindled since its heyday.

Ramstad has tried to rebuild the brand over the past decade, but with mixed results. Svensk has lagged behind the Swedish surge of recent years, led by the unprecedented success of pics such as “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Let the Right One In” and “Easy Money.”

The arrival of Borje Hansson as production chief four years ago was a move forward for Svensk, but Hansson’s decision to step down this November gave Ramstad the chance to swoop in and land the highly rated and widely connected Denward, who was itching to get back to producing.

“We haven’t been able to find the new wave in Swedish film,” Ramstad says. “We have gone more up the traditional road, but we are hoping that Charlotta can change that.”

Ramstad is eager to capitalize on the increased global attention for Swedish cinema. “It’s fantastic how distributors in the U.K. and Benelux and Australia have positioned Scandinavian crime as a separate genre in the marketplace,” he says.

Svensk is already a key distribution partner for many U.S. and European producers, often the first to commit to cornerstone pre-buys of big indie projects. Ramstad now hopes to leverage these relationships to support the company’s own international production ambitions.

As director of production funding and promotion at the SFI since 2006, Denward was at the heart of the Swedish renaissance. “I was in a superb position to see the Swedish production landscape from above, and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work,” Denward says. “I’m so excited about this new job, because Svensk is a company with such a great history and such great potential.”

Denward served as an SFI commissioner from 1996 to 2000, when she backed “Show Me Love,” the surprise debut hit of Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson. She was also responsible for children’s films.

“Charlotta Denward’s brand is stronger than Svensk’s when it comes to attracting talent,” notes veteran producer Lars Blomgren, who is co-producing teen comedy “Bitch Hug” with Svensk’s own production label, Sonet Film, and previously employed Denward as a producer at his company Filmlance. “She’s got a really good nose for new talent. Svensk is a beautiful old company with a beautiful logo, but they haven’t been the most bold about taking big risks. This is a fantastic opportunity for Svensk to get back in the middle of the market again.”

But, warns producer Anna Croneman, it won’t be easy to immediately change a big company like Svensk. “It’s extremely difficult to bring creativity into a large organization like that,” she says. “But Charlotta has great contacts and she knows how to talk to talented people, so she might be able to lure them in.”

Denward wants Svensk to make more ambitious, director-driven films with international appeal, rather than just mainstream franchises for the local audience, and to be a home for Sweden’s leading auteurs. “Svensk should have an openness toward ideas that appear more difficult and complicated. I would also like to revive its old tradition of children’s films, which has been a bit lost,” she says.

Ramstad says that Svensk is open to increasing investment in production. “We typically spend $15 million-$20 million a year, but I would like it to be as high as possible, because that means we have found a lot of commercial projects to make.”

Svensk is privately owned by the Bonnier family, which gives the company freedom to vary its production spending according to the opportunities it finds.

Denward has inherited a new franchise based on the Lars Kepler detective novels, which is Svensk’s bid to jump aboard the Scandi crime bandwagon. Lasse Hallstrom was lured back to Sweden for the first time in 25 years to direct the first installment, “The Hypnotist,” which premieres later this month at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The next two films, “The Paganini Contract” and “The Fire Witness,” are already in the works.

Ramstad says Svensk is exploring ways to take the whole Kepler franchise into the U.S. market, not just to sell off the rights, Ramstad says. “We are having conversations with our European strategic partners, either distributors or production companies, about how to set up future projects together.”

Denward knows that if Svensk wants to make bigger films with bigger budgets, those films must have international appeal. “The only way to get international success in the long run is to establish those co-production partnerships, in Europe to begin with.”

The company also has a new kids trilogy, based on the “LasseMaja” books, about a children’s detective agency, shooting back-to-back and entirely on greenscreen — a first for Europe — at Stiller Studios, just south of Stockholm. The first film will be released in February, and the third starts production this month.

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