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Co-Productions Allow Sweden’s Filmmakers to Take Risks

Sweden is flush from significant Cannes and Venice triumphs in 2014, and at Berlinale more recently. This year, Cannes slots include Magnus von Horn’s debut “The Here After,” to be screened at Directors’ Fortnight, and Romanian Radu Muntean’s “One Floor Below,” a co-production, at Un Certain Regard.

Playing in the Fortnight shorts section is David Sandberg’s passionate ’80s homage “Kung Fury.” Isabella Carbonell’s short “Boys” is selected for Critics’ Week. Add Stig Bjorkman’s intimate portrait of Ingrid Bergman in the Cannes Classics’ “Ingrid Bergman, in Her Own Words” — in which Swedish star Alicia Vikander voices the iconic thesp — and a thriving image of Swedish cinema comes to light.

Not without a reason. Over the past half-decade Swedish film has experienced a significant rise in quality and diversity. Patrik Andersson, producer and head of development at B-Reel, says the improvement is reflected both in festival and hits a world trend of looking to Scandinavians for stories, filmmakers and ideas.

“The openness for new talent from the thriving Swedish fine arts scene combined with the energy from emerging filmmakers are key elements of the creative landscape,” says Andersson, who’s producing his adaptation of Hjalmar Soderberg’s novel “The Serious Game,” scripted by Lone Scherfig and directed by Pernilla August.

“I reckon there’s a wave of talent that wants to challenge (directors) Roy (Andersson) and Ruben (Ostlund),” says Erik Hemmendorff, Ostlund’s producer at Plattform.

Hemmendorff also has a good word for the Swedish Film Institute’s advocacy of gender equality. Women directed three out of four Swedish features at this year’s Berlinale. Two of them, Sanna Lenken’s “My Skinny Sister” and Beata Gardeler’s “Flocking,” scooped up first prize in their respective sections. Lenken’s debut, already sold to 30 countries, will also be screened at Cannes’ Ecran Junior section.

Hemmendorff mentions more femme directors: Anna Odell, Gabriela Pichler, Fanni Metelius, Anna Eborn and Fijona Jonuzi. “At Plattform, we have a project with Ninja Thyberg,” he says. “It will be a feature about a Swedish girl working in the porn industry in Los Angeles.”

“Force Majeure,” last year’s Cannes hit and one of the most critically applauded films in 2014, has been sold to 68 countries, and Hemmendorff is especially excited by the U.S. experience. “Magnolia did great promotion that really has opened up new doors for us,” he says. But alongside these positive artistic prospects, the Swedish film industry is facing big challenges rooted in obsolete film politics and a deep economic crisis.

“Financing is getting more difficult. It’s challenging to maintain ownership in productions as a Scandinavian independent,” Andersson says. “Due to less money for production, fewer risks are taken at the same time as there’s only a handful films every year that are commissioned through the institutes and funds.”

Erika Wasserman, producer of films by Henrik Hellstrom and Axel Petersen, has a similar opinion. “Interesting projects are coming up,” she says. “But the diminished funding at the Swedish Film Institute for features and a higher degree of commercialization at the SVT (television network) makes competition fiercer. ”

Wasserman adds: “Regional funders like Film i Vast are securing the future for more risk-taking films. Many projects won’t be realized, whereas TV series that build on the crime genre (will thrive).”

With daring features harder to finance, co-productions might be the way to go, says Madeleine Ekman, Zentropa Sweden’s producer of von Horn’s “The Here After,” which is about a 20-year-old boy trying to get back into society after serving a sentence for murder.

he film has funding from Poland, Sweden and France. Ekman says it’s a model for today: “We shot in Sweden and Film i Vast came in is a financier. We edited in Poland and did sound post in France with help from CNC. Both the Polish and the Swedish Film Institute believed in the film. It was also supported by Eurimages. That last piece made it possible.”

The film’s d.p., Lukasz Zal,who drew an Oscar nomination for lensing “Ida,” says, “It takes a village to raise a child. It takes all of Europe to make an arthouse film.”

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