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Scandinavian Cinema Energized by Newcomers

GOTEBORG, Sweden– While the Nordics may not boast Europe’s biggest film industries, its five countries – Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and Norway – have experienced no shortage of critically-aclaimed filmmakers, from Lars Von Trier to Roy Anderson, Aki Kaurismäki and Susanne Bier. And in recent years, the Nordic film scene has become even more vibrant with the rise of Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest”), Thomas Vinterberg (“The Commune”), Tobias Lindholm (“A War”), Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) and  and Ruben Ostlund whose “Force Majeure” has become a flagship for contempo Swedish cinema.

Norway is considered the fastest rising Nordic movie market but the film scene has blossomed across all five markets thanks to helmers like Mikkel Nørgaard (“The Absent One”), Michael Noer (“Key House Mirror”) and Mikael Marcimain (“Gentlemen”) and a flurry of female directors, including Anne Sewitsky (“Homesick”), Lisa Aschan (“Voltiges”) and Lisa Langseth (“Hotell”).

And since “Force Majeure” (pictured above) premiered at Cannes, many industry players have been wondering, “Who is the next Ruben Ostlund?”

“Ostlund has become somewhat like a film guru in Scandinavia and he has disciples,” quipped Jacob Jarek, producer at Copenhagen-based Profile Picture. “A lot of young filmmakers are trying to emulate his style of observational and sociological approach that seems inspired by Swedish documentaries from the 1970’s.”

The trendy Super 16 film school which is run by students is a driving force behind Scandinavia’s new generation of directors, at least in Denmark.  Fenar Ahmad’s critically-aclaimed “Flow,” about a Danish kid from the projects who forms a rap band, is one of the recent movies that have emerged out of the Super 16 school and has been nominated for a best feature debut at Denmark’s Bodil Awards. “Half of the movies competing for best first film are from directors who attended Super 16,” Jarek pointed out.

The popularity of Scandi helmers hasn’t gone unnoticed by international talent agents and sales companies. In fact, most buzzed-about Scandinavian directors are repped by Hollywood agents from UTA, WME or CAA and are working on an English-language project if they have not already made one.

Case in point: Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game” is nominated for a best film Oscar this year.

But Patrik Andersson at B-Reel, a Danish super-indie, isn’t worried about the Scandinavian talent exodus. “It takes so long for a project to get greenlit in Hollywood. You need to have the cast to raise the financing but by the time you get it the talent is no longer available and you’re back to square one. It’s a classic domino scenario,” pointed out Andersson. “Directors often get disillusioned and eventually return to make local-language movies and enjoy more creative freedom.”

When they do get made, these English-language movies don’t always match expectations. Even with its A-list cast – Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper – “Serena,” directed by Oscar-winning director Bier (“In a Better World”) failed to ignite audiences.

B-Reel produced “Gentlemen,” a big-budget period drama directed by Swedish director Mikael Marcimain. Based on Klas Ostergren’s cult novels, “Gentlemen” world-premiered at Toronto and earned 13 nominations at Sweden’s Guldbagge Awards. Unlike many up-and-coming directors who started their careers doing commercials and shorts, Marcimain worked for many years directing TV series such as “Wallander” and “Skeeppsholmen” before leaping into feature films.

Genre is still big in Scandinavia, particularly in Denmark and Sweden where “Let the Right One In” kicked off the Nordic Twilight trend. “Many directors today are trying to come up with character-driven films mixing arthouse and horror elements as in “Let the Right One In.”

Jarek is working with two figures of that Nordic Twilight wave: former commercials director Jonas Alexander Arnby whose debut “When Animals Dream,” a warewolf coming-of-age, played at Cannes’ Critics’ Week and Ali Abbasi who is finishing horror film “Shelley.”

The producer was on hand at Goteborg to show clips of “Shelley” along with Abbasi, who is as “uncompromising and bold as Gaspar Noe,” said Jarek.

Jarek is currently developing Arnby’s next film, “We Watched the Sun Disappear” which he describes as another visually-ambitous genre-bender.

Back in Iceland, Kormakur, is playing a key role in nurturing the next generation of directors while continuing to balance out his directing career at home as well as in the States and the U.K.. His latest movie “Everest,” based on a true story like his 2012 survival tale “The Deep,” chronicles a climbing expedition that turns into a nightmare because of a snow storm. It stars Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright.

Meanwhile, Kormakur’s company RVK, Iceland’s biggest film shingle, recently produced Dagur Kári’s latest film “Virgin Mountain” which is premiering in the Gala section at Berlin. He’s also currently producing “Trapped,” an Icelandic crime skein based on his original idea and penned by Sigurjon Kjartansson and Clive Bradley.

To direct the series, Baltasar has enlisted three young directors – Baldvin Zophoníasson (“Life in a Fishball”), Óskar Thór Axelsson (“Black’s Game”) and Börkur Sigthórsson (“Come to Harm”) — which he considers “highly promising.” Kormakur is indeed producing Sigthorsson’s feature debut “Mules,” a thriller inspired by two real-life criminal cases that shook Iceland.

“I want to work with directors who can tell intimate stories in a way that feels universal and with a big enough scope and depth to travel outside of Iceland. That’s the bottom line,” says Kormakur. “Nowadays it’s much easier to make movies in Iceland than when I started directing 15 years ago but it hasn’t gotten any easier to get them into theaters around the world.”

Players in and out of of Scandinavia agree on one thing: The future is bright for Nordic cinema no matter who is the next Ruben Ostlund.

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