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Haugesund: NRK’s Ivar Køhn on Norway’s TV Drama Build, Nordic Noir as a Brand

Led by ‘Occupied’ and ‘Norsemen,’ TV series screen for the first time at Haugesund

HAUGESUND, Norway — For the first time, TV drama features at the Norwegian Int. Film Festival in Haugesund with the world premiere of second seasons of two Norwegian series: “Occupied” (“Okkupert”) and “Norsemen,” aka “Vikings” (“Vikingane”).

The first two episodes of “Occupied 2” screen on Aug. 21 with Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg and actors Henrik Mestad, Janne Heltberg and Eldar Skar attending. “Norsemen” Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 – the series changed its name when Netflix bought it – bows on Aug. 23.

A couple of years ago, there was hardly any interest in Norwegian TV drama, but this has completely changed, according to Ivar Køhn, head of drama at Norwegian pubcaster NRK, who started at NRK in 1987.

In 2013, he left his job as head of development and production at the Norwegian Film Institute to lead NRK Drama.

“Norwegian TV drama has simply improved radically, and its potential attracts the best writers and directors – young talents who are getting more experienced. We gain from increasing collaboration between the film and TV industries, the focus on authors and storytelling, and  we have the economic means to produce original and unique TV series,” Køhn explained.

For Køhn, Denmark was the first country, 10-12 years ago, with its “one vision,” the thriller series “The Killing” (“Forbrydelsen”), launching Nordic Noir. In Norway, Anne and Eilif Skodvin came up with “Lilyhammer” (NRK), Gjermund and Vegard Stenberg Eriksen with “Mammon.”

Later top-quality series include Petter Rosenlund and Peter Olav Sørensen’s “The Fight for Heavy Water” (“Kampen om tungtvannet”/NRK), Jo Nesbø, Marianne Lund and Erik Skjoldbjærg’s “Occupied” (TV2), and Stephen Uhlander, Mette Bølstad and Per Olav Sørensen’s “Nobel” (NRK).

“Right now Julie Andem’s “Shame,” an innovative drama in a new media era, is creating a wave. But there is still a strong interest in Nordic Noir, it has become a brand, which is good for international sales,” Køhn said.

NRK is moving towards the end of the run of “Monster’s” a darkly Noirish procedural seen at Series Mania. The broadcaster is currently in production on Johan Falsting’s “Home Ground” (“Heimebane”) and Mette Bølstad and Petter Næss’ ”State of Happiness” (“Lykkeland”) and will shortly start Sara Johnsen and Pål Sletaune’s “July 22” (“22. Juli”), about the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway.

Based on an idea by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, “Occupied” became an international success when it premiered in the fall of 2015, In it, Norway decides to stop supplying North Sea oil for environmental reasons, the E.U. asks for help, and Russia steps in to occupy Norway. The new right-part season follows Norway under Russian rule. It is produced by Gudny Hummelvoll and Marianne Gray for Yellow Bird Norge for the Nordic Viaplay streaming service, with Arte France, and TV2.

Also reaching audiences worldwide, Jon Iver Helgaker and Jonas Torgersen’s ”Norsemen” started on NRK in the fall of 2016. It depicts everyday life in the village of Norheim around the year of 790. Netflix will air a special version with dialogue in Norwegian and bad English. While the first part was fully shot in Avaldsnes near Haugesund, NRK producers Anders Tangen (Viafilm) and Øyvind Thoen (NRK) have decided to make the second part more international, also shooting in Scotland.

The TV drama program in the New Nordic Films market also includes parts of Icelandic director Ragnar Bragason’s ”Prisoners” (”Fangar”), a six-part series produced by David Óskar Ólafsson for Mystery Productions-Vesturport. Broadcast by Icelandic pubcaster RUV, it follows a woman who is serving time in Iceland’s only women’s prison for an assault that leaves her father in a coma. She harbors a secret which could tear her family apart and set her free.

Swedish pubcaster SVT and Viaplay will continue their collaboration on TV drama, seen previously, among other series, on ”Swedish Dicks”) with ”The Restaurant” (”Vår tid är nu”), whose episodes will start screening on SVT this year. With Harald Hamrell among the directors, and produced by Susann Biilberg for Jarowskij, it is the story of the Löwander family, which runs a high-end restaurant in the heart of Stockholm. After WWII the future brightens, but in a full-blown family conflict the matriarch Helga must try to secure the future of the restaurant and keep the family together.

With all four seasons and 43 episodes written and directed by Julie Andem, “Shame” was aired by NRK between September 2015 and June 2017. It portrays students at Oslo’s highly respectable Hartvig Nissen high school, focussing on one each season – one of them a Muslim girl –  and their struggle with peer pressure, sexual abuse, mental illness, homosexuality and religion.

Aimed at 15+ viewers, it was seen by up to one million viewers in Norway, a country with a population of just five million. It was sold worldwide – in China, attracting six million viewers. Teenagers from all corners of the Earth have discussed it on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. American producer Simon Fuller (”American Idol”) has bought U.S.-Canadian remake rights and has just started production.

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