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HAUGESUND, Norway  —  On Wednesday morning, shortly before this year’s New Nordic Films Works in Progress screening was due to begin, a handful of industry veterans sat for a panel that picked up right where last year’s WIP program left off.

Presented in collaboration with Europa Distribution, the panel – called “The Value Chain: A Case Study” – tracked the serendipitous path of the recent Danish hit “Queen of Hearts,” one of the standout titles of the 2018 Works in Progress session.

Moderated by Screen journalist Wendy Mitchell, the panel brought together sales agent Silje Nikoline Glimsdal (TrustNordisk), festival consultant Christian Juhl Lemche (Danish Film Institute), Lithuanian festival programmer Aiste Racaityte (Kino Pavasaris) and British distributor Frances Harvey (Thunderbird Releasing), with each panelist detailing their own experiences shepherding the film into its eventual release.

Both Lemche and Glimsdal stressed the importance of securing a strong festival launch when handling a film with challenging subject matter. Indeed, after TrustNordisk came onboard just after last year’s WIP screening, Lemche noted, the two parties were diligent about finding the right festival berth.

As Glimsdal explained, for a project like “Queen of Hearts” — which explores themes of sexual predation with an explicit and unflinching gaze  – jury awards and critical acclaim can help calm the nerves of skittish distributors concerned about marketability.  Confident in the strength of the film, the sales/strategy team kept pushing to land a high-profile slot, even when some of the major European festivals turned them down.

Eventually, the film found homes at Sundance, where it won the audience award for world cinema, and Göteborg, where it took prizes for best Nordic film and best actress. The sales team could then build on that January festival buzz when they brought the project to the Berlinale’s European Film Market in February. From Berlin, they managed to sell the film to nearly 30 different territories.

One of those buyers was Harvey’s Thunderbird Releasing, which will distribute the Danish-language picture later this year. Though the U.K. market for international cinema has contracted, Harvey viewed this as an opportunity for a more truthful marketing campaign. “We’re aiming at a very specific audience anyway,” she responded when asked whether Thunderbird would try to avoid a subtitled trailer. “So there’s no point trying to trick them.”

In Lithuania, Racaityte also leveraged festival buzz towards distribution success. As she explained, because “Queen of Hearts” was among the top draw titles at the country-wide Kino Pavasaris festival this spring, Racaityte opened the film’s theatrical window right when the festival came to a close in order to build on the excitement. With 8,000 admissions in the Lithuanian market, that turned out to be a winning strategy.

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