Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives.
Despite having a strong film industry creatively – recent Swedish films include Roy Andersson’s Toronto Film Festival player “About Endlessness” and Sweden’s Oscar entry in the International Feature Film category, Levan Akin’s “And Then We Danced” – Sweden is among a forlorn group of just four countries in the European Union and the European Economic Area that still don’t have a national government-funded film and TV filming incentive.
Whereas Finland, Norway and Iceland, with their 25% incentives, are more sought after location destinations for foreign producers, Sweden and Denmark – the most prolific countries of Nordic cinema – are still waiting for their first national rebates to be introduced.
Recently, more than 10 key figures from different Swedish film and TV outfits and organizations came together to issue a joint-statement on the urgency to establish incentives in Sweden. The article, published in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Aug. 23, drew on a 2017 parliamentary paper that recommended the setting up of a 25% cash rebate on qualifying film and TV production spend in Sweden. For this initiative, the government would need to earmark an annual budget of SEK 300 million ($30.3 million). The leading decision-makers of Swedish cinema are now lobbying the government to include a national initiative in the 2020 fall budget.
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Mikael Fellenius, CEO of Film i Vast, is one of those lobbying for the incentives as he sees them as the best way to keep Swedish projects at home, and attract international productions.
In May, Film i Vast helped launch Sweden’s first filming incentive program, albeit a regional one. A rebate of SEK 6 million ($607,000) on a SEK 40 million ($4.05 million) spend, paid for by the local region, Vastra Gotalandsregionen, and administered by Film i Vast, went to Yellowbird’s TV reboot of “Irene Huss.”
Fellenius reports a great deal of interest in this “important pilot,” which could also pave the way for a similar launch on a national level. “Currently we’re in talks with regional politicians about the possibility to extend the project, and hopefully being able to achieve a fully built regional system of around SEK 18 million [$1.82 million], which also can be combined with national investments.”
A number of Swedish productions have moved outside the country – or not been made at all – due to the lack of a national incentive scheme, Fellenius says.
A major part of “Borg vs. McEnroe,” for example, one of Film i Vast’s coproductions, was shot in the Czech Republic, where the production profited from incentives. SF Studios, the film’s producer, plans to allocate all or major parts of the filming of its upcoming slate abroad, Fellenius says, for the same reason. He adds that Film i Vast had been ready to invest a substantial sum in Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” but the lack of incentives in Sweden led to the film being shot in the U.S. instead.
SF Studios’ CEO Michael Porseryd, another heavyweight behind the joint declaration, says that a big part of “The Emigrants,” produced by Fredrik Wikstrom Nicastro, would have been shot in Sweden if the conditions were better. “Parts of the film would still need to be done in the U.S. since the film requires American locations,” says Porseryd. “But the rest of the shoot, which is the main part, will now take place in the Czech Republic.”
The incentives are not just about the rebate, it concerns a wider issue, says Porseryd. “With production incentives we’ll be forced to build a vital film industry that offers both skills and efficient infrastructure. Given the rapidly increasing demand from TV channels and streaming services, it’s already a challenge today. Training of film workers has to be prioritized and stimulated,” he says.
B-Reel Films’ Patrik Andersson, both the producer and the originator of “Midsommar,” says that incentives could have led Ari Asters’ film to be shot in Sweden, rather than Hungary, where it shot in the end. The film, starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter, was an indie film success, grossing $36 million worldwide. “Hypothetically, yes. We had a very precise time frame when we needed the film to happen, so it was more about having the time to create the film’s entire world,” says Andersson. “The advantage would of course have been the uniquely Swedish and amazingly beautiful nature. That compromise was the most painful for us all. The drawback at home would have been the insufficient infrastructure and the extra costs.”
Andersson agrees that incentives are the most obvious measure to keep productions within Sweden. “Now no international productions come to Sweden whereas bigger and more ambitious Swedish productions go abroad to get more money on the big screen. This means that Swedish film workers are kept further and further away from big productions and therefore miss out on invaluable experience, artistic input and an exchange of knowledge.”
Next year, Ruben Ostlund – best known for winning the Palme d’Or with “The Square” – starts the shoot for his SEK 100 million ($10.1 million)-budgeted “Triangle of Sadness” with a stellar international cast and a faithful Swedish crew. About 50% of the shoot will take place in Film i Vast’s studio in Trollhattan, says Plattform producer Erik Hemmendorff, whereas the rest will be in Greece, the production profiting from a cash rebate of 35% of the Greek spend.
“I will always try to shoot in Sweden if the story takes place here, since we want to hold on to the Swedish production model, and to be able to have continuity with the team that are part of our films,” says Hemmendorff. “But for a production like Mia Hansen-Love’s ‘Bergman Island’ [shot on the Swedish island of Faro, Ingmar Bergman’s home], which we co-produced, production incentives would have made it possible to work with a bigger Swedish team.”
NORDIC FILMS AT FALL FESTS
Director: Roy Andersson
Producers: Johan Carlsson, Pernilla Sandstrom, Philippe Bober
Key cast: Martin Serner, Jessica Louthander, Tatiana Delaunay
Venice competitor and the only Nordic director in Toronto’s Masters section, Swedish veteran Roy Andersson adds to his cinematic oeuvre by weaving together multiple vignettes with a reflection on human life in all its beauty and harshness. Andersson’s previous film “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” won the Golden Lion in Venice in 2014.
Director: Grimur Hakonarson
Producer: Grimar Jonsson
Key cast: Arndis Hronn Egilsdottir, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, Sigurdur Sigurjonsson
A David and Goliath tale about a farmer whose defiance of her local co-op brings her face to face with its dark underside. Grimur Hakonarson’s “Rams” won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes in 2015.
Director: Jorunn Myklebust Syversen
Producer: Maria Ekerhovd
Key cast: Espen Klouman Hoiner, Fredericke Rustad Hellerud, Josefine Frida Pettersen
When a champion dancer begins to falter, her family questions her faith and requests her to search for more radical solutions. “Disco” looks at contemporary Christian cults through the eyes of teenaged Mirjam, played by Josefine Frida Pettersen from the hit series “Skam.”
Director: Maria Sodahl
Producer: Thomas Robsahm
Key cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Andrea Braein Hovig
A love story where the relationship between artists Tomas and Anja is severely challenged after she gets a life-threatening brain metastasis. Cinematography by Lars von Trier regular Manuel Alberto Claro.
Director: Zaida Bergroth
Producer: Daniel Kuitunen, Evelin Penttila, Kaisla Viitala
Key cast: Pihla Viitala, Satu Tuuli Karhu, Saga Sarkola
Based on a real-life scandal in 1920s Finland, “Maria’s Paradise” tells the story of a teenage girl who begins to question the life of the religious sect in which she has been raised. Zaida Bergroth returns to Toronto two years after her critically acclaimed “Miami.”
“My Life as a Comedian”
Director: Rojda Sekersoz
Producer: Martin Persson
Key cast: Johan Rheborg
Novelist Jonas Gardell adapts his own bestseller about growing up as a perceptive outsider in 1970s Sweden. Told in flashbacks by a comedian who’s reflecting on his youth. Rojda Sekersoz’s debut “Beyond Dreams” gained her the Best Newcomer Award at the Swedish Guldbagge Awards last year.
Director: Daniel Joseph Borgman
Producer: Katja Adomeit, Peter Aalbaek Jensen
Key cast: Peter Plaugborg, Vivelill Sogaard Holm, Sofie Grabol
Based on Ane Riel’s crime novel, “Resin” goes beneath the surface of the seemingly idyllic existence of a family living on a remote island. A brutal drama commences when the daughter of the family questions her parents’ worldview.
“A White, White Day”
Director: Hlynur Palmason
Producer: Anton Mani Svansson
Key cast: Ingvar Sigurdsson, Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir, Hilmir Snaer Gudnason
Received with critical praise in Cannes’ Critics’ Week, the film centers on a grieving police officer in rural Iceland who turns his vengeful sights on a neighbor he suspects may have had an affair with his now-deceased wife. Delicate performance by lead actor Ingvar Sigurdsson and ace lensing from Maria von Hausswolff.