Danish Cinema Hitting on All Cylinders at Home and Abroad

The Danish film industry is on a roll this year with berths secured at major festivals besides the Berlinale where Lone Scherfig’s “The Kindness of Strangers” landed the opening slot, just as Susanne Bier’s Sandra Bullock starrer “Bird Box” is breaking records on Netflix and first-timer Gustav Möller’s “The Guilty” made the foreign-language Oscar shortlist.

It’s a particularly good time because different types of local productions are performing well both at home, where the domestic share of total admissions was a strong 29% in 2018, and in the international arena, which is seeing a new generation of Danish directors coming to the fore.

Last year there were 26 homegrown titles released in Denmark that sold 3.8 million tickets total, up from 2.5 million tickets in 2017, when the national market share was 20%.

Aside from new works by known names such as Christoffer Boe, whose high-profile crimer “The Purity of Vengeance” topped the 2018 chart, several pics by up-and-coming Danes scored, including Christian Tafdrup’s clever comedy “A Horrible Woman,” his second feature, and high-concept, low-budget thriller “The Guilty,” which launched last year from Sundance, and is now set for a U.S. remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Sundance this year has just seen the launch of two promising Danish pics, prize-winning journalist-filmmaker Mads Brügger’s documentary “Cold Case Hammarskjöld,” which delves into the mysterious 1961 death of U.N. secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, and of brooding erotic drama “Queen of Hearts” by soph director May el-Toukhy and toplined by Trine Dyrholm as a high-powered lawyer who seduces her teenage stepson.

Political thriller “Sons of Denmark,” directed by first-timer Ulaa Salim and depicting the country’s right-wing extremist youths — albeit in a futuristic setting — recently bowed at the Rotterdam Film Festival, where it opened the Tiger Competition section.

Danish Film Institute director Claus Ladegaard says over the past three or four years he’s seen the emergence of a new generation of directors, eight to 10 of whom he thinks are on track to become prominent internationally.

“We are in the middle, or maybe near the end of a transition period,” that is bringing new Danes to foreign film fame, he says.

As with Bier, who is basically not working in Denmark anymore, several other Danish directors have made Hollywood their homebase. They include Nikolaj Arcel (“The Dark Tower”) and Nicolas Winding Refn, whose hotly anticipated series debut, “Too Old to Die Young,” is expected to launch soon on Amazon.

“Kindness of Strangers” marks Scherfig’s first Danish film in years, albeit shot in the English language. The New York-set ensemble drama with a starry cast comprising Tahar Rahim, Zoe Kazan, Andrea Riseborough and Bill Nighy, produced by Malene Blenkov for Denmark’s Creative Alliance and Canada’s Strada Films, follows four features, including her Oscar-nominated Nick Hornby adaptation “An Education,” all made by Scherfig in the U.K.

But a big effort is under way in Denmark to provide and maintain the best working environment for directors to remain on their home turf.

Denmark’s new right-wing parliament recently approved a film agreement that earmarks €75 million ($84.7 million) in yearly subsidies for Danish movies through 2023 that contains some challenging provisos such as having to maintain its current 29% level of moviegoers drawn to domestic titles.

“There has been discussion in Denmark about: ‘why support films for the international market; why not just make local films?’,” says Petri Kemppinen, head of the Oslo-based Nordisk Film & TV Fund, which backs movies and series from all five Nordic countries.

Kemppinen notes that Denmark is also the only country in the Nordics without an incentive to attract international productions and that could be considered an isolationist stance. However, he points out that film policy in Denmark is under “constant discussion,” which actually makes for a “more vibrant” ecosystem than its neighbors.

One of the great strengths of the Danish industry is that it’s “a close-knit community,” says Susan Wendt, managing director of sales powerhouse TrustNordisk. “The older and newer generations are helping each other.”

The country has a great system to foster filmmaking, starting with strong film schools and moving on to the Danish Film Institute and its New Danish Screen scheme that funds low-budget features, documentaries, hybrids, series and cross-media projects. They form young directors and production teams “not just money-wise, but also in terms of guidance and know-how,” Wendt says. Plus there is a close collaboration between the DFI and broadcasters.

Just as new directors are emerging, so are young companies such as Profile Pictures, producer of Danish rookie Fenar Ahmad’s hit 2017 thriller “Darkland”; Snowglobe, which has been working with non-Danish auteurs, but is stepping up production of domestic films, and has Danish doc “Western Arabs,” directed by Omar Shargawi, in Berlin’s Panorama section; and Nordisk Film Production’s talent development unit, Spring, which produced “The Guilty.”

The Danish outfit most adept at crossing over between film and TV is Jonas Allen and Peter Bose’s Miso Film, which made Netflix’s first Danish original, “The Rain,” which bowed last year to positive reviews and was reupped for a second season, and also “The Way to Mandalay,” a biopic of beloved musician John Mogensen that scored second place in the country’s 2018 box-office chart.


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