Could this be Norway’s year at the Oscars? An unprecedented number of Norwegian productions and co-productions are on this year’s shortlists, exciting the domestic media, industry and audiences.

“Recognition from the Oscars is a great inspiration for all of us who have an ambition to reach outside our own borders,” says Yngve Saether of Motlys, who served as executive producer of Norway’s shortlisted international feature submission “Hope.” “And it builds confidence. Even though it’s a long way to four nominations, the shortlistings are welcome reminders that our films have something to do out there.”

Likewise, Anita Larsen, producer of the documentary “Gunda,” about the life cycle of a majestic Norwegian sow, through her company Sant og Usant, says: “I believe this will create a broader interest both for Norwegian stories, filmmakers and new co-productions opportunities.”

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Courtesy of Egil Håskjold Larsen/Sant & Usa

“Hope,” an intense and well-liked personal drama from helmer Maria Sødahl, is reckoned to be a shoo-in for a nomination in the international feature film category. Even before the shortlist came out, Variety reported that Academy Award and Emmy winner Nicole Kidman would executive produce and star in a television series based on the film for her company Blossom Films and Amazon Studios. U.S. distributor KimStim is narrowing down a spring release date. KimStim’s Mika Kimoto says, “ ‘Hope’ is a hidden gem that shows Norway’s strong commitment to high-level, award-winning, internationally accessible films.”

Also anticipated to score a nomination is minority co-production “Quo Vadis, Aida?” from Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanic. The Norwegian co-producer, Eric Vogel of Tordenfilm, says, “Our involvement, with support from the Norwegian Sørfond, was an opportunity for us to contribute in a small way to telling such a powerful story. That the film has made it to the Oscar shortlist is an excellent bonus.”

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Courtesy of Autlook

On the documentary feature side, the stranger-than-fiction friendship story “The Painter and the Thief,” from helmer Benjamin Ree, and the Norway-U.S. co-production “Gunda,” directed by Victor Kossakovsky, both in U.S. distribution through Neon, look competitive amidst a 15-pic strong shortlist. “When we acquire films, we look for the best, most unique films around the world. This year, Norway just so happened to make two of them,” says Jeff Deutchman, Neon’s EVP of acquisitions.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Norway co-production “Do Not Split” by Norwegian director Anders Hammer is among the documentary short subject contenders.

Northern Norway, a section of the country with its own special film funds and incentives, is represented by Torfinn Iversen’s “The Kicksled Choir,” one of 10 candidates in the live-action short category. And the Norwegian-Latvian memoir, “My Favorite War,” directed by Ilze Burkovska-Jacobsen, is one of 27 titles hoping for a nod in the animated feature category.

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My Favorite War (2020)
Credit: Ego Madia
Courtesy of Ego Madia

What does this historically high number of shortlisted productions mean for the Norwegian and international film business? Kjersti Mo, CEO of the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI), revels in the recognition for the quality and span of Norwegian production. As the NFI seeks to boost the market share of domestic titles from 2018’s 25% to 30%, the awards buzz looks like a boon.

“At a time where many cinemas are closed, or at least have a limited access to international titles, there has been a growing local interest in watching Norwegian films,” she says. “The news about the short lists brings new attention to the digital market for these films.”

Producer Saether, whose new production, “Ninjababy,” will play at the upcoming Berlinale and SXSW, attributes the recognition of the nonfiction titles to “long-term investment in innovative documentaries from both the Norwegian documentary filmmaker community and the NFI.” Likewise, he notes, a film like “Hope” doesn’t come out of nowhere, “but as the result of a willingness and ability in the Norwegian industry to engage a larger and more demanding audience in what I like to call high-concept arthouse movies. Films with an edge and personality, but also with a wider appeal.”

Certainly, sales agents such as Susan Wendt, managing director of TrustNordisk, who represents “Hope,” and Autlook Filmsales’ Salma Abdalla, who has “The Painter and the Thief” and Cinephil’s Philippa Kowarsky, who is selling “Gunda,” are already experiencing the fruits of the Oscar buzz. “Hope” sold very well across the world, says Wendt, “but the shortlist announcement has already reawakened interest from the territories still unsold, which very likely will result in additional sales … sales that otherwise would not had happened at this stage … 1½ years after the film’s world premiere in Toronto.”