Sisse Graum Jørgensen, the Zentropa producer behind Thomas Vinterberg’s BAFTA-winning, Oscar-nominated “Another Round,” spoke to Variety about working with Vinterberg, making her TV debut, as well as opportunities and challenges ahead for independent producers.
Graum Jørgensen is primarily known for her long and successful partnerships with some of the most celebrated filmmakers in Denmark, including Vinterberg and Susanne Bier, whose film “In a Better World” won an Oscar in 2011, Anders Thomas Jensen (“Riders of Justice”), Kristian Levring (“The Salvation”), Tobias Lindholm (“A War”), and Kim Fupz Aakeson (“Perfect Sense”). Graum Jørgensen produced the top of highest-grossing Danish films during the pandemic: “Another Round” and Jensen’s “Riders of Justice,” two of which star Mads Mikkelsen. “Riders of Justice” was briefly released in Denmark in the fall before theaters shut down and will be brought back in local cinemas on time for their reopening on May 6.
You’re producing Thomas Vinterberg’s TV drama debut, “Families Like Ours” with Kasper Dissing at Zentropa with whom you teamed on “Another Round.” Can you tell us what this drama series will be about?
The TV series starts at the time where Denmark will be flooded due to climate change. So the whole Danish population will immigrate somewhere else; It will be a series exploring the things that you cannot control in life and it inspiring you to embrace these things as part of your journey. It is very early in the development phase.
Thomas had the idea for the series long before the pandemic but it turns out that it really connects with our times or where we are now in the world today. We are all so concerned about what will what is happening around us, what will happen next, when will this end and at the same time we just need to continue enjoying our lives.
Do you feel that’s also the message of “Another Round”?
Yes I think “Another Round” really struck a chord because it meant something special to the audience. It urges to not only exist, but live your life to the fullest, take the front seat. It’s a beautiful film which makes you feel so alive.
Why do you think a small country Denmark has been able to produce so many award-winning films from auteurs like Vinterberg, Susanne Bier and Tobias Lindholm?
Denmark is only 5.56 million people, and no one understands anything in our language besides us. And we don’t have the same budgets so production-wise, we cannot even compete with (Hollywood or bigger territories).
But we have a special way of producing our films and we are subsidized by the government — producers obtain grants from the Ministry of Culture and that means directors have the final cut. It’s attractive for talent to make films in Denmark in which they can put their personal or original ideas, and where they have the creative power. I think you can do films here that I’m not sure you can do everywhere.
You’ve been able to produce auteur-driven movies like “Another Round” which have a crossover appeal and find an audience not just Denmark but everywhere.
It’s always been very important for me to find the biggest audience for each film that I make. When I started in the industry, I was an assistant to Peter Aalbæk Jensen who founded Zentropa with Lars von Trier, and it was around the time that “Dancing in the Dark” was just completed and we were traveling around to different festivals where the film was opening up. I really got a chance to see the impact that the film had everywhere and it was fantastic to see that film as dense and dark and shot in a foreign language could do. Through the years, I saw that Danish films that talk about our society with our Nordic kind of storytelling, shed light on our values, our way of living, can travel around and world and generate fantastic discussions.
Are you worried about the current situation with theaters and what it means for the collective experience of moviegoing?
I think films can continue to be enjoyed collectively and stir interesting discussions, together with brilliant TV series. Of course the situation with the pandemic is very difficult for theaters who are have been closed for many months in most countries.
But what we do in the film and TV business has maybe never been more important. We had a huge discussion here internally about whether to release “Another Round” last fall because at that time cinemas here in Denmark had been closed for some time and were about to reopen. We were thinking we should we go into the market with this film that we really loved or should we wait until the pandemic is over.
In the end, the film succeeded and got more than 800,000 admissions which is a a huge number here in Denmark where they are only being 5.5 million people. The audience needed to go out and get entertained and needed some films that made them believe in life with characters they could relate to. I think there will always be room for this magical way to be entertained that you can only find in theaters. Of course you will have a lot of strong TV series in the market that people will also enjoy, but I think these things can coexist also in the future. So yes, I believe in theaters and in feature film.
Are you also looking to produce more TV series going forward since you have relationships so with so many great filmmakers who may want to explore this medium?
The way it worked with Thomas is that he came to Kasper and I and told us about his original idea and then we took that idea and figured what was the best way to tell his story. Thomas had in mind to do a kind of saga and we knew that he needed more than a feature film would allow to tell the story, so there was no doubt that the TV format was the best. I think it’s different in many ways to produce TV series and compared to a feature film and and I’m actually looking very much forward to that because it’s also fun to do what you’re not normally doing!
Are you interested in collaborating with streaming services?
I don’t have any close relationship with platforms but I’ve seen some very creative works in film and TV series that have come out of streaming services, especially here in recent years, so I think they’re attractive partners. That said, it’s central for us, Danish producers, to own and keep as many rights as possible when we produce feature films as well as TV series. But there are many opportunities out there and so many different ways of doing things compared to just a couple of years back. There is a whole landscape of new ways of producing and collaborating. We’re lucky to have such a vibrant industry in Europe right now, in spite of the challenges.