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Scandanavian film industry

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News
Article Date: August 16, 2005 | Publication: Hollywood Reporter | Author: Scott Roxborough

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The next generation of Scandinavian filmmakers is emerging from the long shadow of the Dogme movement to make Hollywood-style crowd-pleasers.

Blond ambition : The next generation of Scandinavian filmmakers is emerging from the long shadow of the Dogme movement to make Hollywood-style crowd-pleasers.

Foreign support: Immigrant filmmakers are finding their place in Scandinavian cinema.

Crime pays: Edgy local cop shows are transforming the once-stodgy Scandi TV industry.
As legend has it, on a spring night in 1995, Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg met at a local pub, consumed heroic quantities of beer and composed what would become the infamous Dogme 95 manifesto on a cocktail napkin. Their cinematic "vow of chastity," which included the commandments "No props," "Use available light" and "Genre movies are not acceptable," was intended to transform European cinema by telling stories that were direct, unsentimental and decidedly non-Hollywood.

Dismissed initially as a joke or a marketing ploy, the Dogme movement nonetheless gained steady momentum and even managed to spawn a number of genuine hits. In addition to Vinterberg's 1998 U.S. release "Festen" (The Celebration) and von Trier's 2000 drama "The Idiots," commercial crossovers such as Lone Scherfig's 2002 romantic comedy "Italian for Beginners" and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen's 2000 romantic comedy "Mifune" ensured that Scandinavian film practically would become synonymous with the gritty Dogme aesthetic.

A decade into its existence, though, Dogme has run its course. The movement's "certification office" in Copenhagen shut down in 2002, and even though such films are still being made -- Annette K. Olesen's disturbing 2004 drama "In Your Hands" is the most recent example -- Nordic cinema clearly has moved on.

These days, young Scandinavian filmmakers are abandoning digital video for Cinemascope and are embracing Hollywood conventions instead of attacking them.

What's driving the new breed of Scandinavian auteurs? To many observers, the answer is simple: Just as Dogme was a response to the strictures of conventional Hollywood filmmaking, the new generation appears to be reacting against the inherent limitations -- commercial and artistic -- of the Dogme movement.

"I loved Dogme, but, except for maybe 'Italian for Beginners,' those films just didn't work on a commercial level," one veteran international buyer says. "The stuff coming out of Scandinavia these days is a lot more promising, and the young talent has a much better chance of getting their films seen and becoming well-known outside of Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm or Reykjavik."

Scandinavian talent recently making the jump from local to international fame includes:

Sweden's Mikael Hafstrom, who delivered two mainstream coming-of-age dramas -- 2003's Oscar-nominated "Evil" and 2004's "Drowning Ghost," both local boxoffice hits -- before signing with the newly formed Weinstein Co. for his English-language debut: the high-profile thriller "Derailed," starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston. "Derailed," set for distribution in U.S. theaters in October through Miramax, is the first Weinstein Co. release, so expect Bob and Harvey Weinstein's publicity machine to ensure that the film and its director will be unavoidable during the coming months.

Norwegian helmer Bent Hamer is following the crossover success of his quirky 2004 social comedy "Kitchen Stories" with "Factotum," an adaptation of a Charles Bukowski novel that stars Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei and which was well-received in May at the Festival de Cannes.

Norway's Petter Naess directed 2001's "Elling," perhaps the first knee-slapping comedy featuring a schizophrenic narrator. His English-language debut is the Josh Hartnett-Radha Mitchell starrer "Mozart and the Whale," a love story about a man with Asperger's syndrome that Steven Spielberg originally was set to direct and which is set for an October release stateside.

Iceland's Baltasar Kormakur, who attracted worldwide attention in 2000 with his debut feature "101 Reykjavik," has signed a big-name cast for his sophomore effort "A Little Trip to Heaven," starring Forest Whitaker as an insurance investigator who is sent to a small town to investigate the mysterious death of a con artist. The thriller also stars Julia Stiles, Jeremy Renner and Peter Coyote.

Even Scandinavian art-house directors have moved past Dogme. The goal is still to make low-cost features quickly and with a focus on acting and storytelling, but visually, the new generation has little in common with Dogme's homemade aesthetic. Works such as Christoffer Boe's "Reconstruction," which won the Camera d'Or for best debut feature at the 2003 Festival de Cannes, and "Accused," the directorial debut of Danish film editor Jacob Thuesen (which premiered in competition at this year's Berlin International Film Festival), are visually stunning, carefully crafted films that emphasize strong production values.

"Dogme had a huge effect on Scandinavian film, but let's face it: After a while, you get tired of seeing all those dark rooms and shaky pictures," Norwegian Film Institute managing director Vigdis Lian says.

Scandinavian films as varied as "Factotum," 2004's "Noi Albinoi" from Iceland's Dagur Kari and 2004's "Uno" from Norwegian first-timer Aksel Hennie share a concern for visual elements and composition that more closely resembles classic cinema than Dogme. In addition, the new generation of Scandinavian films departs from the past in terms of geography: While Dogme was nearly exclusively a product of Denmark, the new movement is much more far-reaching.

Sweden, with back-to-back Oscar nominees in "Evil" and "As It Is in Heaven" and bankable directors such Hafstrom and Josef Fares (2000's "Jalla! Jalla!" and 2003's "Kopps"), is considered the Nordic nation to watch, but Norway is gaining ground fast, with films such as "Kitchen Stories" and "Elling" having played successfully throughout Europe.

"Norway was always at a bit of a disadvantage compared to Denmark or Sweden because we didn't even have a film school until just a few years ago," Hennie says. "We are just catching up now: People in the country now realize there is such a thing as Norwegian cinema, and our (local) movies are starting to beat Hollywood films at the boxoffice."

In Norway, the top-grossing local film of all time, the 2003 "Elling" sequel "Mother's Elling," has earned $3.4 million at the boxoffice, putting it on par in the territory with big-budget blockbusters like the recent release "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."

Similar success stories dot the region: "Adam's Apples" earned $3.8 million in receipts in Denmark, making it the second-most-successful release in that nation behind "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," and "As It Is in Heaven" was a massive success in Sweden, busting all previous boxoffice records to take in an angelic $15 million during more than 30 weeks in local theaters.

Even tiny Iceland is beginning to show that it can produce more than eccentric musical acts such as Bjork and Sigur Ros. "Noi" and "101 Reykjavik" were the first Icelandic features to generate attention abroad, and several promising Icelandic productions are in the works, including "Dark Horse," a Kari-helmed comedy about a hopelessly romantic graffiti artist, and the action-adventure "Beowulf & Grendel," from Canadian-Icelandic director Sturla Gunnarsson. Loosely based on the Norse legend of Beowulf, the film tells the bloody tale of a Nordic hero's battle with a murderous troll and stars Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgard and Sarah Polley.

Still, because of Iceland's limited resources, local filmmakers face an uphill battle when it comes to financing.

"Money is always the big problem," the Icelandic Film Center's Gudrun Edda Thorhannesdottir says. "To get a film financed, you almost always have to go outside the country to find partners, and because we are so small, to recoup (its costs), the film has to get sold outside the country."

Money, in fact, is the biggest issue facing the Scandinavian film sector as a whole. Even in the region's largest nation, Sweden, it is rare for a film to make its production costs back from its home territory alone.

Bolstered by the international success of the new wave of Scandinavian films, the Nordic industry is pushing for regional governments to increase film subsidies to levels proportionally equivalent to those in such nations as Germany or France.

"Film still doesn't have the same status in our country as more 'classic' art forms like theater, literature or music," Lian says. "If we want to maintain the momentum generated by the success of recent Scandinavian films, our governments have to put the right financial structures in place."

Nonetheless, as the Dogme filmmakers proved, money doesn't have to be an obstacle to making great movies. In fact, Dogme 95's economic mantra -- make cheap films fast -- could prove a more enduring legacy for the Scandinavian industry than the movement's artistic influence on the region's filmmakers.

"Of course, I am very influenced by American films, especially American indie films, but the effect of Dogme on my generation has been immense," Hennie says. "More than anything else, it is the Dogme attitude, the 'anybody can make movies' idea. As a first-time director with no formal training from a small European country, that was very inspiring."

Published Aug. 16, 2005


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