Despite their international profile, Danish films are struggling for market share at home, and financing is under pressure.
Danish film-makers continue to achieve international profile. Janus Metz’s Afghanistan war documentary Armadillo took the grand prix at Critics’ Week in Cannes this year, while both Thomas Vinterberg’s Submarino and Pernille Fischer Christensen’s A Family screened in competition at Berlin earlier this year. But Denmark’s producers are soul-searching after a poor 2009 which saw only one of 32 local productions make it into the year-end top 10. Danish films claimed a local market share of just 17% in 2009, down 43% on 2008, the weakest performance in 10 years.
“Last year local audiences were simply disappointed; neither the artistic nor the commercial films delivered the goods,” explains Henrik Bo Nielsen, managing director of the Danish Film Institute (DFI). Meanwhile the industry is waiting for the government to announce a new film policy agreement which will define the industry’s financial future from 2011-14. Due in late summer, the previous agreement in 2007 released an annual $76.9m (DKR450m) state funding in support of films. Most Danish productions are subsidised through the DFI.
Thomas Heinesen, head of production and development at Nordisk Film Production points out the maximum amount of public funding available for a feature has not changed for eight years. “Obviously, in these years, the costs have gone up,” he says. “At the same time, the possibilities of getting foreign money have been reduced. Accordingly the financing of each feature is under pressure.”
Producers can apply for investment from local broadcasters, but accessing the money can be difficult if the project is not aimed at a broad audience. “The television stations annually allocate $26m (DKR145m) for local film production,” Nielsen explains. “Their participation is essential, both money-wise and as a window for Danish cinema. But since their main concern is prime-time ratings, they’re not always ready to back the films we find important.”
The first three months of 2010 have already seen some improvement for Danish films at the local box office, with a market share of 19%, helped particularly by the latest instalment of Claus Bjerre’s Father Of Four franchise, Kenneth Kainz’s comedy Therapy, and Charlotte Sachs Bostrup’s children’s film Karla & Jonas.
Other anticipated productions include Lars von Trier’s $7.5m Melancholia, which Zentropa co-founder Peter Aalbaek Jensen bills as “a beautiful film about the end of the world,” starring Kirsten Dunst, John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling and Charlotte Gainsbourg; Lasse Hallstrom’s $19m The Royal Physician’s Visit, adapted from PO Enquist’s novel; Susanne Bier’s Zentropa-produced In A Better World, which Sony Pictures Classics picked up for North America at Cannes; Nikolaj Arcel’s Truth About Men, also produced by Zentropa; and Denmark’s first stereoscopic 3D animated feature, Jorgen Lerdam’s The Olsen Gang Gets Polished, from Nordisk.
Zentropa’s Aalbaek Jensen is characteristically direct in his assessment of the situation. “During the last two or three years, our films have simply not been good enough. I am myself to blame,” he says. “Don’t hold the filmmakers responsible - a lot of them have been very busy outside Denmark.”
As a consequence, Aalbaek Jensen last year made three promotions to the management at Zentropa’s Copenhagen headquarters: producers Sisse Graum Jorgensen, Louise Vesth and head of administration Anders Kjaerhauge. “For many years it has been too easy to make films in Denmark, which has convinced a lot of people in the industry that they can walk on water,” he says. “In the US they used to say there are four flops to a success; in Denmark the score has been much higher.”
Per Holst, whose credits include Lasse Hallstrom’s Pelle The Conqueror, points out Danish audiences, especially the young demographic, have become more US-centric. “It’s difficult for our films, both story and production-wise, to match the quality of US cinema, and for our own stars to break through,” he says. “We must make better and more contemporary comedy, and our drama must be more genre-focused.
Holst, who points to web distribution as a way of further improving the distribution of Danish films, has most recently released Nicolo Donato’s Brotherhood in Denmark. Holst’s Asta Film will shortly begin shooting the sequel to Lotte Svendsen’s Max Embarrassing, while co-producing Swedish director Lisa Ohlin’s Simon And The Oaks and preparing Donato’s next project.
DENMARK AT A GLANCE, 2009
Population 5.5 million
Size of box office $152m (DKR837m), up 4.8% on 2008
Admissions 14.1 million
Number of theatrical releases 216
Number of locally produced theatrical releases 32
Market share of local films 17%
Source: Danish Film Institute