With all eyes on Scandinavia to find the next lucrative international franchise, Norway is stepping into the frame.

A four-minute promo reel in the European Film Market at this year’s Berlinale set the ball rolling. Six months later, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s thriller Headhunters has been sold to more than 30 countries, including to Magnolia Pictures for North America.

The film made its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival earlier this month and is released by Nordisk Film Distribution in its home territory on August 26. Based on Jo Nesbo’s best-selling crime novel, it is produced by Christian Frederik Martin and Asle Vatn’s Friland with Sweden’s Yellowbird and local major Nordisk.

Headhunters is one of the biggest and best-selling Nordic films in our 2011 line-up,” says Rikke Ennis, managing director of the film’s sales agent TrustNordisk. “But in general something has happened to Norwegian cinema which is making it easier to do business. It has become edgy — it has found the recipe for travelling across borders without making artistic compromises.

“The scripts are excellent, directors such as Tyldum, Anne Sewitsky and Hans Petter Moland know what to do with them, and public funding seems to go to the right projects.”

It is now two years since Norway signed the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production, making it simpler for Norwegian producers to set up and take part in European co-productions. At the time Nina Refseth, managing director of the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI), declared “the internationalisation of the film industry is one of our main objectives”.

‘Local producers are developing more ambitious projects’

Ivar Kohn, Norwegian Film Institute

As Norwegian films start to make their mark on the international market, Refseth is right to believe that mission has been accomplished. Two very different films — Joachim Trier’s serious and sombre arthouse title Oslo, August 31st, which was well received at Cannes this year where it played in Un Certain Regard, and Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s stylish high-school comedy Turn Me On, Goddammit, which won the best screenplay award at Tribeca — are generating buzz both with foreign buyers and on the festival circuit.

“One of the early results is more Norwegian entries in festivals and markets,” agrees Refseth. “Norwegian directors are increasingly working on international projects, and Norwegian producers are participating in co-productions. We also have a long-term strategy for this, including an educational programme, NFI:LAB.”

Attractive partner

Norway produces around 25 features annually. According to the NFI, local films have taken more than 20% of the total local box office in the past three years, selling around 2.5 million tickets in total a year.

“Norwegian producers are now developing more ambitious projects,” says the NFI’s head of production, Ivar Kohn. “To meet the subsequently larger budgets, they are becoming more active in raising foreign financing.”

For example, Sara Johnsen’s $5.3m All That Matters Is Past has been packaged with Swedish and Danish partners, pre-sales and European support via Eurimages, while the Nordic region’s first 3D-produced film, Magic Silver 2

‘Norwegian cinema has become edgy — it’s found the recipe for travelling across borders without making artistic compromises’

Rikke Ennis, TrustNordisk

“We are also seeing co-productions with countries which do not traditionally operate in Norway, such as Germany’s Zinnober/B&T Film and Knudsen & Streuber/Schwarzweiss Filmproduktion, which have worked with Helgeland Film and Neofilm to make Georg Maas’ Two Lives and Matthias Glasner’s Mercy respectively,” says Kohn.

A Norwegian co-producer is now an attractive international partner. As a rule, NFI funding can contribute $200,000-$500,000 to a project, with producers able to raise the same amount again from regional funds to help with the local release. As Norway is also a member of Eurimages, Norwegian participation in a slew of recent projects including Jens Lien’s Sons Of Norway and Pal Sletaune’s Babycall, has helped each project access Eurimages.

Kohn believes Norway’s growing international stature is only the beginning. “Norwegian technicians have a high professional standard, they are cost-efficient. They often work in smaller teams than in other territories. We’re a small country, open to innovation and already familiar with the digital landscape. In all modesty, I think Norway is a film nation of the future,” he smiles.

By the numbers: NORWAY

Population: 4.9 million

Average ticket price: $16.50

Number of screens: 410

Number of digital screens: 410

Number of theatres: 185

Total number of admissions, Jan-June 2011: 5.3 million (4.2% up on Jan-June 2010)

Admissions for Norwegian films: 917,743 (10.4% up on Jan-June 2010)

Local market share: 17.4% (16.4% in 2010)

Source: Film & Kino