Swedish Movie Biz at a Crossroads

·5 min read

Half a dozen Sweden pics and co-prods are set to storm the Croisette, flagships of the solid public support system in place, and fully or partly shot in a foreign language. Headlining the slate are the completion entries “Triangle of Sadness” by former winner Ruben Östlund (“The Square”), shot in the English language, and the Arabic-speaking thriller “Boy From Heaven” by Tarik Saleh (“The Nile Hilton Incident”), set in Cairo. Meanwhile, the Iranian/Danish Ali Abbasi (“Border”) is debuting in the main competition with the Farsi-language “Holy Spider,” majority-Danish produced with Sweden among co-production partners.

Elsewhere, the parallel section ACID is showcasing the Swedish doc “How to Save a Dead Friend” by Russia’s Marusya Syroechkovskaya, and three Swedish co-prods are bowing at Un Certain Regard: “Godland” by Iceland’s Hlynur Pálmason, “Sick of Myself” by Norway’s Kristoffer Borgli and “Butterfly Vision” by Ukrainian Maksym Nakonechnyi.

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“Swedish filmmakers are increasingly telling stories set outside Sweden, tackling universal themes,” says Magdalena Jangard, head of production at the Swedish Film Institute (SFI), who handles a 318 million kroner ($32.4 million) production budget for 2022 across feature-length fiction films, docs and shorts.

“This year’s outstanding slate follows up on the Cannes Label selected ‘Pleasure,’ set in the L.A. porn industry, and last year’s Directors’ Fortnight’s ‘Clara Sola,’ set in Costa-Rica. Swedish films are becoming more international, and this is partly thanks to our public-funding system that empowers artistic freedom,” Jangard says.

The SFI executive says the long-term director-producer partnerships between Östlund and Plattfom Produktion’s Erik Hemmendorff, or Saleh and Atmo’s Kristina Åberg, are part of the success equation. “You can’t do it on your own,” she notes.

Swedish films’ creative renaissance has been hailed across all genres, from the young-oriented “Comedy Queen” (Berlinale Crystal Bear winner), to the hybrid rural France-set “Excess With Save You” (Rotterdam Special Jury winner), both backed by the SFI’s low-budget scheme Moving Sweden. The full documentary sector is also enjoying a bumper year.

However, despite the international kudos, Swedish films are struggling at home, unlike in the neighboring Nordic countries. Last year’s 12.6% Swedish film market-share — due mostly to COVID restrictions — wasn’t far off the 13.2% share of 2019, which hit one of the lowest points in decades.

“The low market-share is a problem with the mainstream films – not arthouse films,” says TriArt’s Mattias Nohrborg, Swedish distributor of “Holy Spider,” “Boy From Heaven” and the other Palme d’Or entries “Tori and Lokita,” “Broker” and “Mother and Son.”

“Mainstream Swedish films aren’t good enough. We, as an industry, have to critically look at what we’re doing. If you deliver bad comedies, people simply won’t come back.” Nohrborg, who also produces via B-Reel Films, cites his feature “I Am Zlatan” — currently playing strongly in Sweden — as the type of quality mainstream film that Swedes are probably craving for.

But post-COVID, Swedes haven’t fully returned to theaters, and the streaming boom is affecting the traditional Swedish public funding eco-system, forced to reassess its role.

Kristina Börjeson, head of production at leading Scandinavian regional fund Film i Väst, which co-produces 10-15 Swedish films a year, says she has seen a clear drop in film applications due to the series boom.

“We see all types of talents moving to drama series, including female directors, who seem to view it as a safer environment.”

Quizzed about the urgent measures needed to sustain Swedish film, Tim King, exec VP production at the Scandinavian major SF Studios, says: “At the risk of repeating a consistent mantra from the industry, a working production incentive stands high on the list of needs in Sweden. Secondly, we’ll need a clearer strategic direction from the SFI on how they’re planning to adjust to the new world of streaming, something that hopefully will become clearer with their new CEO on board [Anette Novak].”

For King, one of the possible options, mentioned in the recent Film i Väst paper Public Film Fund at a Crossroads, would be for the SFI to invest more coin in fewer films.

“The idea is to support cinematic films in a crowded space. So far, we haven’t seen this actually happen,” he says.

Börjeson offers a more nuanced position: “I don’t necessarily think that there should be fewer films, as talents need to practice to improve their skills, but it’s about what type of content should go on theatrical or VOD. This is a discussion to have with all players, including the platforms,” she says.

Regarding the 25% filming incentive worth $10.1 million that the Swedish government said would be introduced in 2022, its implementation will most likely be pushed to 2023, according to Film i Väst’s CEO Mikael Fellenius.

“It is a bit unclear, but it is assumed that the accessible amount will then double up to SEK 200 million [$20.3 million] during 2023,” he says.

In the context of general elections to be held in September, film — and related dossiers such as the Audiovisual Media Services Directive — might not be on the Swedish government’s priority list. The industry will have to wait, but is grateful in the meantime, for the $102 billion COVID crisis funding pumped into the sector so far.

“It’s a bumpy road. There is a crisis in the film sector, but I believe in the survival of cinema, with new financing models and shorter windows. The very positive sign is that there is no crisis in artistic value and storytelling, and eventually the audience who is in the drivers’ seat will come back to the cinemas,” Jangard says.

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