China: The New Scandinavian Fanbase

I know better than anyone that Swedish film must now appeal to the world audience in order to hold onto its economic power […] We must now think of our audiences in China and Japan, not only in Scandinavia.

– Finnish-Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller ‘Ideal-regissor och regissorideal, 1920’

Looking historically at Scandinavian film and television, the localised films have circulated much earlier than imagined. Mauritz Stiller’s 1920 statement is misleading – Scandinavian films actually went to China as early as 1912. Scandinavian films have always been made for the global audience and were never intended solely for Scandinavian audiences. This is the case with modern Scandinavian film – as we move towards bigger budgets, diverse co-productions and an international cast and crew, our films are becoming increasingly sold around the world.

This year it is China that has taken a large interest in Scandinavian film. With the Beijing International Film Festival in April we saw a special focus on Danish film: seven films screened at the festival and Christina Rosendahl won Best Director for her political thriller The Idealist and Martin Zandvliet’s historical drama Land of Mine winning Best Film. These were the first Danish films to compete in the festival’s six-year history. Furthermore, Zentropa has opened an international office in China, with Zentropa China producing its first film based on a story of Hans Christian Andersen and the idyllic town of Odense, which will no doubt draw Chinese tourists to the region – though that’s another topic altogether.

At this years Cannes Film Festival TrustNordisk secured a sale of ten films to China, practically selling out their entire collection. The Chinese company DD Dream’s acquisitions include Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune, adventure epic The Last King by Nils Gaup, Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Pyromaniac and Vibeke Idsøe’s historical drama The Lion Woman.

HGC Entertainment acquired A Man Called Ove, Mads Matthiesen’s fashion-world drama The Model, Lisa Ohlin’s romantic drama Walk With Me, Nicola Donato’s Across the Waters and Jesper Nielsen’s The Day Will Come, about abuse at a boys home in the 1960s.

These deals were negotiated by TrustNordisk Sales Manager Nicolai Korsgaard, who sat down with Cinema Scandinavia to explain the current interest from Chinese distribution companies.

Cinema Scandinavia: What is the reception towards Scandinavian film like at the Cannes Film Market?

Nicolai Korsgaard: There has been a sold interest ever since the Dogme days began. I don’t feel that there hasn’t been a down period for us. There have been waves where we have been better in some genres and these days we are doing really well with big commercial movies like The Wave from Norway. Now we are working on The Last King which was released in February in Norway. So there’s big interest for these kind of movies as well as all of our director-driven movies, which includes Lars von Trier, Susanne Bier and Thomas Vinterberg. TrustNordisk has always been able to provide something for everyone within all genres, actually. I thought it would be a slow Cannes so we mainly had pre-sales titles, but it ended up being a very busy Cannes. Overall, we had over three hundred meetings in our Cannes office. There were so many buyers. Usually we have an official thirty-minute meeting and it was impossible this year for me so I only did fifteen-minute meetings.

CS: So your focus is the Asian market?

NK: Asia is my main focus. I also do France, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the Middle East. I’m also helping my colleague a little on Latin America.

CS: Which territories do you find are most interested in Scandinavian films?

NK: Europe has always had a strong interest. We are pretty good at selling our movies to the US as well. In Asia it really depends on what kind. These kind of movies that we have presented the last three years like The Wave and The Last King – these are movies that appeal to the Asian audience. Actually, I was just being told that The Wave is opening in Hong Kong this week so that’s very exciting. Also A Man Called Ove is really crazy – it opened yesterday in South Korea and the job that they have done – we are waiting for the first numbers but the work they have done for this movie is impressive. I’m really excited to see how this goes, but A Man Called Ove went really well in Germany and we sold it really well.

CS: There’s been a real trend with the Chinese market lately, especially with Zentropa opening an office in Beijing and the recent winners at the Beijing International Film Festival. Why do you think that is?

NK: Perhaps I was good at making these package deals, but also possibly that we have these big blockbuster films like The Twelfth Man and that’s something that’s really appealing to China. They were just so aggressive in buying and I was just able to sell these films easily.

There were a variety of titles and genres that sold, but I guess it’s difficult. I know and I realise that we won’t get all these movies into cinemas because it’s so difficult in China. I think it’s unofficially thirty-five movies that will pass the censorship this year and enter theatres. TV is easy, and then the other thing is VOD (video on demand), which China is really focusing on because it’s much easier to get movies into there.

They literally bought every movie – I mean the only one I have left is the Lars von Trier movie, but that’s not being released for two years [laughs] and that’s about a serial killer so I don’t think that will be so easy with all the Chinese censorship restrictions. But why have they sold so well? I guess back in the days we’ve always made good quality movies. When I talk to the Chinese buyers and why they want to buy them they tell me it’s because the films are so well produced and we make nice stories and dramas.

CS: You said that Lars von Trier is probably a bit violent, and many Scandinavian films are dark in tone. Does this mean they prefer the family films or big blockbusters?

NK: Oh, yeah, sure. We’re still making the same quality dramas but we are making these new blockbuster movies. This is something that started three or four years ago. We can see demand there and for The Wave, that’s a really great example. That film sold out worldwide. There are still a lot of territories where the film hasn’t opened but Magnolia in the US had The Wave for us and it did tremendously and it’s still playing somewhere in the world. France is premièring The Wave this summer which we are very excited about.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.