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Nordic Noir in Uncharted Territory

There is no doubt that Nordic Noir has cult followers in places such as the United Kingdom and Australia with BBC Four and Australia’s SBS continuously acquiring the broadcast rights of TV series of this genre such as The Killing and The Bridge. However, in December 2014 during a visit to a bookshop at Indonesia’s Bali airport domestic terminal while waiting for a flight I noticed a Swedish crime novel with an endorsement along the line, “If you like The Killing, you would love this book.” The novel was in English, without a copy translated into Indonesian anywhere to be seen in the shop. That begs the question as to whether Indonesians have watched The Killing. If indeed they are watching, why isn’t there a fanfare like in the UK? Are such novels more targeted towards the expats and tourists then?

In May 2015, the Delegation of the European Union in Indonesia with its partners held their annual European film festival, Europe on Screen. My hometown, Denpasar, was one of the cities selected to welcome the festival with five screenings – three films are from Scandinavian countries, two of which classify under the Nordic Noir genre, Pioneer (Norway) on 4 May and The Keeper of Lost Causes (Denmark) on 7 May. This was a good base to carry out research on the audience awareness of the genre I conducted a mini-survey targeted towards the audience of any of the two films with the help from Alliance Française Bali and Udayana Science Club (USC), a student club at Udayana University, two of the festival partners who helped organise the screenings in Denpasar (a big thank you to both of them). An online questionnaire was created with questions ranging from their impressions of the films to their cultural consumption habits opened throughout the month of June. As I utilised Google Forms, I could not tell which respondent wrote what. Although I initially aimed for twenty respondents, only five respondents completed it.

I attended the screening of Pioneer which had around twenty people viewing. The low turnout was understandable as the screening took place at 3pm during a working day. At the end of the screening a member of the audience remarked the storyline as ‘confusing’ to her peers. No one rebutted even though the screening took place at a higher educational institution in which I expected some rebuttals due to its being an academic community where opinion differences are common.

I did not attend the screening of The Keeper of Lost Causes as I had seen the film before but USC, who handled the screening and the venue, claimed there were more than 160 people attending. When asked why so few people filled the questionnaire despite having a relatively huge turnout, a member of USC responded that it is a common occurrence as they do face difficulties in getting feedback from members of the audience for their other film screenings and it is something they are working on.

As such, the results of the questionnaire may not truly reflect the actual situation. However, there seems to be a certain pattern. 4 out of 5 respondents claimed that they were not aware that Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novel series and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novel series are available at selected Indonesian bookshops, notably Periplus. Four out of five respondents had also never heard of TV series such as The Killing and The Bridge, not even aware of the American adaptations which are shown on a pay-TV channel locally. In fact, another USC member who previewed the questionnaire got mixed up between the Danish pubcaster production The Killing with Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing. Only one respondent has watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the American adaptation) and one respondent answered that he/she has watched a film from a Nordic countries before (The Hunt).

Meanwhile, a pay-TV channel launched in 2012, CinemaWorld Asia, has been airing Arne Dahl and the original Swedish Wallander series as part of its Thriller Friday line up. With the tagline “Take the less traveled route and see the world through the eyes of the best storytellers from around the world”, the channel is hoping to attract more and more people in the East & Southeast Asia and Indian subcontinent to watch films from different parts of the world with subtitles in local languages of respective markets including those of the Nordic Noir genre. The channel, however, faces a challenge in regards to distribution and audience reach as in Indonesia it is so far only available on K-Vision and Orange TV, two relatively minor players in the Indonesian pay-TV sector. Having said that, the channel does seem to have better reaches in the Philippines and Singapore as the channel is available on the major pay-TV players in respective countries. Perhaps it will be available on more Indonesian pay-TV operators, including major ones, soon?

As such, it is too early to tell whether Nordic Noir is a hit or otherwise in this part of the world. Despite the availability of cultural products of this genre, the major determinant whether or not this genre will succeed seems to be awareness. We might have to revisit the issue next year when Europe on Screen returns hopefully still with some selections of Nordic Noir films.

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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.