The Secret of the Danes

Denmark is one of the smallest countries of Scandinavia, with a minor language and a population of only 5.6 million people. Denmark is almost inconspicuous and yet very startling in terms of television and film. Danish films are frequently screened at international film festivals, like Cannes or the Berlinale, and regularly win important prizes at these festivals. The domestic market share of Danish films belongs to the highest in Europe, and in the annual film top ten in Denmark there are always at least three Danish titles. Furthermore Danish films and series are screened abroad outside the festival circuit, and not only in Europe. Something most other (small) nations can only dream of. In addition to this many Danish directors works abroad. I think everyone has seen or at least knows a title of Danish series or films. Thinking of films like Festen (The Celebration 1998) or Jagten (The Hunt – 2013) or the series Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen, Broen (The Bridge) or one of the newest series called Arvingerne (The Legacy). This has not always been like that, since the 90’s the Danish film and television sector is undergoing a proverbial Second Golden Age; with the current film policy and film talent as two explanatory factors for this success.

Film Policy

The Second Golden Age of the Danish cinema started in the 90’s, in general after the world renowned Dogma Manifest in 1995 in Paris and changes in the film policy of the Danish Film Institute (DFI).

In the ‘80’s Danish films weren’t that popular and even the Danes themselves would rather watch American content. Or in the words of film Scholar Mette Hjort: “Even Danes had little or no time for Danish cinema. If Danes themselves viewed Danish films as well-meaning but boring result of state subsidies, then why should the rest of the world pay attention to this small nation cinema?” Obviously change was needed and came with the introduction of the new Film Act of 1989. With this act the DFI introduced a dual policy for either more artistic and popular films. The already existing consultant scheme was from now on only to ensure the production of artistically valuable films and the new introduced 50/50 scheme was developed to facilitate the production of films with a more popular appeal. By the consultant scheme film consultants evaluate grant applications for artistic films on a substantive, qualitative manner. The 50/50 Scheme is a matching fund, whereby filmmakers themselves provide 50 percent of the budget through the market; the other half comes from the DFI. The 50/50 Scheme can be seen as a supplement to the Consultant Scheme and never had the aim to replace the Consultant Scheme. Filmmakers who couldn’t get subsidy via the Consultant Scheme could now find an alternative funding mechanism to realize their film through the 50/50 Scheme. In 1997 the 50/50 Scheme changed into the 60/40 Scheme whereby 60 percent of the film budget was derived from the DFI and 40 percent of the market. Nowadays both schemes still exist, although the Consultant Scheme has been renamed to Commissioners Scheme and the 60/40 Scheme into the Market Scheme. Remarkably, the most visited Danish movies in Denmark are subsidized through the Market Scheme but there are also films with international success that received funding through this scheme. For instance Stille Hjerte (Silent Hearts – 2014). The films which are mainly international successful, and win prizes at international film festivals, are mostly subsidized through the consultant scheme, like Jagten. Nowadays there is a lot of attention for the Danish ‘model’ in international context with the Netherlands probably as most remarkable example. Since 2013 the Dutch Film Fund implements a film policy to Danish model.

Danish Film Talent

Simultaneously with the substantive policy changes, there was more public money available for film. This money was not only reserved for the production of more films, but also for investing in quality and for the professionalizing of the Danish film market. Key terms of the DFI were cultural and artistic innovation with special attention to talent. To encourage this the Scheme New Danish Screen was created in 2003 for the support of new talent and innovative films. This fund was inspired by the success of the Dogma 95 movement whereby low budget filmmaking was one of the norms. An example of an international remarkable movie that received subsidy through New Danish Screen is Applaus (Applause – 2009). Simultaneously with the policy changes, there was more serious attention to film talent with the professionalizing of the National Film School of Denmark (NFSD). This state school has the current status as one of the world’s most successful film schools. Most of the internationally acclaimed Danish filmmakers associated with the Second Golden Age like Bille August, Thomas Vinterberg, Lars von Trier and Susanne Bier have studied at this institution. Their international recognition has ensured that the government invested in the development of the Danish film industry. Because of this, it developed into one of the most successful film industries of Europe nowadays.

This concludes that the interplay between film policy and talent forms the factors behind the current Danish film success. Without talent there would be no films like Hævnen (In a Better World – 2010), Jagten or Stille Hjerte and without film policy there would be no money to make these wonderful productions happen. A balance between these two factors must always remain.    


Hjort, Mette., Jørholt, Eva., Redvall, Eva Novrup. Danish Directors 2. Dialogues on the New Danish Fiction Cinema. Bristol: Intellect, 2010.

Petrie, Duncan., Hjort, Mette., Cinema of Small Nations. Indiana: Indiana U.P., 2008.

CategoriesFeatures Issue 7
Birgit De Bruin

Birgit de Bruin is a Masters student Media Studies and Art Policy and Art Management at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Currently she is completing research why Danish drama series are so popular in Europe. Birgit is interested in representation of Danish culture, gender and also in writing and production processes of Danish public service television drama. Birgit’s previous work is mainly about representation of gender or cultural minorities in Dutch television series from the Dutch public broadcaster NPO. Furthermore has Birgit a broad interest in culture and media policy of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and the European Union.