‘To Tell the World We Are Here’: An Interview with Tina Wagner Sørensen, Head of the Faroese Film Institute

Several years of continuous efforts of the local film community, combined with support from the government, have recently led to the establishment of the Faroese Film Institute or Filmshúsið (Film House). This comes at a time when a new generation of talented Faroese film-makers has started to emerge. And apart from helping to strengthen the local film community and offering professional film courses and training, the Institute also aims at attracting foreign productions to shoot on the Faroe Islands as well as to promote Faroese film abroad.

To learn more, Cinema Scandinavia sat down with Tina Wagner Sørensen who got appointed as the Head of the Faroese Film Institute not a long time ago. We met Tina at the Danish Film School in Copenhagen to talk about the Institute and its activities, and the current developments in Faroese film.

For starters, please tell us about your professional background.

For the last 25 years, I have been the Head of the Post-graduate Training at the Danish Film School. We set up the department, which is supported by the Ministry of Culture, back in 1996. I actually tried to get into the Danish Film School as an editor, but as I normally say, they couldn’t see my talent and rejected me. But I ended up being there anyway. I have done all kinds of formats such as short courses, tool-based courses and seminars. I have also been working as a Nordic co-ordinator doing lots of activities in the Nordic countries and I have hosted international seminars with guests from all over the world. Because of that, I have really good connections in both the Nordic countries and elsewhere. I think it is a good background to have when it comes to the Faroe Islands.

When did you start as the Head of the Faroese Film Institute?

I started on the first of March, so only a few months ago. It was so positive for me to see that there was political motivation and support to create a film institute there. It’s too early to talk about the film industry, but we can talk definitely about the film environment in the country.

Atlantic Rhapsody, one of the first Faroese films

What circumstances have led to the establishment of the Institute?

Between 1984 and 2017, there was only one film director named Katrin Ottarsdóttir making films, and therefore she had a fantastic impact. She graduated from the Danish Film School back in 1984 and has directed four feature films. Her films were shot on the Faroe Islands and in the Faroese language, and the stories are coming from the DNA of the Faroe Islands. So I was very surprised when I realised that there was actually much more talent on the island than I expected. That was really positive and gave me a lot of motivation. For example, Nina [Maria Winther Olsen, 2018] and Dreams by the Sea [Sakaris Stórá, 2017] have been released recently, and, as I see it, there are at least four to six other feature film directors in the pipeline. I feel it is almost a wave. Because the economy is quite strong on the Faroe Islands right now, there is a lot of interest in Faroese food for example, so a lot of people now suddenly got an eye on the Faroe Islands. I’d say it is quite similar to what happened in Denmark twenty years ago when the film industry had a new wave. Of course, it was in part thanks to Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95, but Denmark was also changing: we had a strong design tradition and experienced very interesting restaurant development.

What are the main activities of the Institute?

We have several focuses. First of all, we handle and set up a structure for foreign productions that want to film in the Faroe Islands. In late December 2017, the government decided to offer a tax reimbursement of 25% to foreign film crews. To be able to receive that, the story has to be about the Faroe Islands. That is one of the requirements. So right now I am working on translating that law from Faroese and trying to find a frame how to navigate it. I will also try to set up a framework that can increase jobs for film-makers and film workers on the Faroe Islands. Of course, we would like to offer as much local work as we can. Related to this, we aim at helping Faroese directors to boost their talent, to make them even better and to let the world finally see them. Also, to put the Faroese Islands on the map of international cinema.

Besides that, we need to take care of the financing. Although we have a small Film Fund (under the Ministry of Culture), it is not connected to our Institute, as ours is under the Ministry of Trade. I do hope we’ll be able to generate results so that the government will increase both the Film Fund’s and the Film Institute’s budget. My plan is to offer continuous training, and not only courses once in a while, to emerging Faroese film-makers, which is essential as there is no film school on the Faroe Islands. In the same vein, I’m trying to launch our own producer education. The list of Faroese producers is not a long one yet, and to be a producer on the Faroe Islands means one has to be a little bit of a production manager, be able to raise funds, co-ordinate post-production and learn about digital distribution.

Why is the producer training so important?

Thanks to that, as soon as they see the first cut of the film, they could start thinking about the film festivals the film would fit into. It is crucial to have knowledge of festivals – not only A-list festivals but also festivals that see your film for what it is, and take and follow young talents. Faroese film-makers need to start going abroad to meet with colleagues from everywhere, discuss and watch other films, and see other people pitch.

You’ve just highlighted the importance of international encounters. Do you also co-operate with other Nordic countries?

We are very dependant on working together with the Nordic countries, but our obstruction is that we are not part of the European Union (EU). I have already talked to three or four festivals around the Nordic countries, trying to see if we can collaborate. I need to make a fuss about it! I also want them all to remember that the film environment on the Faroe Islands is present and we are not going to disappear.

Dreams By the Sea (2017)

Any results yet?

Sakaris has just been to the Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund and another film-maker was sent to Malmö to attend Nordisk Panorama. I was lucky to co-operate with the Zurich Film Festival, too. They selected twenty talents around the world to participate in a master class, and one of them was from the Faroe Islands. Besides that, I’m planning to visit the Berlinale next year to promote not only our film-makers and Faroese film but also the Faroe Islands as a location for foreign productions. I sincerely hope that we’ll have three or four hours to present what we have been doing – to tell the world we are here.

Are some foreign productions already interested in shooting on the Faroe Islands?

Right before I got appointed, a big Swedish production arrived to bring a Faroese story to life. Also, I get probably one call every week regarding TV series in the Nordic countries. Everybody is looking into Nordic stories, as they have had so much success. A lot of people from abroad are trying to see whether they can create a Nordic story and shoot it on some new locations – where there have not been so many productions before. They think it will be more attractive to audiences. I strongly believe more foreign productions will set foot on the Faroe Islands within the next couple of years.

You mentioned that there is no film school on the Faroe Islands. How do film-makers from the Faroe Islands get their education then?

They go elsewhere. Some try to get into the film school in Denmark, but some decide to enrol in a university in the UK or Australia. At the end of the day, they have two choices: they either stay on the Faroe Islands and train themselves or work for television to get experience, or go abroad. This is the reason I am so keen on launching some continuous training; their presence on the islands could certainly inspire the stories more than if they always had to visit Denmark.

I would even love to do some training on the Faroe Islands with professionals from Greenland, Iceland and from the other Nordic countries. As I briefly touched upon this regarding the producer training, it makes a difference when you arrange an international seminar or course in your own country and when you are a participant in another one. I have gained lots of experience in that, so what I need is funding. Fortunately, it’s not that expensive any more to fly to the Faroe Islands, however, if you’re thinking of flying 50 people in, then you need money. Then again, as we’re not part of the EU, we can’t seek fundings through programmes such as Creative Europe. So I have to find my own way to do it.

What is the annual budget of the Film Institute?

It is low, only a million Danish crowns ($154,375 USD). But I am quite sure they are open to increasing it as long as they see results. I expect it takes at least two years to build up a solid foundation for the Film Institute – its operation and activities as well as the scheme for international productions and support system for film-makers. Right now, I’m also a kind of consultant working with them; I give them contacts or tell them in which direction to look.

And finally, what feature films are currently in production?

We’ve just released two, and we have at least three to be developed further. In addition to that, a few seek funding at the moment. Sakaris, who directed Dreams by the Sea, is pretty far along with his next feature film. Another director could be easily ready providing that he manages to get funding. The third film is a musical, a very exciting project indeed…

That is what I really love! Our film-makers are so different and they make so many different films. They truly dare. They don’t have the money, but they are absolutely not the film-makers who worry about what others would like from them. They just do what they really want to do. I admire that so much.