Exclusive: The Director of the Swedish Film Institute tells us about her policy in gender equality and diversity, the Institute's new production support and Nordic collaboration. 

Swedish films are rolling on a very positive wave, with an 8% increase in admissions in 2017, and a lot of international attention. For you what are the key reasons for this success and how can it be sustained?
Anna Serner:
 Filmmakers have made excellent films and there is a great diversity of films. We have over many years, worked with new filmmakers and provide as much as 50% of our production funding to newcomers. At the same time, we maintain our support to those who have proven themselves. For me, success comes from the strategy of reaching high quality through gender equality and diversity. The Guldbagge winners The Nile Hilton Incident and Sámi Blood are great examples of this.

What is your annual budget?
AS: We have around €32 million in total for development and production. For distribution of Swedish films, we have around €1.5 million.

Is there any money aside for TV drama, like in Norway or Denmark?
AS: The government took it away from our assignment as TV channels didn’t find it necessary.

You’ve recently readjusted your production support. What are the main changes?  AS: We have worked on a new system that emphasizes development. People can get more money for development and can apply for a slate of projects in development. You can get a higher development funding if you’re a writer/director, without a producer. So we offer more freedom to creators. On the other hand, we’re asking people to be clearer on the vision for the film and how to reach the target audience. Directors, producers and distributors are therefore asked to take part in pre-production meetings with us to answer specific questions. We want everyone to agree on the overall idea for the film, the production budget, money to be put on screen, and how much money is needed to reach the audience.

In terms of distribution, what is your strategy to adapt to the changing market?  AS: We have a clear message from our Board to use our money to try to change the distribution obstacles to get more films to reach an audience. We can’t do whatever we want but we may add conditions to our support with the purpose of loosening up windows. We need to discuss this with distributors. 

Access to cinemas is still a major problem for Swedish films, and you still seem to be in a dispute with the Swedish Exhibitors’ association…
AS: Yes unfortunately we do not have a great relationship with them. They are very unhappy that the Film Agreement was replaced by the Film Policy and want the government to go back to the previous 6% VAT on cinema tickets instead of the new 25% rate. They do not want to cooperate or provide us with statistics. It’s a real problem.

Is there a chance that the government will change its mind? 
AS: I don’t see it changing now. The government has just put into place the Film Policy and one of the conditions is the increase of VAT on tickets. But we’re trying to have a more constructive approach. We’d like to make an analysis of its consequences, but it is difficult, without statistics …Eventually, what will happen is that it will be mandatory for exhibitors to give us their figures.

Otherwise are you pleased with the new Film Policy and the way the new industry councils work?
 The new film policy has made our work more efficient. The revisiting of the schemes was necessary. We had some support that was obsolete but we couldn’t use the money elsewhere because it was locked in the Film Agreement. Now we can make the necessary changes.

On a Nordic level, are you pleased with the collaboration with your Nordic counterparts? Are you in favour of the new Nordic Big Budget Fund initiative? 
AS: We have a wonderful relationship with our Nordic neighbours who understand the benefits of co-producing and getting a better financing for projects with a Nordic potential. We are very favourable of this new initiative and trying to find a system that would work for all of us in the Nordics.

Is the introduction of tax incentives in Sweden your next major battle?
AS: Yes, it’s very much on the agenda. We’ve just published a report commissioned with Tillväksverket (the Swedish agency for Economic and Regional growth) which analyses the effects of tax incentives and offers clear recommendations. We hope the Ministry of Finance will consider it. But the major battle is to keep up with the high quality so that more Swedish people will start appreciating our films. The Swedish brand is very highly regarded internationally but not enough at home. So we have to fight harder to get the films to reach the audience, by branding Swedish films better and having a greater diversity of voices. Fighting for ethnic diversity is our next major battle.”

You have made gender equality a priority at the SFI and set an example as the first funding body in the world to introduce a 50/50 film funding by 2020. What measurable impacts have been achieved so far?
AS: The measurable effects are again the high quality that Swedish films have achieved. The gender equality has meant that during the past six years, the Guldbagge awards for Best Film, Director, Script have been awarded at 53% to women, and again this year, Amanda Kernell has won 4 Guldbagges and Sámi Blood is the third Critics’ Choice of 2017 in Sweden. If we look at international A festivals – such as Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, IDFA, we’ve noticed as well that over 50% of women directors have been selected. That shows that women are as capable as men to make good films.

One another point, our overall festival strategy of getting into sidebars first to then enter the main competition has worked. Last year Ruben Östlund won the Palme d’or, and is now nominated for the Oscars, and we have Måns Månsson and Axel Petersén's The Real Estate competing for the Golden Bear.

Our strategy is basically to have high demands, and clear goals. We look for films that either can reach a high national audience or will go to international festivals. Ideally, we’d love to have both!

Do you feel more women apply for funding today? 
 During my first year, that was the case, but unfortunately, recently we’ve noticed a drop. I’m afraid people think the job is done. We have to remain alert. 

In the middle of the Weinstein scandal and #Metoo-movement, you mentioned that you’d favour the introduction of guidelines to address harassment and abuse in the industry. Are these measures going to be ratified?
AS: Our Board has approved the idea of introducing a compulsory ‘green card’ for everyone who receives production funding from us, so the measure will be implemented soon. Basically, from March 1st, CEOs of major production companies and top producers will have to attend an education training day in gender equality, under mentor Anna Wahl, a celebrated professor. It won’t be like passing a driver’s licence, but about understanding important gender issues and power structure, using the #Metoo-movement for leadership development.

Producers will be challenged with tough questions. We will all be challenged. But today, women and men want us to act firmly and fast about sexual harassment, based on rumours or facts. We’re not the prosecutors, but we all want a society where we can trust the laws protecting the victims. The training day will also include a session with lawyers who will explain legal aspects.  

Once producers and company’s CEOs will be given the ‘green card’, will they ever have to pass the training session again? 
AS: We will keep track. Content may vary over time so we may require them to come back to attend a new training. However, if production companies can show that they have undergone a training through other means, we will accept this as ‘green card content’ as well.  

How has the industry reacted to this measure, in particular men? 
 Actually, a lot of men are pleased to have something they can rely on. Many feel stigmatised. But they are part of a patriarchal system, and some may have crossed the line without even realising it. The Film & TV Producers Association doesn’t like the compulsory aspect of it, but I haven’t had anyone say this is a bad idea.

The compulsory aspect is understandably hard to accept… 
AS: Yes. Some people don’t like it, but others say: ‘every krona of public money comes with a condition. If this condition is one of them, and includes a free day of training, why not!’

UPDATE: Since the above interview was published the SFI board has changed its position and made the producers one day training day in gender equality non-compulsory. See our news story: CLICK HERE.