Novak took over as CEO at the Swedish Film Institute in April from a previous position as Director General at the Swedish Media Council. We spoke to her ahead of her attendance as guest speaker of the seminar ‘Visions in Swedish Cinema’, held during the on-going Stockholm International Film Festival.

The Swedish government has just announced it is cutting the culture budget by SEK1 billion and your 2023 budget by SEK 75m (from SEK628.4m in 2022 to 553.4m in 2023), which will remain the same in 2024-25. Was this expected and concretely what will this budget reduction mean for the SFI?
Anette Novak: It is important to say that the overall culture budget and our budget cuts are related to the fact that in 2021 there was extra Covid support. Hence if our budget is SEK75m lower, SEK20 million was Covid-related support that we were still administrating in 2022. The remaining SEK55m was a one-off sum assigned to the SFI a year ago for restructuring purposes. Overall, the SFI budget hasn’t really moved since 2017, which of course hampers the Swedish Film Institute’s ability to support the industry.

The introduction of the 25% cash rebate was a major victory for the industry, although the SEK100m allocated is a third of the SEK300m requested. Do you know what the sums set aside towards filming incentives will be for 2023?
Tillväxtverket [The Swedish Agency for Economic Growth which administers the scheme for the government] were drowned in applications when the call for projects opened, and they’ve received applications worth SEK300m. The demand is obviously much higher than the supply. We had conveyed to the government that a budget approximately a third of the EU average might not have the desired effect. The SEK100m was allocated before Tillväxtverket received the overwhelming number of applications, so we don’t know if this will encourage the government to raise the 2023 budget for the film production incentives.

Could you detail your overall budget for production support, how it is split between feature film, documentaries, new talent?
If we look at our figures for 2019 to 2021, feature film support is the largest category and funding has increased [from SEK 117m in 2019 to SEK156m in 2021], while documentary is rather flat [SEK41m in 2020 and SEK52m in 2021] and talent support has slightly increased over the three years [SEK25m, 27m, 31m for 2019-20-21]. But again the 2020-21 figures include the exceptional crisis funding.

Any plans to introduce a drama series support, like in Norway or Denmark?
Our current mandate from the government is to support film, not drama series. Politicians would have to widen the scope of our remit, and if they would do this without increasing our overall budget, it would mean that the grants would become thinner.

In his report ‘Public Film Funding at a Crossroads’, Film i Väst’s Head of Strategy Tomas Eskilsson suggests for the public funders to concentrate their resources on selective support as most responders in his study suggested that less is more’ in terms if impact. Is this something that is been considered at the SFI?
The majority of our support is already selective. Regarding our future funding strategy, we are currently busy carrying out an overall analysis of all our support schemes. The aim is to adapt it to market needs. We want to make it more relevant and efficient.

Swedish films continue to lose their audience in cinemas (12.6% market share in 2021, ie one of the lowest levels in years), although they are popular on VOD and TV according to your 2021 data. Next to arthouse fare, there still isn’t enough mainstream quality films in the action, thriller, drama genres like in Denmark and Norway for instance, and according to your own data, this is what the wide audience wants. How are you tackling this issue?
One part of your question is about content and where it is displayed. We do have a focus on the theatrical market, and have a tech-neutral assignment from the government regarding the support for development, production and distribution of films, both on a national and international level. When we look at the total viewing, Swedish films are reaching a record number of people thanks to access via different platforms, and we have to bear in mind that our nation is one of the most digitalised countries in the world, with high internet access per household [93% in 2021]. With that in mind, yes, admissions have been declining, like in the rest of the world, including a country like France with a strong cinema-going tradition.

It’s important to mention consumers’ changing cinema-going habits, and content is one aspect which affects cinema-going. We can see that Swedish action and thrillers have not succeeded and that drama and comedy have greater potential. Moving forward, we see an opportunity to work with the industry on these difficult topics.

Is film education an aspect that needs to be addressed?
My background is as director of the Swedish Media Council whose task is to focus on children and youth and empowering them as media citizens. So film literacy is a passion of mine. Kids and youth do prioritise film and moving pictures media in all their activities, for communication, entertainment or education.

Given the challenges regarding disinformation and propaganda invading the feeds, and affecting democratic development, I would say that this issue is not prioritised enough. There is a lot of good work going on at a grassroot level, but the national effort is at a pivotal moment. In the new government’s budget, the support for the national effort [to strengthen media and information literacy] has been lost. This is very worrying. Europe was looking at us as one of the forerunners in this area, but now we risk losing this momentum.

Talking about Europe, the implementation of the AVMSD (Audiovisual and Media Services Directive) to regulate the audiovisual sector and enforce contributions of streamers to the industry, has been adopted into law in many countries, including Denmark. What is the situation in Sweden?
We see this as an opportunity and we have raised this topic with politicians. It is a complex subject that needs to be investigated by a public inquiry. When regulating a sector, you need to avoid negative consequences, notably regarding players that are actually important for making Swedish titles available to local audiences. But the potential in the AVMSD doesn’t seem to be high on the political agenda in Sweden at present.

On a Nordic level, do you feel more could be done to help Swedish films and documentaries cross borders? What areas of cooperation could be improved?
With war in Ukraine, and tensions within the European family, it’s only natural for us in the Nordics to strengthen our collaboration. We’re pleased with the cooperation within Scandinavian Films. We are currently investigating how we could strengthen the work moving forward, perhaps through a joint strategy.

How are you tackling the lack of talent - in front and behind the camera and training?
AN: I wouldn’t say that we have a lack of talents – if we did we wouldn’t be winning so many prestigious prizes (laugh). But we do have an issue with a lack of film workers. To address this, we need to start early, triggering a film interest that can grow into a career choice. Starting early means letting school children tell their stories not only with written words but in moving pictures, engaging them in film as a hobby, guiding them to know what kind of film professions are available, supporting start-ups and young entrepreneurs. We need a concerted effort and a long-term, holistic plan.

Despite the SFI’s huge efforts to bring a better genre equality in the sector, this is still lacking in feature film, unlike for docs and shorts according to your 2021 facts and figures. What is your vision to continue to stimulate gender, social and /ethnic representation on screens?
Yes unfortunately, our long-time efforts in promoting gender equality haven’t translated into the hoped-for effects. I’m convinced that equality-across genre, diversity or any other aspect, is a success factor. If the industry is not broadly represented, it cannot tell stories that will resonate with audiences. If the audience is not represented in front of the camera, they will not be able to identify. And that will impact commercial success.

What have you learned so far about the film industry since you joined the SFI in April?
It has been a sharp learning curve. I have met hundreds of people across different segments of the industry and every single meeting has taught me something. I’ve had one-to-one conversations within the SFI and every single one of my colleagues has increased my understanding. Your questions have been towards the industry, but almost half of our workforce also works with other tasks like film literacy and with the national film heritage which is equally important. Safeguarding our film heritage, developing it and making it more available to audiences is crucial.

My previous career was in news media, it’s an industry that has gone through similar restructuring, affected by digitalisation, globalisation – and the impact of global platform economy. With film, I realise that it’s a more complex and broader situation than most outsiders can grasp, and very few people - even within the industry - have the full picture.

But we are all interdependent, and in my statement, I include the streamers. I hope that all stakeholders can increase our exchange of knowledge. We will need it as we move forward

What Swedish films are you looking forward to seeing on the big screens in 2023?
Can I pass on this one, to stay neutral and avoid interpretations?

But there is a momentum in Sweden, with an extraordinary number of directors winning major international awards, the Palme d’or winner Ruben Östlund of course, and many voices from different or mixed origins -Tarik Saleh, Ali Abbasi (who works between Sweden and Denmark), Hogir Hirori, Nathalie Álvarez Mesén among others. Isn’t it exciting?
AN: There is definitely something Swedish film is doing right when we are acclaimed the way we are. So there is no reason to fix what’s not broken, as the saying goes. I’ve asked many people what they think about the current success of Swedish film, and many of them state our long-term engagement in sustained talent development as one of the reasons. Then high ambition and hard work are also important. Having role models, icons, such as we’ve had for instance in sports with Björn Borg, is very important.

Björn Borg’s success triggered a whole generation of young tennis players. And from that broad group, great talents rose. I hope that these amazing achievements in a similar fashion will inspire young people and trigger their desire to express themselves through film and to choose a profession within the industry. “