Robin Petré’s Only on Earth, produced by Denmark’s Hansen & Pedersen, scooped the Docs-in-Progress Award at Cannes Docs. NFTVF sat down with Malene Flint Pedersen to discuss theatrical docs distribution in the Nordics.

On 17 May, Cannes’ Marché du Film hosted The Five Nordics Showcase. During the event, four non-fiction features were presented to a packed audience of buyers, sales agents, festival programmers and financiers. NFTVF gained access to this closed-door session, and later spoke to one of the producers in attendance, Malene Flint Pedersen, to expand on the topic of positioning and distributing theatrical docs in the Nordic region.

The first project presented on stage was Markku Heikkinen’s The Arctic Circle of Lust (Pohjoinen intohimo). Set in the Finnish countryside, the picture follows two married couples. The husbands are closeted bisexuals, thus their wives are forced to rethink their sexuality and relationships. Heikkinen described the film as “about being frank about your personal desires and limits”.

“In the film, we’ll see fragile, intimate moments with a tragicomic twist. When you’re in your mid-50s, there’s no more time to waste,” the director continued. Most of the project financing has already been secured, and release is slated in early 2025. The project is seeking buyers, sales, festivals and distributors.

The feature is a co-production by Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen for Finland’s Zone2 Pictures, Dirk Manthey for Germany’s Dirk Manthey Film, and Fredrik Lange for Sweden’s Vilda Bomben Film.

The second project is titled The Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Apokalypsens ryttere). In 1975, the renowned Norwegian film director Arnljot Berg was arrested in Paris and charged with the murder of his third wife. Forty years later, his daughter Lene Berg is visited by the ghost of her now long-deceased father. He claims that she remembers everything wrong and that it’s time to ask the right questions. “How is it possible that my beloved, very charismatic father killed his young wife?” the director asks herself. The story is told “as a puzzle”, boasting research and investigation intertwined with memories, clips of her father’s films and several staged versions of his arrest, “each time told in a different cinematic style in the attempt of wrestling some kind of truth”.

About half of the financing is in place. The team is looking for a French co-producer as well as sales agents, distributors and festival premieres. Ellen Ugelstad, of Norway’s Twentyone Pictures, is producing.

Coming up next was Angelica Ruffier’s deeply intimate doc A Face to Be Loved (Jag har ett ansikte för att bli älskad). While emptying her childhood home after her estranged father’s death, the helmer recalls a fierce and solitary love she had for her history teacher, Miss S. As her list of duties never seems to diminish, an intense desire grows in Angelica: to meet her again. “This film portrays the unavoidable experience of losing a parent, and two siblings tackling painful family history together while longing for a love that would make you whole,” added Ruffier. The project is looking for festivals, sales, distributors, buyers, and co-producers. Brynhildur Þórarinsdóttir and Marta Dauliūtė, of Sweden’s MDEMC, are producing.

The last showcased project was Robin Petré’s Only on Earth, produced by Flindt Pedersen and Signe Skov Thomsen for Denmark’s Hansen & Pedersen with Carles Brugueras and Marieke van den Bersselaar for Spain’s Polar Star Films. The documentary, which scooped the IEFTA Docs-in-Progress Award (worth €10,000) at Cannes Docs yesterday 21 May, is a journey deep into southern Galicia during the hottest summer ever measured, a time when humans and animals alike struggle to cope as inextinguishable fires draw closer. In particular, wild horses have roamed the Galician mountains for centuries, and are indispensable when it comes to fire prevention by grazing, but they are vanishing in today’s clash between human progress and nature. In this project, “animal perspective is key,” the team explained on stage, adding how it “portrays a disappearing world threatened not only by fires”. The film is now being edited, and is slated for a release in the first half of 2025. The team is looking for a festival premiere and gap financiers.

When chatting to Pedersen, we first asked first whether it is possible to build a solid theatrical audience for docs in the Nordics. “The only doc producers that have earned money or have a ‘system’ for earning it, are the Norwegians. They have a lot of cinema theatres based across the different municipalities and small villages, and have implemented a very good system to bring docs to schools,” says the producer, adding how Norwegian docs manage to attract rather big audience numbers in cinema, and when a film reaches a certain amount of admissions, the producers can receive a quite significant grant to invest in their next effort. She finds this model overall successful, with the potential of being implemented in the other Nordic countries. “We have a little bit of this ‘system’ here and there already, but it’s not enough,” she sums up.

Meanwhile, working with organisations and NGOs and co-producing are still successful strategies to expand the audience, Flint Pedersen argues. She cited the examples of Into the Ice (Rejsen til isens indre) and It’s Not Over Yet (Det er ikke slut endnu) (both co-produced with Germany) which gained about 20,000 admissions each. Only on Earth, co-produced with Spain, will be distributed theatrically in the Mediterranean countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Focusing on a handpicked number of films also seems like the way to go, Flint Pedersen continues. Camera Films, for example, handles “no more than two or three Danish docs” along with select foreign docs.

The main problem when it comes to distributing docs, she underscores, is that audience segments are difficult to frame, as they follow more unpredictable patterns when compared to fiction. “Our outreach campaigns are always based on finding ‘our audience’, and this requires a lot of time and money.” The producer explains how this is also demonstrated by analyses.

Speaking about the role of streamers, the growing interest in docs helped to engage in talks with national broadcasters, guaranteeing – at least to some extent – a wider consumption of content in languages other than English. On the other hand, Flint Pedersen argues that their editorial policy is rather generalist, and focuses on more popular doc subgenres such as biopics, nature and crime.

But some streamers act differently, she underlines. For instance, HBO boarded Only on Earth, and saw the potential of their project, allowing the team to implement a full festival strategy and plan a national theatrical release, while retaining its window.

Finally, Flint Pedersen is pleased with the appointment of Tine Fischer at the helm of the Danish Film Institute. She praised her clear vision and her knowledge of the doc community, but added how the body’s previous CEO Claus Ladegaard was also coming from a non-fiction background. “Still, it’s very nice to see someone like her working for a big institution. Fiction is so dominating, it rules everything, and we documentarians are always considered the ‘little sisters and brothers’. Her appointment means so much. We will not be forgotten,” she concludes.