On Friday the Fund invited key decision-makers to discuss the ‘Future of Film at a Crossroads’, and possible ways forward to strengthen the indie film sector.




During the virtual panel organised by Nordisk Film & TV Fond as wrap-up of its industry bridge building ‘Audiovisual Collaboration 2021 initiative, six prominent panellists engaged in an intense discussion and offered slightly contrasting views on what’s best for the independent film industry in the streaming era.

The virtual session followed by over 100 industry delegates, was moderated by Thomas Gammeltoft, partner and executive producer at Denmark’s True Content Entertainment.

Here are some takeaways.

Local is beautiful
On the topic of content - how to preserve the soul of our storytelling and fight off competition from streamers, Claus Ladegaard, head of the Danish Film Institute vehemently drilled down the role of public funders as gatekeepers of cultural values. “We need to support films that are culturally impactful, challenging, that promote values, and are relevant to local audiences.” He said public bodies should embrace change, and “explore the in-between between the ‘old world and new world’. Next to original arthouse films, he defended the concept of big Nordic quality commercial Nordic films, such as Riders of Justice, as viable models to attract audiences in cinemas.

Concurring with the head of the DFI, Tim King, VP of Production, SF Studios felt “people’s concern over streamers is overblown”. He said the real issue is the ever-dominating presence of big tentpole Hollywood films on the theatrical market. “Besides a few Nordic exceptions such as Another Round and Margrete-Queen of the North, Spiderman-No Way Home and Bond’s No Time to Die dominate the screens. We need to challenge those films, regardless of what the streamers deliver,” he said.

Embracing as well the arrival of global streamers that have helped local films in original language reach out to global viewers, ‘Lucia Recalde Langarica, Head of Unit/Creative Europe Media praised indie producers’ talent in creating high-quality local content. But she also suggested for them to widen their ambitions and think beyond the local market. “Only a few independent companies take advantage of the single European market; streamers are the ones that are doing it. We need to think of the economy of film on an EU level”, she claimed.

Meanwhile Alexander Bastin, SVP and CEO of NENT Studios reiterated the Nordic Group’s commitment to local content. “If you don’t pursue localness, le ‘terroir’, you will miss on global opportunities. We need to tell the best local stories to entice the audience. It’s not an option to go for equalised generic content,” he said.

But do audiences really know what’s best? Can we trust our own taste? challenged Ruben Östlund in a recorded video message.

Comparing the streamers’ offer to an all-inclusive holiday package, he warned the industry on the dangers of a handful of big players controlling content, moulding and narrowing people’s taste. “You can’t trust global audiences - they have awful taste - I don’t trust my own taste!” he quipped, recalling his own experience, when on an all-Inclusive holiday with his family, he went from hating the over quantity of tasteless food, to actually liking and wanting more after a week.

Too many films
Questioned by Thomas Gammeltoft about the number of films produced each year and risk of distribution bottleneck effect, all panellists agreed that the public sector model is running in production overdrive.

Citing an upcoming pan-European research paper about ‘Public Finance at the Crossroads’, commissioned by Film i Väst, the leading regional film fund’s Head of Strategy Tomas Eskilsson, said: “There is an over-production of films for the theatrical market”. He added that the dominating view from the survey’s 720+ interviewees was that “public film financiers should be more selective”.

“We need to dare to invest in fewer projects and to secure talents as they are the ones who will make important films in the future,” he said.

Panellists also raised the question of the over-supply of subsidised small arthouse films, and their possible detrimental effect on the theatrical market. Small films, with a small story, for a small market actually “diminish what arthouse is,” advanced Eskilsson, a point taken up by Louise Vesth, partner/producer at Zentropa, and long-time producer of Lars von Trier. “We are being squeezed to make successful films for cinemas that travel. If you’re good at that, you need to make perhaps less films, but also create new talent to do both [with public funding]. Bad arthouse films are the worst in the world,” she affirmed.

The need for more flexible distribution models, tailor-made for different types of films, was another talking point.

Picking up on Ladegaard’s argument in favour of a limited cinema release or even straight to VOD for selected small films, Bastin reiterated Viaplay’s priority to secure an exclusive first window for its Originals, but also mentioned the Nordic streamer’s willingness to “co-exist” with the theatrical. “We are in a grey zone right now. But I believe the current [windowing] model will evolve into a more flexible one, where eventually the audience will choose where to watch films,” he said.

More money to distribution and companies
For her part, Recalde Langarica argued in favour of a more balanced split of public support, between production on one side, distribution and marketing on the other side. She also cited Creative Europe Media’s initiative to support not only content but companies, to stimulate sustainability and growth across the entire European film eco-system. “We are supporting equity initiatives to help producers/rights holders have more financing muscle, more weight to expand their activities and be in a position to keep their catalogue,” she said.

Faster green-lighting
Faster decision-making from public funders, to leverage competition from global streamers, was another idea put forward.
Referring again to Film i Väst’s upcoming research paper, to be published in March, Eskilsson, said one of the priorities for state-representative bodies, is to cut down on the red tape and speed up decision-making. “We need to find a more flexible funding model, where funders engage in the circulation of films,” he suggested.

IP control
On the topic of ownership and IP, Eskilsson said indie producers are caught in a race to create volume, margins, and continuity to survive. “Few see the real value in ownership, and many of them end up giving up rights”, he noted.

While Fredrik Luihn, Head of Acquisition at NRK, acknowledged the mighty power of global streamers, that “outperform NRK at all levels in film rights acquisition”, Louise Vesth, partner/producer at Zentropa, Denmark outlined the danger for independent producers to “work for a brand that is stronger than the brand of the film itself”. “OK you do get paid nicely [by streamers], you get a salary cheque, but one week after, you might not have the hunger for content in the same way,” she argued.

And the future?
Thomas Gammeltoft rounded out the discussion by asking each panellist to give their views on the future of film.

Vesth said: “I believe in the future of the arthouse feature film and 2 hours of magic. The completed work - one beginning, one middle and one ending -the artistic final cut”…”For this we need brave, clever and persistent public funders.”

Ladegaard said he is confident in the future of film in the cinemas, as shown by Danish audiences’ eagerness to go back to the silver screen after lockdown. He also pledged for all the Danish industry -including public broadcasters-to work together, to create the best financial conditions for films.

Recalde Langarica suggested for the Nordic industry “to remain relevant”, both content-wise, and structurally, by securing “the health of companies producing content”. “New funding models are needed” she said, and the key is to combine culture and industry.

Luihn reiterated the challenging market conditions for public broadcasters in the streaming era, asking for regulators to intervene.

King said: “Films [in cinemas] will bounce back in the Nordics to pre-2020 levels, and on the production level, I’m very positive for content-there is a massive boom and all producers will benefit”, he claimed.

SF Studios’ executive also suggested for public funders to wait for the market to stabilise. “Streamers are still testing the market and in three years, they might be out if the public turns away from them. Let’s watch how the process develops,” he recommended.

Meanwhile Bastin was extremely positive for the future of film, underscoring Viaplay’s plan to launch 60 Originals in 2022. He said quality and quantity of content will continue to climb, producers will have more work opportunities and consumers will be more in charge in terms of how and when to watch content.

Nordisk Film & TV Fond’s one-year ‘Audiovisual Collaboration’ initiative was jointly organised with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. It unfolded in 2021 under the Finnish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, major partner to the Fund.

For further details on Audiovisual Collaboration 2021, CLICK HERE.