Danes invest to build a great film and TV drama industry
Danish delight: Birgitte Nyborg Christensen in Borgen
Sustained state investment key to developing successful industry
There are some countries in Europe which have natural advantages in terms of film and television. Denmark is not one of them.
A country of just 5.6 million people with a language which one of its most famous actress, Sidse Batett Knudsen, the star of Borgen, likened to somebody speaking with a potato in their mouth, Denmark should not enjoy the pre-eminence in does in cinema and television.
Yet, it has built a dizzying reputation for its output which is the envy of the rest of Europe. Last year Danish directors won 86 prizes at international festivals. A Royal Affair is up for an Oscar for best foreign language film this year.
In 2011, Susanne Bier won the Oscar for best foreign language film for In a Better World, Nicholas Winding Refn won best director at Cannes and Danes won best film, best director and best European achievement in world cinema at the European Film Festival. Little wonder the British director Stephen Frears has taken to calling them, in jest, the “bloody Danes”.
And international audiences cannot get enough of Danish television drama. The crime series the Killing and Borgen, the story of Denmark’s fictitious female prime minister, both highly literate yet dramatically engaging productions, are shown in 60 countries and have racked up audiences of a million plus on the minority channel BBC4.
None of this has happened by accident.
Denmark has an integrated national audiovisual strategy and state support other countries envy. In 1997, the government passed the Film Act which set about producing an integrated approach to film-making.
“The decision was taken that film would be the most important cultural medium and that is really important and that view has unanimous support in parliament,” said Steffen Andersen-Møller of the Danish Film Institute. “The best way to market any small country is through film, not telling people how great your country is.”
Its Den Danske Filmskole (National Film School of Denmark) is world-renowned and has produced a conveyor belt of cinematic talent – most famously Lars von Trier, who developed cinema production known as Dogme 95.
The Danish government provided €62 million in direct support to the film institute last year. The equivalent figure for the Irish Film Board is €11.5 million though tax incentives also play an important role here.
Danish audiences have responded to this investment. Last year, 29 per cent of cinema tickets sold in Denmark were for Danish films, a percentage other small countries could only dream about. Five Danish films were in the top 10 box office last year.
This has allowed talent to flourish. A case in point is young director Tobias Lindholm whose film the Kidnapping was one of three Danish films shown at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) this week.
The budget for the film was just over €2 million, a modest amount considering that much of it was shot on a ship off Kenya. Between support from the film institute and state broadcaster DR, 85 per cent of the budget was from state funding.