Eighteen months after the outbreak of the COVID crisis, the Norwegian film industry has never been busier.
A combination of strict protocols, generous government programs and film-friendly measures has enabled the industry to resume production to answer the ever-growing demand for both domestic content and international co-productions.
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Norway’s cinematic landscapes have become a prized destination for foreign filmmakers thanks to a generous incentive scheme introduced in 2016 and state-of-the art infrastructure.
“The Norwegian state invested its oil money in amazing infrastructure — roads, tunnels, bridges, domestic airports,” says Per Henry Borch, the line producer of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise in Norway. “From a film perspective, it’s fantastic to be able to get to these spectacular and remote places so easily.”
There’s another major draw, according to the veteran producer: “Today, Norway is a no-cash society, so everything is transparent. It’s a major advantage for foreigners because when you’re going to spend a lot of money in a country, you want to be sure it’s being spent correctly.”
While domestic shooting resumed as soon as April 2020 thanks to stringent COVID measures and low infection rates, the travel ban made it difficult for international productions.
The turning point came with what is known as the “Tom Cruise exemption” in connection with the shooting of parts of “Mission: Impossible 7” in Norway in the summer of 2020 — an easing of travel restrictions for international co-productions that benefit from the government incentive scheme.
According to Sigmund Elias Holm from the Film Commission in Western Norway, where most international productions are shot, “in fjord areas with few inhabitants it’s so not difficult to create a bubble. The situation is opening up now, there are exemptions for productions that qualify under the incentive: right now, you can test out of quarantine on day three. And more and more productions have fully vaccinated crews.”
With domestic demand for content following the global upward trend and COVID restrictions making it difficult to travel, local crews have been in very high demand. So producers worked out a solution among themselves, explains Maria Ekerhovd, the founder of Bergen-based Mer Film, which is behind the 2021 multi-award winning doc “Flee” and Eskil Vogt’s Cannes entry “The Innocents.”
“Bergen is not a big town, we try to help each other out. It’s been so busy, so we coordinated our schedules so that crews could work on productions one after the other and wouldn’t cannibalize each other,” Ekerhovd says.
“We are busier than ever,” echoes Einar Loftesnes, whose Handmade Films in Norwegian Woods (2021’s “Wild Men”) specializes in genre films. “We never stopped working.”
For his company, the break in shooting during the first lockdown provided the opportunity to develop new projects, which they were able to finance thanks to government funds. “The first thing we did was hire six writers to work on developing feature films and TV series,” he adds.
For Ekerhovd, who is currently shooting “War Sailor”, one of Norway’s most ambitious films to date in co-production with Germany and Malta, the Norwegian Film Fund’s backing was crucial.
“I am happy that the NFI [Norwegian Film Institute] came up with a compensation package which covered both the extra costs and offered an insurance guarantee. We couldn’t have gone ahead without that.”
While the demand for online and TV content continues to grow, the question that remains, according to the NFI’s Dag Asbjørnsen, is the backlog of Norwegian films waiting for a cinema release. “Theaters have just re-opened — they were closed for eight months. This fall will be make or break for Norwegian movies. Many producers are not sleeping at night amid concerns they won’t recover their costs.”
Asked whether she is losing sleep, Ekerhovd says she is optimistic. “To have an open dialogue and think smart with exhibitors and distributors is key. Exhibitors are fighting for Norwegian films and there is little competition from U.S. blockbusters at the moment.”
She says a new crop of filmmakers is emerging that is putting Norwegian cinema on the map.
“The Norwegian film industry is flourishing, both artistically and commercially. We had two films in Cannes — one of them, ‘The Worst Person in the World,’ won the best actress award.
There is a whole new generation of filmmakers like Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier that are really exciting, some strong voices are coming out of Norway.”
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