Ask most professionals active within the European marketplace where the current epicentre of documentary activity is to be found, and the answer will invariably be Norway. The Norwegian Film Institute’s Dag Asbjørsen and Lars Løge suggest the reasons why.
Lars Løge, Head of Development and Production at the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI), points to a number of factors that have enabled Norway to up the doc ante in terms of reach and influence.
“The past seven years have seen strong professionalisation due to the combination of state funding, a greater international focus in the industry and a strong community feeling within the documentary field.” He also argues that there is a greater sense of know-how and Norwegian producers when it comes to financing and co-producing.
NFI invests NOK 63 million NK (approx €6.23 million) in documentary every year. Three years ago, he points out, the institute would fund up to 35% of a film’s budget. These days, the investment in each project can reach as high as 80%.
On top of this, Norway’s nine regional funds invest 81 million krone (€8 million) in documentaries, shorts and gaming, with approximately 50% earmarked for docs, Løge points out.
Other sources of funding for docs come via the Nordic Film and TV Fund and the private Freedom of Speech Foundation.
“So financing is more available in Norway compared with other countries. And the level of activity is also sky high, so it is a battle for every producer to get their films made. But I have the feeling that 2020 is going to be a really good year for international documentaries.”
Dag Asbjørsen, NFI’s Head of International Relations, looks after the Sørfond (Southern Fund), devised to finance films from developing industries outside Europe and North America. The fund is jointly financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture and managed by the NFI. The fund backed IDFA 2019 opener Sunless Shadows.
“What the Ministry of Foreign Affairs specifically wanted to do was two things, to strengthen the freedom of speech and to let different voices be heard from countries with limited access to funds, and also it was very important to strengthen the local production in those countries which is why there is no requirement to spend any money in Norway.”
“This non-spend obligation has made the fund very attractive for producers because they don’t have to go through the expensive post-production in Norway and can spend everything where it should be spent,” Asbjørsen underlines.
The Sørfond has been operational since 2010 and has supported 57 projects over this period, granting a total of NOK 24.6 million (€2.43 million). Commencing 2020, NOK 6 million (€594,000) will be invested in projects over the coming three years.
“The productions have to have secured the basic finance and then we top up,” adds Asbjørsen. “The Sørfond funding is relatively small percentage-wise but when the productions need the last money, we can provide it… [The producers of] Sunless Shadows said that this was the piece of funding that made the deal,”.
Two other films at IDFA supported by the Sørfond are Khartoum Offside (Marwa Zein, Best of Fests) and Rehad Desai’s How to Steal a Country (Frontlight).
On Sunday November 23 the Norwegian and Dutch industries will acknowledge the recent re-signing of their documentary co-production agreement with a morning of speed-dating and networking between producers from the respective countries.
Løge also expressed his satisfaction with the two-day Doc Norway pitching event in Bergen that enjoyed its second edition in October 2019. The rationale of the event is to give new Norwegian documentary projects the best chance within the international environment, especially North America.
“We figured (in 2018) that for each and every producer in the Norwegian industry it is very hard to get to North America by themselves, travelling to Sundance or trying to build up a network in the US, so as a national film fund we decided to fly them [US decision makers] over here instead.”
“We selected 15 North American buyers and distributors, including Netflix and HBO and several other strong players in the documentary market, and we looked to match them with suitable projects from Norwegian producers,” Løge underlines.
One of the films that benefitted from the exchange was Tonje Hessen Schei’s iHuman, world-premiering at IDFA and pitched at Doc Norway in 2018, as was the Netflix original Sisters on Track (producer Sant & Usant). iHuman will be released in the US by ro*co films and is handled for international sales by Cinephil.
“I am excited to see what comes out of this in a 3-year perspective and to see if it builds lasting relations between Norway and North America,” stresses Løge.
“The way that the Norwegian documentary producers have to move in a very tough international market makes then some of the best producers regardless of the format,” he concludes.