Scandinavian Film course #4: Main trends lecture notes

Here are the notes/summary from the lectures of the first segment of the course titled “Contemporary Scandinavian Film and Television Culture: Main Trends”. This was Professor Ib Bondebjerg’s lecture

Scandinavian cinema and the welfare state

  • All Scandinavian countries have a quite strong and diverse production of film and television genres.
  • And national audiences tend to like the film and television they get.
  • Sweden has 9.5 million inhabitants, Denmark 5.6 million, Finland 5.4 million and Norway 4.9 million.
  • Europe is fragmented, USA is a unified and very firmly organized market with a strong tradition for international distribution. Smaller nations, such as the Scandinavian, cannot produce films on the budget American films can.
  • All Scandinavian countries also produce proper main stream genres. But only the national audiences watch them.
  • We are known for our auteurs, for our contribution to the social and physchological realism, for putting existential and social problems on the agenda.
  • Perhaps some form of Scandinavian design is also visible in the film and television products we export successfully.
  • Scandinavian countries are characterized by being highly developed welfare states. A core value is to secure equal opportunities for all; social solidarity and security.
  • People in the Scandinavian countries pay a relatively high tax, but as a result of that, many things are free. Health service, education and also many cultural offers.
  • The welfare state doesn’t eliminate market forces and free enterprise. But the collaboration between the public and the private sector aims at securing the individual in the best possible way.
  • Public support for cultural production in general and for film and television has a prominent place.
  • As early as 1917, Norway established a municipal public cinema system. And in the 1930’s, some countries established public funded film support.
  • National Film Institutes, in Sweden, in 1963, in Denmark in 1972, and in Norway in 1988.
  • In a small country with between 5 to 10 million people film production companies cannot survive without some public support.
  • We need to make sure that the films made, cover different genres, drama, comedy, historical films, documentary film, children’s films, et cetera.
  • American films clearly dominate in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe.
  • If we look just at the film history of Scandinavia, it is in fact rather unique, that such small nations have contributed to so much, to the world film history.
  • Before movies began to speak and language barriers became a problem, especially Denmark and Sweden had a strong voice in world film culture.

Scandinavian cinema: trends and international impact

  • American films have become a kind of global, mass culture for all audiences all over the world. Even in America, we find an independent film culture. The global American dominance has been a fact since the 1930s.
  • But in the silent era, Scandinavian film, and especially Danish films were much stronger in the world film culture.
  • Between 1907 and 10, Nordic Film produces no less than 560 films. Films of around five to fifteen minutes each.
  • Asta Nielsen one of the biggest stars.
  • But what really started the Danish international film adventure was the development of the long film, thirty to forty-five minutes. A major breakthrough with especially social and erotic melodramas, like The White Slave Trade, The Abyss, or the Flying Devils.
  • For a short period between 1910 and 1920, Danish and also Swedish silent cinema had a strong world position. Not just with artistic auteur films but with films covering all genres.
  • The First World War and the following years paved the way for the global American era.
  • Around 1970, all Scandinavian countries had developed the system where public support for films supplemented the still very important role of pirate production companies.
  • In Scandinavia very few films since the 1980s have been made without some sort of public support.
  • A number of films can be very popular with a national audience but never shown outside its own country of production. Whereas other films can have a much broader international profile, even without necessarily having a big national audience.
  • Of the 40 Danish films from those 2009-10, two films stand out as having an international strong profile: Susanne Bier’s In a Better World from 2010 and Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, from 2009
  • The number four on this list, My Sister’s Kids In Jutland, is only nationally financed and only has a national audience.
  • The auteur is definitely an important international brand for Scandinavian cinema. World audiences hardly expect to find blockbuster movies from any of these countries. The Millennium Trilogy in 2009 is an exception.
  • The very concept of auteur was coined by the French and the European New Wave film generation of the 1960s: opposition to the American form of filmmaking.
  • This young generation of film makers, for instance, Jean Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut wanted films that were original, based on life, not literature, and where the director was in artistic control.
  • Some of their icons were Scandinavian, like Carl Th .Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman. Directors that redefined the language of cinema.
  • A group of Danish directors launched Dogme 95 in Paris where also the first attack on mainstream cinema took place.
  • Inspired by the new wave generation, Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg called for a new kind of international cinema. To bring cinema back to its artistic roots and engagement with reality.
  • Creating alternatives to the global mainstream cinema: Lukas Moodysson, the harsh global, Swedish, realist; Norwegian European art cinema director Bent Hamer who makes humorous images of life in Norway in Kitchen Stories; Finnish Aki Kaurismäki, with his portrait of Finnish life in, for instance, Drifting Clouds.

Scandinavian television culture

  • Scandinavian television is dominated by pubic service stations, or PSB stations
  • The Danish PSB main station DR started to broadcast in October 1951 and was followed in 1956 by the Swedish SVT, in 1958 by Finnish YLE and in 1960 by Norwegian NRK.
  • Paid by the tax or license fee and not by commercials: independent of commercial interests and of the state and the political system.
  • Obligation to serve all parts of the population and develop programs that cater to all sorts of taste, including minorities.
  • Danish law:
    • 1. to secure a broad variety of programs and services, including news, information, education, art and entertainment.
    • 2. to secure quality, versatility, and diversity.
    • 3. to secure freedom of information and speech and impartiality and objectivity.
    • 4. to secure special obligations towards Danish language and culture.
    • 5. to secure a broad representation of art and culture, reflecting the diversity of cultural interests in the Danish society.
  • In Finland: first commercial channel in Europe: MTV3 in 1957.
  • Dividing its PSB channels into several
  • In the 1980s: a dual system of commercial and PSB television
  • Since 1990 the number of television channels in Scandinavia has exploded.
  • Long tradition for both Scandinavian and European collaboration and co-production of television.
  • NordvisionNordvision was established in 1959, to further co-production and collaboration between the Nordic countries. And in 1990, the Nordic Film and Television Fund grew out of this cooperation between the Nordic countries.
  • A similar development can be seen on a European level, where the European Broadcasting Union, EBU, was formed already in 1954,
  • This year the European Union gathered all its cultural and media programs under the name Creative Europe.
  • Much more than cinema and film, television drama has been important in gathering the nation in front of the screen. E.g. the Danish series in 24 parts, Matador, broadcast for the first time from 1978 to 1981 on DR. An instant success with a huge Danish audience. One episode was seen by 3.6 million in Denmark, out of a population of 5.5 million
  • Historical drama series on television often get very high viewing figures. E.g. In Sweden, for instance, Jan Troell’s series The Emigrants and New Land from 1971 to 2
  • Television can gather the nation, and create a feeling of being together of a national community
  • Strong television; e.g. Ingmar Bergman challenging series Scenes from a Marriage, one to six, from 1973. By showing us the tearing apart of a marriage this series challenged its audience. In 1982 Bergman did it again with Fanny and Alexander.
  • Lars von Trier in 1994 released all his talents onto television, the result was a gorgeous genre mix called The Kingdom, where thriller, ghost story, satire and comedy met the supernatural.
  • Danish television drama, is experiencing an unprecedented international success. But also, Swedish crime series are popular abroad, e.g. Wallander
  • But Danish television drama, since 2000, has received five Emmys: crime series Unit 1, romantic comedy series Nikolaj and Julie, crime series The Eagle, political thriller series The Protectors, historical biopic on Hans Christian Andersen. The Killing furthermore won the BAFTA prize for the best foreign television drama.


* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Scandinavian Film and Television” course I am taking.

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