Millennium drives Scandinavian renaissance
Scandinavia is still brushing away ash from the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano, but other tectonic shifts are shaping the Nordic film industry. One is the explosive global success of Niels Arden Oplev's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Another is the rise of long-dormant Norway, which has emerged to take its place among the region's cinema giants.I
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," based on the best-selling thriller by Stieg Larsson, already is the most successful Scandinavian film in history. Together with sequels "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," the so-called Millennium trilogy has become a Pan-European franchise.
The worldwide gross for "Tattoo" is nearing $100 million, including a domestic haul of more than $7 million for U.S. distributor Music Box.
Those numbers have sent buyers scrambling to Stockholm, searching for the next Nordic hit.
"Everyone is looking for the next 'Girl,' " says Rikke Ennis, CEO of Danish sales group TrustNordisk. "It has opened new doors for Scandinavian cinema, especially when it comes to financing and presales. Our crime writers are in extremely high demand."
The Weinstein Co. is hoping that TrustNordisk's "Easy Money," from director Daniel Espinosa, will be the next Scandi crime splash. The studio won a bidding war in Berlin to snatch U.S., German and Italian rights to the film. Based on the novel by Sweden's Jens Lapidus, "Money" follows a young man looking for a quick buck who becomes a runner for a cocaine dealer.
Warner Bros. won the battle for remake rights, with "High School Musical" cherub Zac Efron attached to star in as well as produce an American-set version of the story.
"We had a huge hype for the film before anyone had even seen it; everyone was hoping it would be the next Stieg Larsson," says "Money" producer Fredrik Wikstrom, also a producer on the Warners remake. "The film premiered Jan. 15 in Sweden, and the eyes were on us from the start. Somehow a bootleg DVD of the film made it to L.A. and was passed around. We started getting calls. Less than three months later we did the deal with Warner Bros."
Taking another page from the "Girl" book, Wikstrom is in the middle of development for two back-to-back sequels to "Money" featuring the same director and cast. Shooting is planned for summer 2011.
Sweden's Yellow Bird, producers of the Millennium trilogy, has a bookcase full of Nordic crime novels they are adapting in search of the next "Girl." First out of the gate is "Headhunters," an adaptation of the thriller by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo about an unscrupulous corporate headhunter and secret art thief. Askel Hennie ("Max Manus") is set to star under the direction of Morten Tyldum, whose most recent film was the critical and commercial success "Fallen Angels." Yellow Bird is producing with Norwegian shingle Friland and Denmark's Nordisk. Together with Norway's Monster Film, Yellow Bird also is in development on a series of six films, including the theatrical release "Nobel's Last Will," based on the global best-sellers from Norway's Anne Holt.
"I think Norway is the most interesting market in Scandinavia at the moment," says "Headhunters" producer Marianne Gray of Yellow Bird. "For a long time it was Danish film that was always in the lead. Now, thanks to 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' things are turning around in Sweden. And in Norway, you are seeing a real upswing in production, a whole different level of quality."
Gray points to Erik Poppe's recent sleeper success "Troubled Water" or Stellan Skarsgard starrer "The Somewhat Gentle Man," which Strand Releasing has picked up for the U.S., as examples of the new Norwegian wave.
Nordisk, together with Oslo-based Roenbergfilm and Jeremy Thomas' Recorded Picture Co., is putting financing together for what promises to be one of Norway's biggest productions to date: "Kon-Tiki." The film centers on real-life Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, who made a 101-day journey from South America to the Polynesian Islands on a wooden raft. Heyerdahl's documentary on the journey won the Oscar in 1951.
Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, the director duo behind Norwegian World War II epic "Max Manus," are attached to direct. Hanway is preselling the title in Cannes.
"Nordic financing was very easy, which I think has a lot to do with the 'Millennium' success; people are a lot more confident about the idea of a Nordic blockbuster," Nordisk producer Lone Korslud says. "Before, you rarely had a Danish or Norwegian film that made money in Sweden, or vice versa. Now, people are more open to the idea of financing, and distributing a film across all of Scandinavia."
Denmark isn't out of the picture. Lars von Trier's "Melancholia," set to begin shooting in the summer, is certain to be one of the hottest presale titles at the Marche du Film. And Cannes has picked two Danish features for sidebar screenings: Christoph Boe's "Everything Will Be Fine," which bows in Directors' Fortnight, and the Afghan war doc "Armadillo" from Janus Metz Pedersen is a Critics Week entry.
But the Nordic focus definitely has shifted east. Even Finland is now playing on the global stage, with potential franchise title "Moomins and the Comet Chase 3-D," a Disney-esque 3D cartoon that NonStop is selling at Cannes. Another big Finnish project, currently finalizing financing, is "Mannerheim" from Helsinki's Solar Film. The biopic of Finnish war hero and president Gustaf Mannerheim would mark a return home for Finnish-born Renny Harlin, better known for Hollywood actioners "12 Rounds" and "Die Hard 2."
And Iceland? Well, with the volcano still spouting smoke and ash, Reykjavik can expect to remain the punch line of industry jokes for some time. But Icelandic filmmakers are taking it in stride. Director Baltasar Kormakur ("Jar City") even took inspiration from the eruption, seizing the chance to shoot footage of the volcano for one of his new projects -- an in-development Viking epic.
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