Nordisk Panorama – the Forum/ First Day

… or to be more precise: Forum for Co-financing of Documentaries in Malmö, Sweden, taking place September 20-22 2015.

Edition number 22 (!) with 270 participants, 24 projects to be pitched to a panel of decision makers, around 30 at the table and a lot in the audience among the observers, including me, who asked the organisers if there was a chair for a reporter, who has been to the Forum many times before; at the table as consultant for National Film Board of Denmark (Statens Filmcentral), now part of the Danish Film Institute, and as moderator when I worked for the EDN (European Documentary Network).

So there I was at Amiralen (Photo by Teddy Grouya, Amdocs festival Palm Springs), a very fine venue for an event like this, lot of space, good image projection of the trailers, to be seen from all angles, the usual small fights with the microphone (why are people who work at television so bad in talking into those tools?), space for talks in the coffee breaks, networking is the word, and as usual perfect professional treatment from the staff of Nordisk Panorama (before called Filmkontakt Nord) – good catalogue for projects and participants, as well as the inviting website, link below.

Sooo, the Nordic documentary family gathered with an Italian delegation invited and commissioners from arte, BBC, Dutch television, POV, RAI and many others. Sales agents, distributors,

People from the film institutions and tv stations. A quite remarkable attendance.

With words from the well prepared moderators Gitte Hansen (First Hand Films, Switzerland) and Mikael Opstrup (EDN), the show took off with the Swedish project ”Prison Sisters” by Nima Sarvestani, the director who has made ”Those Who Said No” (2014) and ”No Burqas Behind Bars” (2012). He presented a follow-up on what has happened to the two Afghan women from that film. The project was indeed very well received, more than 50% of the financing is already in place, and the rest will come. No doubt. Sarvestani makes films that can reach both a television audience and do well at festivals.

A footnote in the middle of the report: The system here in Malmö, like at most pitching events, implies that individual meetings are held in the afternoon – where further (hopefully) contractual procedures will be agreed upon.

From the tough world for women in Afghanistan to a portrait of the Danish superstar architect Bjarke Ingels, ”Big Times”, presented by producer Sara Stockmann and director Kaspar Schrøder. Premiere February 2017, a trailer that very much reflects the close contact between the director and the charismatic architect, shot over five years with the architect fighting with what could be a serious illness. If I got it right, not a halleluja-film about the man, who is to change the skyline of Manhattan but a human drama. Promising.

A Norwegian project, ”Exit”, from director Karen Winther, who in her youth was part of a neo-nazi group, got out of that and wants to examine through others ”what makes extremists change” – and a sweet and joyful Icelandic project about baby-swimming, ”Dive – Rituals in Water”, three directors, the trailer visually strong – and a Norwegian ”Ambulance” from Gaza, directed by Palestinian Mohamed Jabaly. Time to stress that the Forum deals with the world as it is in all its cruelty, in this case through a first person film, the director being part of an ambulance team that operated during the 52 day war in 2014. A panelist, Tore Tomter from NRK in Norway, called Jabaly a brave man. Another panelist, Mette Hoffmann from DR in Denmark, wanted to hear what Jabaly thought of Hamas (!). He cleverly answered that ”I don’t deal with politics, I am a filmmaker”.

Let me stop the title-dropping for a moment to come up with some comments on the atmosphere in the room, the pitching, the trailers, the response from the decision makers…

We are in the North of Europe and people behave nicely, the pitchers pitch nicely and polite, for my taste far too much according to unwritten rules with someone presenting the director(s) as ”unique”, the project as ”amazing”, then the director says some words, the trailer is screened, some more words and then ”we are looking for pre-sales and co-productions”. It is a bit mechanical and boring and even more so, when the panelists start by saying ”thank you for a good pitch”, ”thank you for a a fine trailer” – the monotony is there and why do the pitchers (many of them, not all) read from a piece of paper? More energy, please! And for us observers, who behave quite as mechanical – we applaud after the trailers and after the verbal pitch has come to an end and after the Q&A. What about some whistling or some booing or some bravo’s. No, we are too polite for that. Not that the panelists say stupid things but they don’t have to repeat what the one before has just said, do they?

Therefore it was a blessing for the show that veteran Finnish director Pekka Lehto (I remember his fine films ”The Real McCoy” and ”Boy Hero 001”) with his ”Jailhouse Socrates” about a criminal underworld in his country, said hello, showed the trailer right away and was very ”naughty” in his interruption of some of the broadcasters. Suddenly it all became very lively making moderator Opstrup smilingly say that ”this is getting out of control”. What Lehto gave to the room was energy, a dialogue between pitchers and panel, at least an attempt, thanks for that and thanks for having a trailer that showed the cinematic competence of cinematographer (and producer) Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen. Which one of the panelists, Tore Tomter, who talked a lot on this first day and in general was very positive to everything, asked was going to be the style of the film…

Anyway, this is getting too long and I don’t have space for all projects… let me finalise by highlighting the project ”Death of a Child” by the team behind ”Pervert Park”, Swedish Frida and Lasse Barkfors, who impressed with their calm and personal presentation of a film on ”every parent’s worst fear – to cause one’s own child’s death”. SVT’s Axel Arnö said it with the right words – (your way of presentation and the trailer is) low-key, deep and intriguing. Philippe Muller from arte expressed his thanks, ”this is a film that is for all of us”, producer Anne Köhncke from Final Cut for Real gave the theme a philosophical perspective without any paper in front of her. And I – like many others in the room, I’m sure – made my own thoughts, and I know this will be a film that I will watch with hesitation…   

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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