On Wednesday, as sellers at the European Film Market’s Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin were closing shop, aligning last minute meetings and going through deals and LOCs, the mood was upbeat for negotiators of quality foreign-language films such as French MK2 Films which sold Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire to Sweden (Folkets Bio), the UK (Curzon Artifical Eye), Spain (Karma), Benelux (Cinéart).

Among hot English language films pitched on the pre-sale market were Viggo Mortensen’s directing debut Falling (starring Sverrir Gudnason) sold by Hanway Films to key territories such as Scandinavia (Nordisk) and Yuval Adler’s sci-fi thriller Voyagers starring Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman, sold out by ABC International, to buyers including SF Studios for Scandinavia.

Among the leading Nordic film sales agents, TrustNordisk was the loudest at the market, with daily announcements in the trade press on either new pick-ups such as Amanda Kernell’s Swedish drama Charter and Maria Sødahl’s Norwegian film Hope, or single title sales. Heading the company’s EFM slate was Hans Petter Moland’s competition entry Out Stealing Horses, sold in Berlin to Benelux (September Films), Greece (Weird Wave), China (DD Dream) and Estonia (Estin Film), with more deals pending. “Hans Petter Moland is known for his darkly crime dramas and some distributors had to get their head around the fact that this is a totally different genre,” told TrustNordisk’s managing director Susan Wendt to nordicfilmandtvnews.com. “It will take a bit longer to close some deals, but I’m confident we will sell it in several other key territories,” she said.

The company’s biggest attraction was May el Thouky’s Sundance and Göteborg winning film Queen of Hearts, sold to the UK/Ireland (Thunderbird Releasing), Benelux (September Films), Mexico (Cinemex), Hungary (ADS Service), Israel (Lev Cinema), South Korea (Lumix), the Czech Republic and Slovakia (Film Europe), with several other deals pending. “We’re thrilled with the traction we’ve had on the film, considering the tough subject matter [a high flyer female lawyer’s affair with her step-son]. But the film is gripping and Trine Dyrholm’s exceptional performance has turned it into one of our hottest titles,” said Wendt.

TrustNordisk also closed several deals on Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein’s romantic drama Swoon, picked up by Russia/CIS (Capella Film), Estonia (Estin Film), Lithuania (Scanorama/Kino Aljausas), Korea (Activers), Greece (Weird Wave), Ex-Yugoslavia (Kino Mediteran), while the fantasy family film The Shamer’s Daughter 2-The Serpent Gift was sold to Imago for Italy/Italian speaking Switzerland, Vivarto for Poland and Huiya for China. 

SF Studios made a splash with a multi-deal on Tuva Novotny’s Britt-Marie Was Here, announced in Variety. The Swedish comedy drama based on Fredrik Backman’s best-selling novel was acquired by Cohen Media Group for North America, Prokino for Germany, Watson & Holmes for Spain, Shochiku for Japan, September Film for Benelux, Cirko Film for Hungary, Ascot Elite for Switzerland, Estinfilm for the Baltics, Myndform for Iceland, Cinemania for Ex-Yugoslavia, Movie Cloud for Taiwan, and KTH for South Korea.

New Europe Film Sales attracted a lot of interest with the new Icelandic pick up Lamb by Valdimar Jóhannsson starring Noomi Rapace. The film produced by Hrönn Kristinsdóttir and Sara Nassim for Go to Sheep was first pitched at Nordisk Film & TV Fond’s Nordic Genre Boost. Co-producers on board include Sweden’s Black Spark Film & TV and Poland’s NEM Corp. New Europe Film Sales’ CEO Jan Naszewski said the elevated drama will start production in June.

Naszewski said other Nordic titles screening at the market that caught buyers’ attention include Sons of Denmark by Ulaa Salim. ‘The film was number 5 on the audience top film list in Rotterdam and buyers have been tracking it since,“ noted the sales executive who was considering various offers from Asia and Europe. Another EFM buzz title was the Norwegian animated film Cattle Hill by Lise I. Osvoll. Naszewski was also anticipating lots of attention in the next few months with the Icelandic films The County by Grímur Hákonarson and A White, White Day by Hlynur Pálmason, among the most buzzed films at Göteborg set to be ready for Cannes.

LevelK’s CEO Tine Klint was pleased with the “packed quality meetings” she had in Berlin. “We did not have films selected at the festival, but had a very strong line-up with films that have the potential to succeed in other countries,” she told nordicfilmandtvnews.com. Among the films in negotiations with several territories were the Finnish film Aurora, Danish family action film Hacker and animated hit Checkered Ninja, which has passed 700,000 admissions in Denmark.

The Yellow Affair’s flagship EFM title was the Finnish film Stupid Young Heart by Selma Vilhunen, selected at Berlin’s Generation 14Plus section. The film was sold to Poland’s Bomba Film and further deals are in negotiations.

Commenting on market trends Susan Wendt said: “2018 - especially the first half of the year - was tough for many arthouse distributors, from Germany, the UK to Latin America. Even China, which was an aggressive buyer of Nordic titles a few years back, has come down a bit,” she noticed. The turmoil in indie theatrical distribution, pressured by global platforms, means that buyers are choosy and deal-making is slower, according to sales agents. “Buyers of Nordic films are very cautious, but this is not really new,” said Tine Klint.

“The new thing is dealing with world players and exploiting all rights and windows, without freaking out and blocking rights. Basically, we work with and around the SVOD/vod players,” she noted.

Looking at the overall evolution of film sales, Wendt said: “today, on the pre-sale market, to be able to close deals, you need a name director - such as Thomas Vinterberg - a clear genre, if possible A-list actors, and in the case of genre films such as Valhalla, strong visuals to show the director’s vision and style.” “With finished films,” continues Wendt, “you need to find the right platform. Ten years ago, you could sell an arthouse foreign language film based on festival exposure and awards, but today it’s much tougher with the quantity of titles on the market, especially in the middle-range, although you do get some good surprises, such as The Guilty or The Queen of Hearts.”

Ultimately for Wendt who has experienced the changing role of sales agents from pure rights negotiators to strategy advisors in distribution, an open dialogue as early as possible with rights owners is crucial today for three main reasons:

  • to identify which distribution is best suited for each film, between territory by territory, multi-territory deal with a major streaming service, or a combination of both 
  • to identify when and how to launch a film 
  • to create smart promotions and engage the target audience as early as possible.