The Nordic film institutes international experts and selected sales agents of Nordic films tell us how they are approaching festival strategies under Covid-19.

Uncertainties around film festivals and Cannes in particular is making film launches a hazardous exercise for film professionals.

Denmark’s Another Round by Thomas Vinterberg, Shorta by Frederik Louis Hviid/Anders Øihom, Finland’s Any Day Now by Hamy Ramezan, The Gravedigger by Khadar Ahmed, Iceland’s Lamb by Valdimar Jóhannsson, Norway’s The Innocents by Eskil Vogt, The Middle Man by Bent Hamer, Sweden’s Sweat by Manus von Horn, Jessica by Ninja Thyberg, the documentary Greta by Nathan Grossman. These are just some of the most buzzed about Nordic titles, eagerly waiting for the first major festival able to unfold with a red carpet premiere and the magic of a live audience.

For the Nordic film institutes’ festival managers used to planning ahead film festival strategies months - if not a year ahead, together with producers, local distributors and sales agents -  flexibility, patience and open-mindedness are quintessential virtues in these uncertain times.

All agree that traditional on-site festivals remain the best launching pads for world premieres of feature films by name directors or promising talents. “Big films need world launches on the big screen with cinema audiences and first-time directors need audiences and the press to get the buzz going on their films” says Lizette Gram Mygind, festival consultant at the Danish Film Institute who also misses the random encounters and talks at live festivals. “Cannes is delayed, trying to reinvent itself, the sidebars are cancelled. Now we don’t really know when the next big festival with a 'normal' cinema audience will take place. But we can’t sit and wait. We have to make plans. The consensus is to submit our films at all big festivals in the fall as well. We are therefore looking at every festival opportunity …even until Berlin 2021!

For Gram Mygind, online festivals are options for films that had already a world premiere at a traditional festival, or for shorts and documentaries with smaller marketing and promotional budgets attached.

Christof Wehmeier, festival manager at the Icelandic Film Centre has three fiction films and 6-7 documentaries waiting for a festival launch. “The general rule is that filmmakers want tangible festivals,” he says. “We will organise a few online premieres [including for the documentary The School of Housewives by Stefania Thors at Toronto’s HotDocs], and some films might be saved for festivals taking place early next year. We will know more in a few weeks. But this calls for a new strategy plan,” he commented.

Jaana Puskala, Head of the International Department at the Finnish Film Foundations said three Finnish films are ready for a spring/summer launch: Teemu Nikki’s second feature Nimby, as well as Any Day Now and The Gravedigger, directed respectively by promising first timers Hamy Ramezan of Iranian origin and Somalia-born Khadar Ahmed. “We will continue with these three films until we find the best possible festival,” says Puskala who senses that “most producers and filmmakers are ready to wait even a long time for the real live festival experience”.

“In general people in Finland are quite patiently waiting for better times,” she adds. “We are in this country maybe more used to getting hits outside and there is a spirit that we will overcome these difficult times. We still have a lot of people among us who have witnessed WW2 and the very poor times after that,” she notes.

Puskala says two other quality Finnish films were “badly hit” by the present situation: Klaus Härö’s Life After Death [released early March in Finnish cinemas] and Jenni Toivoniemi’s Games People Play, festival-platformed at Göteborg.

Dag Asbjørnsen, Head of International Relations at the Norwegian Film Institute explains his festival strategy: “What happens is that you sign up for a festival, even though they have announced that they are going digital. Then you decide whether to accept an invitation to participate if the movie is invited. I have discussed with sales agents and producers and we agree on this. Of course, it takes more time, but each film is unique and must be dealt with separately,” he said.

His colleague Stine Oppegaard, Manager, International Relations-Feature Films mentioned that around ten new Norwegian films are applying for festivals these coming months, including Toronto. “These are tough times, but we’re lucky to rely on a strong Nordic and European network,” she stressed, referring to the weekly ‘crisis’ online meetings to discuss festival/market launches with Creative Europe’s European Film Promotion.

Asbjørnsen adds: “We see a lot of changes happening, that are challenging the traditional roles of sales agents and film institutes, for instance regarding online rights that festivals are asking for, and what kind of offer the producers should accept. “The NFI executive says he is discussing these issues as well as new ways to support the international launch of films, with his Nordic colleagues part of the Scandinavian Films umbrella and the European Film Promotion.

Steffen Andersen-Møller, Head of International at the Swedish Film Institute says four Swedish feature films and three documentaries are ready for a summer/fall festival launch. “We are looking at all major festivals and apply to the next one if all go online, as producers and filmmakers want the ‘good old fashion’ world premiere at a live festival,” he says. “The SFI provides flexible support to the industry, and we’ve made it platform neutral to allow for online festival launch as well,” he comments.

Looking ahead he adds: “If in the future festivals will combine on-site and online activities, why not. This could be a way to attract more participants who can’t afford the costs of ‘normal’ festival attendance.

Among sales agents of Nordic films, New Europe Film Sales’ CEO Jan Naszewski who represents both Lamb and Any Day Now, says he is “observing the situation and talking to many festivals and buyers”. “My challenge,” he adds, “is how to make the films stand out with a festival spotlight, reviews etc. “ Naszewski is doing follow-ups after Berlin to figure out the temperature among buyers. “I think people will be more and more careful, but strong films will still find a market,” he asserts.

His counterpart Tine Klint at LevelK says several of her completed films that were supposed to travel at festivals will most probably suffer financially from missing physical festival participation, such as the Icelandic genre film Thirst, and Swedish films Psychosis in Stockholm and Call Mom!

She explains to that due to the cancellation of the Cannes Film Festival in May, her strategy has completely changed, both for her company and her films. “We are discussing the timeline with all producers and the best scenario for each film,” she says. “One thing is the Cannes Film Festival, but we also have to think the unthinkable and expect that neither Venice, Toronto, and the fall festivals will happen in their original form. We have to invent new initiatives in order for Covid-19 to affect us and our films as little as possible. We simply have to work differently and do better. I am confident that the cooperation with the festivals and new digital set-ups will benefit and change the business in the long run - despite how devastating this situation is,” she concludes.