Nordisk Panorama Hosts IDA-Led US Delegation
By Carol Nahra
For the hundreds of delegates who attend the six-day event in Malmo, Sweden, from the five Nordisk countries—Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland—the Nordisk Panorama is the most important of the year. Its impact can be seen on screens and in global festivals throughout the year in the abundance of generously supported and carefully nurtured quality documentaries that have made their way through Nordisk Panorama’s range of industry events. In addition to its film program, the festival runs a pitching forum, a marketplace, and a number of other industry-focused events.
Each year the Nordisk Panorama reaches out to a region outside of its own; this year the festival partnered with IDA to bring a US delegation to Malmo. The initiative was a collaboration between IDA and Nordisk Panorama, in order to facilitate co-production among US and Nordic filmmakers. IDA Director of Programming and Policy Claire Aguilar led a group of nine US doc-makers to take part in the Panorama. Each had a particular interest in wanting to develop contacts in the region. For Jen Gilomen, it was a very personal one: after nearly dying in childbirth last year, she began a project looking into maternal deaths. She soon found herself focusing on how the Nordic countries have the lowest maternal death rates on earth—in stark contrast to the US, where mortality has been on the rise.
Gilomen found the NP Forum’s Producers Meet Producers session—which is held the day before the two-day pitching event—-to be particularly useful. "If a co-production can be likened to a film marriage, Producers Meet Producers was a speed-dating event—a great way to dip my toe into the international co-production waters," Gilomen asserts. "And importantly, I left with a much better grasp on the process of engaging an international co-production partner."
Following that session was an eye-opening crash course for the US delegation in just how much the Nordic countries support documentary film. The region has a long, rich history of both state support for documentary film, and co-producing and supporting each other’s films. At the session, funder after funder spoke of the willingness to collaborate, but this collaboration needs to be a two-way street. So most of the projects end up being co-productions within Nordic countries.
For filmmaker Kris Samuelson, another member of the US delegation, the session was eye-opening. "I'm just stunned by the collaboration between the Nordic countries. There is just this really intelligent level of discourse and commitment. There is a huge commitment to documentary here; it feels much bigger than what I see in the US."
In a panel on the US broadcasting landscape, Aguilar spoke of her desire to see more American input on Nordic films with American subjects. "The projects I see from CPH: DOX—the Danes are so famous for eclectic and creative docs. They have American subjects but not a lot of American input. They would benefit greatly from having that kind of input—and vice versa for Americans doing stories in Scandinavia."
In the same panel, Samuelson gave a quick summary of how she came to work with Netflix for her and partner John Haptas' Sweden-based short documentary, Life Overtakes Me. She described the experience with Netflix overall as very positive, including the care taken over the notes given during the edit.
For Samuelson, attending Nordisk Panorama was a chance to participate in an elevated conversation about the genre. "There is a seriousness that has been at this forum that has meant a lot to me." While Life Overtakes Me was "a very homegrown project" without any Scandinavian partners, she is now open to future collaboration. "Having spent a lot of time in Scandinavia because we were making our last project here, it's really interesting to me to flip into their world of production and planning and development. It’' like opening up this really rich world of great collaboration."
Delegates from the Nordic film foundations encouraged any American producers wanting to work within the Nordic landscape to find a producer to work with, in order to develop a co-production. Events such as Nordisk Panorama, festivals like IDFA and Sheffield Doc/Fest and producer courses such as Eurodoc and the Documentary Campus Masterschool are rich opportunities for Americans wanting to make international contacts.
For many, the big draw at Nordisk Panorama is the Forum, which marries public pitches with curated one-on-one meetings. Pitches take place over two packed days at a table seating 28 decision-makers, with many more in attendance. The numbers are impressive—45 projects were selected for the forum this year, with 24 pitched and 21 called "observer+," which entitles the filmmakers to access to meetings with decision-makers. Eighty decision-makers registered and more than 300 people from 29 countries attended the event. The Forum also organized more than 600 meetings, which take place in the afternoons of the event.
The first pitch to take place over the two days was by the team behind the festival hit The Distant Barking of Dogs. Their new project, A House Made of Splinters, chronicles the difficulties of families living near the frontline in Eastern Ukraine. Introducing the pitch, the Danish Film Institute's Cecilia Lidin said, "It was the easiest decision ever to support them." The project received interest from many of the decision-makers around the huge table, which included Chris White of POV and Hayley Reynolds of BBC Storyville.
White was also encouraging about a pitch from Danish director Andreas Koefoed and producer Sara Stockmann for a coming-of-age film called The Fall, which included a mesmerizing teaser. "It's a very strong project," White observed. "A beautiful sample, and a beautiful pitch. It could almost be a fiction film in its universal themes."
Marco Williams, a member of the US delegation, pitched Murders that Matter, following the African-American Muslim mother of a gun victim as she turns from activist to political candidate. "This is exactly the type of material we are interested in at Storyville," Reynolds weighed in. Jenny Westergard of Finland’s YLE agreed. “Everyone is mesmerized by your character and convinced she can carry the film."
Having watched the first morning of pitches, Samuelson thought that they demonstrated an "evolved storytelling palette" that showed the maturity of the genre. "The approach to form is really open so there are a lot of different ways that people can approach stories. You can see that in the trailers we have seen today," she said. "There is a lot of inventiveness and courage about approaching a film in a challenging way and taking a risk."
The Forum follows up after the event to track how successful pitches were in fostering collaborations. After the 2017 edition more than €5 million (euros) changed hands, according to Forum Manager Christina Jul Gregersen.
One of the partners taking part in the one-to-one meetings taking place during the afternoons of the Forum is Edinburgh-based Ben Kempas, whose company Film & Campaign develops tailored outreach strategies with films. His preliminary meetings— often as short as 20 minutes—with producers at Nordisk Panorama can sometimes evolve into a full-fledged partnership. Such was the case with this year’s documentary competition winner, Once Aurora, which Kempas developed an 18-page outreach proposal to turn her fanbase into film advocates.
It was Kempas' seventh time attending Nordisk Panorama. "I think it’s actually my favorite documentary festival in Europe," he says. "In terms of discovering projects and there being a certain guarantee that it is high-standard, there are really good people and there is always something coming out of it; I find Nordisk Panorama a must."
Another riveting industry event at Nordisk Panorama was the launch of films nurtured through Dok Incubator. The Dok Incubator workshop collaborates with creative teams over six months to bring films from rough-cut stage to release. Eight projects were unveiled at the festival—the 8th year in a row for the event. Most seemed clearly destined for a rich festival life. A standout among the very strong group was Lessons of Love. The film, directed by Malgorzata Goliszewska and Kasia Mateja, shot over four years, evoked the 2017 film Dina in its indie film aesthetic. Following the story of Jola, looking for love at an advanced age, after decades living with an abusive husband, the trailer and clips shown to the packed house at NP were riveting. The film has HBO Europe on board as a co- producer. Its creative team told the packed NP crowd—which included programmers from Sundance, IDFA, Hot Docs and Sheffield Doc/Fest—that they were looking for an A-list festival for their premiere. "We want you to dance with us at festivals around the world, because the night is still young," exclaimed producer Anna Styinska.
Other striking films launched through Dok Incubator were Epipo, Our Land, The Earth Is Blue as an Orange, Acasa, My Home and Cuban Dancer.
The festival’s film program includes firsthand evidence of how the nurturing of docs throughout each stage of their development results in quality films. No less than nine of the films in the documentary competition had been previously pitched at the Forum, including both the Doc competition winner, Once Aurora, and the Honourable Mention, Scheme Birds, a UK-Sweden co-production.
This year’s documentary competition was guest-curated by Hussain Currimbhoy, formerly of Sheffield Doc/Fest, who recently left Sundance to help launch the upcoming Red Sea Film Festival. Previously, Currimbhoy picked up two films from attending Nordisk Panorama that played at both Sundance and Sheffield Doc/Fest— 1/2 Revolution and Sepideh.
According to Currimbhoy, the Nordisk Panorama festival is full of gems for programmers."I keep coming back, because you get the surprises that nobody is really tracking sometimes. From the quality of craft and the depth of storytelling to the journalistic edge—for a region it is better than anything I've seen anywhere."
The 31st edition of Nordisk Panorama will run from September 17-22, 2022.
Carol Nahra is a London-based journalist, professor, documentary consultant and pitch trainer. She blogs at www.docsonscreens.com.