Country Focus: Sweden
Sweden - >Production subsidies in turmoil (November 2003)
by Annika Pham
22/11/2003 - Production subsidies in turmoil
Following two years of booming business and an injection of energy from new filmmakers and entrepreneurial producers, the Swedish film industry is experiencing a period of uncertainty.
A lack of subsidies for production has reduced the flow of Swedish-made titles, and urgent measures are needed to mend the production machine. In preparation for the new Film Law (set to come into force in 2004), producers, the Swedish Film Institute and trade associations have begun negotiations with the government to ensure that concrete proposals to rescue the production sector from an endemic lack of financing be drafted over the coming months. Meanwhile cinema admissions continue to rise: Joseph Fares’ current hit Kopps has already secured local films a good slice of the 2003 share of the domestic market and (fortunately) creativity is still very much alive and kicking…
1. Backlog of film projects
People in Sweden, Scandinavia’s largest country and one which is rightly proud of its longstanding and deep-rooted social-democratic history, are standing in lines... queueing not for food, but to get films made. This unfortunate situation peaked last year as state subsidies – crucial for the survival of the film industry in any small country - dried up, putting the whole filmmaking chain into a stall. Gone is the euphoria of 2000 when, after a decade of gloom and doom, the local film industry began to recover confidence, thanks to a New Wave of filmmakers (Lukas Moodysson, Joseph Fares) and entrepreneurial producers (Lars Jönsson, Peter Possne, Christer Nilsson, Peter Hilltunen... to name just a few) who injected a dose of much-needed energy into the local film industry, and contributed to a phenomenal rise in the popularity of local films (not to mention a 26 per cent share of the domestic market).
But 2000 was also the year when the long-awaited Film Agreement was signed between the Swedish film industry and the government. The Agreement drew attention to the need for stronger support from the state and local TV stations, and provided the local film industry with a total SEK 100m (Euros10.798.203m) grant.
On the production-subsidy front, (aside from the usual advances allocated to film production) a new audience-related support system worth SEK50m (Euros5.399.102m) in annual grants to producers (based on box office takings and the level of private investment in films), and paid out in arrears, was introduced. Just one year after its introduction, the new support system was proving more of a handicap than an aid to film production. Ironically, resources from the audience-related fund started to run dry because there were just too many surprise hits (like Jalla! Jalla! and Together). The result was almost total paralysis of production output.
Peter Hilltunen (Illusion Film), one of the many independent producers to be hit by the sudden freeze in production subsidies, said that the audience-related subsidy system has changed, and the rates and money available today are much lower than they were initially. “This has created a negative knock-on effect as private investors who were interested in investing in projects that could access to those subsidies are now backing off, as we can’t guarantee that they will get any money back. So we rely much more on pure box office takings and are much more exposed financially.”
The acute situation improved slightly last September, when the Swedish government offered a surprise aid package of SEK80m (Euros8.638.562m) to keep the production sector going until the next Film Agreement were signed in 2004. For Peter Hald, deputy MD and Head of Production at the Swedish Film Institute, this cash lifeline from the government has improved the situation, but it’s still “not good enough”. “If you want to have a support system like the audience-related subsidies with guaranteed risk money, then you simply need more money in that fund,” he said. Hald added that since negotiations between trade associations, filmmakers, producers, the SFI and the government were already underway, concrete proposals to support and sustain the local film industry would be agreed upon by all parties prior to the signing of the 2004 Film Agreement. Hilltunen, who sits on the Board of the Swedish Film Producers Association, also said that the association would be lobbying for the audience-related subsidies to be raised from the current annual grant of SEK50m (Euros Euros5.399.102m) to SEK 75m (Euros8.098.652m). “We will also discuss different ways of attracting finance to the production sector, for instance from investors not yet involved in the film business. To try to diminish the share of state subsidies to the Swedish film financing,” he said.
As a result of the production subsidies crisis, independent producers have indeed had to raise their own investments and risks. The positive effect, however, was greater financial commitment from a number of local distributors – notably Sonet Film , the biggest distributor of Swedish films, and Triangelfilm, who offered more minimum guarantees (MGs) on local products. The regional Film Funds meanwhile have continued to play an increasingly important role in Swedish film financing; contributing between 10 percent and 12 per cent to film production in 2002.
In particular, Film I Väst (FiV), the regional film centre situated in Western Sweden, has become, since its creation in 1992, the most active co-production partner in Scandinavia: participating in half of all films shot in Sweden in recent years. High profile production outfits such as Sweden’s Memfis Film (who produce the films of Lukas Moodysson and Joseph Fares), Sonet Film (Everyone Loves Alice), Illusion Film (Before The Storm) and Denmark’s Zentropa Productions have opened offices in FiV’s production centre Trollhättan. Also a total of 153 film and TV companies are located in the region that’s earned itself the colourful nickname of Trollywood.
“We have been able to build a film industry in a small Swedish town, something everyone said was impossible,” said Tomas Eskilsson, the head of FiV. “In May of this year we will start building a new and bigger sound stage and a vast number of offices for new companies. Another important step will be taken to reach our goal which is to become Europe’s most dynamic and vibrant film region,” he added with pride.
With a total annual budget of Euros7.5m (including Euros5m for feature films), FiV co-produced some 15 feature films in 2002. They include Lars von Trier’s Dogville [trailer], Joseph Fares’ hit Kopps (637,000 admissions so far), Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Skagerrak and Kristian Petri’s Details. Currently in production at Trollhättan are Anders Nilsson’s first English-language film, The Third Wave, and Kjell-Åke Andersson’s Mamma, Pappa, Barn.
So in spite of a general fall in the number of Swedish films made in 2002 (22 compared to 25 in 2001), the 2000 record high of 36 films, and the fact that 2003 will probably only result in about a dozen new productions, the creative pool in Sweden has never been as vibrant or eclectic. In the coming months, talented filmmakers from different backgrounds and generations will offer Swedish and international audiences a taste of their latest creations, such as the eagerly awaited Saraband from the “Master” himself, Ingmar Bergman, Kom Igen (Come Again) from Reza Bagher, who directed Wings of Glass, Mikael Håfström’s Ondskan (Evil), Lisa Ohlin’s romantic comedy Till fallig Fru Sokes (Seeking Temporary Wife), Paradise from Oscar-nominated director Colin Nutley (Under The Sun) and Smala Sussie from Ulf Malmros (A Summer Tale).