Europa Distribution Examines How Nordic Films Are Released Around Europe at NNF Haugesund 2023

By Michael Gubbins


The Nordic region has built a global reputation for excellence in films but distributors/publishers are facing serious challenges in the post-Covid economic climate, particularly in marketing and releasing exciting but unknown new works. The annual Europa Distribution panel in the scope of New Nordic Films at the Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund on 24 August, offered a forward-looking and inspiring insight into how releases can be made to work – through a focus on audience engagement, fresh, agile thinking and meaningful partnerships.


Case studies from the three distributors on the panel, from the Netherlands, Italy and the UK, pointed to a returning appetite for quality independent films in cinemas, particularly among younger audiences. Hans Kok, Managing Partner, and Commercial Director, of Dutch company Arti Films offered a case study of the release of Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Iceland/Netherlands/Denmark/Sweden/Czechia co-production Beautiful Beings.


The original campaign materials and trailer emphasised the “grittiness” of the plot, including violent scenes. But Kok felt the campaign did not reflect the tone of the film. Beautiful Beings does not shy away from tough realities, particularly bullying, but Arti Film’s re-edited trailer emphasised the friendships at the heart of what is essentially a coming-of-age story.


The film had its advantages, with festival entries and awards, including selection for the Berlinale Panorama section and the Europa Cinemas Label. The director’s first film Heartstone had also performed well. In tougher times, with cinemas still some way of their pre-pandemic levels, Arti focused on what it saw as a key younger audience and partnership with schools, where the film’s themes would resonate.


Strong reviews, particularly for the acting, and a re-edited trailer with a more positive narrative around friendship and loyalty; and a smartly coordinated word-of-mouth campaign ensured that the release hit its targets. It was screened in 49 cinemas in the Netherlands and a further 10 in Belgium and, despite the pandemic effect on admissions, managed to beat the performance of Heartstone.


The second film featured in the panel was Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli’s debut feature Sick Of Myself. The dark satirical comedy drama also has disturbing scenes and is a challenging commentary on contemporary society, the influencer culture and narcissistic human relationships.


The film – which was selected for Un Certain Regard in Cannes – was released in the UK by Modern Films. Eva Zvedeniuk said that, like Arti, Modern Films spent time ensuring that its campaign was aligned with a clearly targeted demographic. In this case, the company did use the international campaign and trailer, which suited its plans. Zvedeniuk said its approach played with the twisted humour of the film and themes that were very recognisable to a younger adult audience. The company maximised the value of events with some playful merchandising elements, such as mints that resembled the pills that play a central role in the plot. The black humour of the campaign and film helped drive word of mouth. Zvedeniuk said revenues were divided between a theatrical release and TVOD, including a run on higher-cost PVOD (Premium VOD) services, which have become established in the UK.


The Panel also examined how Nordic Films have an established reputation in the UK, and in Italy, where the film is due for release this month. Beatrice Moia, of Wanted Cinema, said the Italian release would also use the international poster and campaign, which has established itself with younger audiences online. She said other international releases, online clips, and appearances and awards at festivals have helped build consciousness of the film long before release. Moia emphasised that connections and shared ideas with other distributors played an important role in shaping strategy. Collaborative innovation and learning were increasingly important to film recovery after Covid, and the post-Covid economic crisis. Moia reiterated the importance of Europa Distribution as a valuable facilitator of such connections.


As with Modern Films, Wanted Cinema has recognised that the return to the cinema is being led by younger audiences, with some continued reluctance from older demographics. The release is clearly aimed at a younger cinemagoing audience. In the long run, there may be advantages of working with younger groups, which are, for example, less insistent on dubbing.


The panel also featured two film funds which have recognised the potential of working with distributors to increase the international reach of films from their countries. Hanne Merethe Okstad, International Relations Adviser for the Norwegian Film Institute described a new international fund aimed at increasing exports. The fund, introduced as a pilot in 2022 has been continued into 2023. It has so far had an impressive 26 applications. The fund offers support for international distributors, via the Norwegian Producer. It covers costs in areas, such as DCP and promotional materials, marketing campaigns. The distributor’s work with the relevant release can amount to up to 10 per cent of the budget. The maximum grant per film per country/territory is NOK 250,000 (22,000 Euros); or for one film in all countries/territories is maximum NOK 600,000 (52,000 Euros). The Finnish Film Foundation has been running a similar scheme since 2021. It accepts applications from a film’s Finnish production company, sales company, and international distributors.


Among films receiving support is internationally-acclaimed auteur Aki Kaurismaki’s Fallen Leaves, which played in Competition in Cannes this year. Jenni Domingo, Advisor / International Promotion and Cultural Export of Feature Films said the scheme had created greater recognition of what partnership with distributor/publishers brought to a title. She noted how distributor campaigns were often inspiring in their ambition and ideas.  Both film funds agreed their export schemes had created clearer understanding among producers of the value that partnerships with distribution could bring.


The initiatives from Norway and Finland offer relatively modest contributions to overall marketing budgets, but they make a big statement, recognising the vital role of distributors in expanding the international ambitions of national and regional films. The success of these relatively new schemes may inspire other agencies to develop similar approaches.


The panel all expressed confidence in the continued potential for intelligent, exciting and original smaller films, released initially through theatres by independent distributors. The panellists recognised that it required more energy, effort and innovation to succeed in the current market, including smart targeting of potential audiences. All of the distributors on the panel agreed on the need for high quality, usable trailers, to support effective marketing and distribution.


And undoubtedly, a big theme of the panel was that more partnership and collaboration was an essential asset when adapting to a changing market.