Back to Basics

OPINION. I'm not completely sure of the origin of the statement “the best film act in the world", nor whether it's absolutely true, but the fact remains that people ask us all the time: What's the secret behind the success of Danish film? How do you do it? How can so many interesting films and skilled filmmakers come out of a country of such insignificant size?

The reasons are many: a substantial talent pool, a sustained film policy, dedicated private players and a significant societal investment. The achievements of Danish films are very much made in interplay between the government and the market and by targeted educational efforts. The opportunities for unfolding film art and doing film business are dependent on the government's film policy and its engagement in film.

In 2010, the Danish Parliament will pass a new Film Policy Accord for the 2011-2014 period. As we move towards this new accord, there is continued reason to celebrate strong artistic results, but there is also reason to heed the warning lights that have started flashing: The success of Danish film might peter out unless we make an effort to develop and renew.

Drawing Up the Lines

Prior to the negotiations on the new Film Policy Accord, the Danish Film Institute published a proposal of what is needed to ensure a diverse, sustainable and strong film culture in Denmark in the future.

As the proposal's imperative title, “Set Film Free", suggests, the Film Institute considers it a major problem that “the best film act in the world" has gradually become mired in micro-management and increased regulation. The focus has shifted from the results to the process. The Film Institute today has the appearance of an institution with numerous, too narrowly defined boxes, locked-in budgets and a lack of opportunities for quickly reacting to changes and developments in film art or the film market.

A cornerstone of Danish cultural policy is the arm's length principle, implying that politicians should refrain from micromanaging funds for the arts and culture. As I see it, the most important task for the Danish Film Institute, a government agency under the Ministry of Culture, is to draw up the lines. It is not for us to play in the actual game, so to speak. We need to provide the best possible framework for creative talent and competent merchants to unfold their play. We need to make sure that the playing field is big, healthy, well tended and open.

To ensure open dialogue concerning the Film Institute's proposal for a Film Policy Accord, we conducted a major project in 2009 called “Ask & Listen", involving 250 stakeholders from the film industry. Dialogue meetings pointed out a number of conditions regarding film policy that, taken together with the considerable structural and technological changes in the market, require new thinking if the current success and diversity are to continue and the onset of “metal fatigue" is to be reversed.



Film Policy Framework

The Danish Film Institute operates under the Ministry of Culture (Film Act, 1997). Since 1999, the financial framework and the political objectives behind Danish film policy have been laid down in four-year Film Policy Accords by the Danish Parliament. Next period will  be 2011-2014.

 Cannes og Trier
The Danish Film Institute’s proposal for a new Film Policy Accord includes suggestions for new efforts and initiatives in film development, production, distribution and preservation. The photos show Lars von Trier and his actors on the red carpet in Cannes, 2009. Photo: Stephane Reix 








Main challenges

Three themes dominated “Ask & Listen" with regard to the current Film Policy Accord: insufficient economy in individual films, excessive microregulation and excessive TV influence on Danish film production.

These three issues must be addressed to answer future public film funding. If not, we risk ending up with insufficient room for development, increasing uniformity and a reduced willingness to take risks. These problem areas especially involve film production and film development, the Film Institute's biggest subsidy areas.

Moreover, international exchange should be strengthened and intensified. In a global development, it is essential for the Danish film industry to have strong international partnerships in developing, funding, producing and co-producing films. Consequently, the proposal calls for establishing a department at the Film Institute for international funding and co-production.

Another big subsidy area is distribution and dissemination. Changing consumer behavior and technological breakthroughs present new opportunities and new challenges for disseminating Danish films. It is the Film Institute's goal that films should come to citizens where they live, and the Film Institute's many subsidy schemes for various dissemination purposes need to be revised accordingly.

The Dialogue Continues

The Danish Film Institute's proposal for a new Film Policy Accord also embraces ideas and plans for digitising and publishing the film heritage, teaching activities for children and youth, ambitions for the Cinematheque and much more.

A time of global recession and prospects of public budget cuts is not an ideal context for voicing big ambitions and desires for public support of the arts. Still, the Film Institute's proposal for a new Film Policy Accord has been well received, both by the film industry and by politicians. In the coming months, we will be following up on the “Ask & Listen" process, and it is our hope that Denmark's new Film Policy Accord will be created in a dialogue between Parliament, the Danish Film Institute and the film industry, so that Danish films may continue to benefit from a government film policy that truly reflects the wide framework of that which has been coined “the best film act in the world".

Read Henrik Bo Nielsen's foreword for “Set Film Free" at