Shaking It Up

PROFILE. Copenhagen's Snowglobe production company is represented at this year's Venice and Toronto Film Festivals as co-producer of the Mexican-Danish drama "The Untamed" – a title that applies pretty well to the company's three young founders.

A converted fire station in a battered but buzzing former industrial Copenhagen neighbourhood is home to three young filmmaking dynamos.

We tend to go for directors who have their own unique cinematic language.

Eva Jakobsen, Mikkel Jersin and Katrin Pors founded the Snowglobe production company just last year. Their youth – average age 36 – is set off by the patina of the raw space they inhabit, with its dislodging wall tiles and the resplendently busted leather sofa by the end wall.

The shelves are adorned with an arsenal of rosé wine. "We're shooting for world domination," Jersin cracks, "and prepped for future parties."

Snowglobe refers to the company's northern, Scandinavian location and its global orientation – and, of course, to the snow globe as a magical microcosm that's both static and dynamic.

"Sure, there's a model for making movies," Katrin Pors says, "but snowflakes never fall the same way twice."

The Untamed Photo: Manuel Alberto Claro, Martin Escalante

First Comes the Voice

Snowglobe is co-producing "The Untamed" by the Mexican director Amat Escalante. The film had its world premiere in the main competition at Venice, where it won a shared Silver Lion for Best Director, and is meeting its first North American audience at the Toronto Film Festival (8-18 September).

"The Untamed," a fable featuring a cast of non-professionals, is likely to divide opinions, Pors predicts. But the film has the powerful director's voice that all three founders respond to. Another spanking new Snowglobe project is "Godless," a Bulgarian-Danish drama by first-time feature director Ralitza Petrova. Snowglobe's first film to premiere, "Godless" is off to a roaring start, getting no less than three awards recently at the Locarno Film Festival, including the prestigious top prize, the Golden Leopard.

"Most of the directors we produce or co-produce make films that people either like or dislike. Some of them are more accessible than others, but the trend is clear," Pors says.

"We tend to go for directors who have their own unique cinematic language," Jersin says.

"Though sometimes we also discuss pushing a project in a more commercial direction," Pors adds.

"Artistic integrity is essential to us," says Jakobsen. "That a project is commercially and broadly aimed doesn't equal lower quality, of course. We want our films to be seen by as many people as possible, domestically and internationally. Since distributing arthouse films is a bit of a challenge in an oversaturated market, part of what we focus on is new distribution paths, sharp communication and just as sharp a sense of the audience."

Risk Is a Commitment

Alone among the three founders, Jersin was trained at the National Film School of Denmark. Jakobsen learned the business at the two trendsetting Danish production companies Zentropa and Nimbus, while Pors went to film school in Cuba.

There is a strength to that diversity, Jersin says.

"Our widely different roads into the film industry have given us a huge network allowing us to finance films in many different ways. We can contribute from several different angles – from giving a film theatrical distribution in France to finding a sales agent for a difficult project. The size of our network means that we have favours 'in the bank' practically all over the world," he says, laughing, "but of course, we also owe favours all over the world."

The three producers strive for a more adaptive and flexible approach to production than the traditional one. This is very concretely reflected in the company's working methods.

"Having low overhead and a small staff allows to change course quickly," Jersin says. "We can start up projects quickly without having to hire extra staff – and shut a project down without having to cut staff."

"We also owe our ability to make decisions quickly on the fact that we're one hundred percent independent," Jakobsen says. "Owning the risk compels us to put our projects' financing together very sensibly."

Next summer, Snowglobe will be shooting "Lifeboat," the feature-film debut of Danish director Josefine Kirkeskov, on a boat in Croatia – and on a micro-budget.

"One of our objectives is to find new inexpensive ways of producing," Jakobsen says. "'Lifeboat,' which received funding from the Danish Film Institute's talent-development scheme New Danish Screen, lets us experiment with a very tight shooting concept. This is both creatively challenging and financially necessary."

Godless director Ralitza Petrova with her Golden Leopard in Locarno.

From Latin America to Asia

Pors has years of experience in Latin America. Europeans could learn a lot from how films are produced there, she says.

"In those Latin American countries that don't have a well-established film industry, a film is only made if the filmmaker really has something to say. In Columbia, an up-and-coming film nation, maybe six films a year get public funding – in a country of nearly 50 million people. So they tend to think outside the box, in terms of both production and financing. I love the Latin American energy and dedication to make it happen against all odds.

Snowglobe also has its sights set on the East. Jersin recently participated in an international producer's workshop, aiming to find Asian partners for a Danish majority production about the legendary hospital ship Jutlandia, which sailed to Korea in 1950 to treat casualties of the Korean War. Kasper Gaardsøe will direct.

"If we get some big Korean stars on board, the film will appeal to Koreans all over the world. But our ultimate ambition with the film is to do a story that works optimally for Danish audiences. The creative, storytelling concerns trump the financial ones."

All told, a story about human dynamos and idealists who go into the world, charting a course for distant shores, would seem to be right in the wheelhouse of a company like Snowglobe.

This article was last edited on 13 September.