Two Danish talents among IDFA winners

DEBUT FILMS. Big ambitions and limited budgets go hand in hand for the creative teams behind "Charmøren" and "Vinterbrødre." As they await their release in Denmark, there is no shortage of international awards for the two debut features made under a Danish Film Institute initiative to further boost talented filmmakers.

"The greatest experience no doubt was the world premiere at San Sebastian, where we could tell that the film just 'worked,' that the creative decisions we had fought for along the way were the film’s greatest qualities," says 'The Charmer' director Milad Alami.

We were able to move forward with choices that may not have been the simple and obvious ones to make, but that I hope and believe give our film edge – Producer Stinna Lassen

According to Stinna Lassen, the film’s producer, things have been moving briskly since the premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival in September, where the reception of the film was "pretty amazing."

In two short months, Alami’s drama, about an Iranian man’s desperate attempt to find a Danish woman to marry so he can stay in the country, has participated in eight festivals – in Europe, the US, South America and Israel – and taken home four awards. It has also won the attention of international critics naming it "a carefully assembled, perceptive slow-burner" (The Hollywood Reporter) and a "subtly engrossing, psychologically fraught debut" (Variety).

Another first feature, Hlynur Pálmason’s 'Winter Brothers,' has likewise been attracting glowing attention on the international festival circuit since its August premiere at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival. As the first of 10 awards earned by the film to date, Elliott Crosset Hove won at Locarno for best male actor, in the role of a young man having trouble adapting to life and his job at the local limestone quarry. In October, the film won the main award at CPH PIX in Denmark.

"Locarno was a unique experience," Per Damgaard Hansen, the film’s producer, says. "Both because the film had its world premiere there and because it was a great recognition to get to that place after so many years of working on the film."

Elliott Crosset Hove receives his award for best actor on Piazza Grande, the heart of the Locarno Festival. Photo: Locarno Festival / Sailas Vanetti

Personal Language Is Key

Both 'The Charmer' and 'Winter Brothers' were made under the Danish Film Institute talent-support scheme New Danish Screen. The films are produced on smaller budgets and with a higher subsidy rate than is usually the case at the Film Institute. The idea is to make the small budgets sharpen the films’ creative concepts to promote new and original stories.

For the team behind 'Winter Brothers,' the limited budget primarily afforded a certain level of artistic freedom, Damgaard Hansen says. The director got the space to apply his personal language, which was crucial to the film’s impact, he says.

"Hlynur Pálmason has succeeded in creating a singular story in a singular universe. He puts every cinematic element into play, which is also why the cinematography, sound and editing were highlighted at festivals alongside the actors’ performances," Damgaard Hansen says, referring to the most recent festival awards, which went to sound designer Lars Halvorsen and director of photography Maria von Hausswolff in November.

'Winter Brother's team in Locarno: producer Julie Waltersdorph Hansen, director Hlynur Pálmason, actors Simon Sears and Elliott Crosset Hove, cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff and producer Per Damgaard Hansen. Photo: Locarno Festival / Sailas Vanetti

Authentic Edge Shines Through

'The Charmer' producer Stinna Lassen points to the modest budget as a creative constriction.

"For instance, we could never have afforded to build the Persian sets that play such an important role in the film, so we had to scout for real locations in the Persian community in Denmark.

"Sabine Hviid, our production designer, and her crew spent hours visiting with Iranian families, and we ended up filming in their homes, eating their food and inviting them on as extras in the film. That lends an authenticity that I think shows through in the final look of the film," Lassen says.

Moreover, the team experienced a lot of freedom to make the film they believed in, she says.

"The relatively low budget and the high subsidy rate made for very simple financing. There were very few opinions and requirements about the film’s narrative, look and cast. We were able to move forward with choices that may not have been the simple and obvious ones to make, but that I hope and believe give our film edge."

Alami adds, "The response we have seen from audiences and international critics confirms to us that we can trust our choices and our way of thinking."

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Milad Alami and Stinna Lassen at 'The Charmer's premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival, where it won the Fedeora film critics' award. Among its latest awards is the main prize at Lübeck Nordic Film Days.

About the Films

'The Charmer' is directed by Milad Alami, who wrote the script with Ingeborg Topsøe, and produced by Stinna Lassen for Good Company Films. The film has so far been selected for nine festivals in the coming months, including in Dubai and Les Arcs.

'Winter Brothers' is directed and written by Hlynur Pálmason, and produced by Julie Waltersdorph Hansen and Per Damgaard Hansen for Masterplan Pictures, with Anton Máni Svansson co-producing for Join Motion Pictures of Iceland. The film has several festivals lined up for the coming months.

Both films are supported by the Danish Film Institute’s New Danish Screen talent-development scheme.