The World Is Calling

Directors Lone Scherfig, Nicolas Winding Refn and Jonas Elmer plus screenwriter Rasmus Heisterberg – all used their Danish hits as launch pads to international work. Scherfig’s "An Education" took home two awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

“I’m always attracted to places I don’t know, and I always found it very rewarding to work in new surroundings,” Lone Scherfig says.

The Danish director’s 2000 Dogme film "Italian for Beginners", the most seen Scandinavian-language film ever, opened up the possibility of an international career for Scherfig. She hooked up with an agency abroad, and two years later, she had her international debut with a Scottish film, "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" (2002).


Niels Arden Oplev "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Bille August "The Diary" CO-PRODUCTION MARKET
Susanne Bier "Lost in Words"
Jonas Elmer "New in Town"
Jesper W. Nielsen "Through a Glass, Darkly"
Rie Rasmussen "Human Zoo" PANORAMA
Nicolas Winding Refn "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising"
Lone Scherfig "An Education"

Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", "The Girl Who Played with Fire"

Scherfig has a new film out now, "An Education", which was a winner at this year’s Sundance. A coming-of-age story scripted by Nick Hornby and set in 1960s London, the film is about a teenage girl who, like the city, is all but exploding with pent-up energy.

“I’m very drawn to working in England. British actors are technically proficient, disciplined and funny. They are very good at hitting a note of grandeur without getting pretentious, and I like that a lot,” she says.

Scherfig’s British agency, Casarotto Ramsay & Associates, regularly sends her scripts, which she reads with a view to what she could contribute to them.

“It’s a brave decision, asking a Dane to direct an English-language film. Often, there’s an expectation that you’ll bring something to the film that it wouldn’t otherwise get. For that reason, if you want to work internationally, I think it’s important to develop your own voice as a director, and in Denmark we have a fine tradition for doing just that,” Scherfig says.


Another Danish director with a strong voice, Nicolas Winding Refn, currently has two new films out: a British production, "Bronson", which also competed at Sundance, and the Danishproduced, English-language "Valhalla Rising". Refn made his international debut back in 2003 with "Fear X", which he produced in the US.

“I grew up in America, which makes it natural for me to work internationally. Also, my films are very genre based, and they’re much easier to distribute when they’re in English. But I still like to work in Danish, too,” he says.

Refn broke through in 1996 with "Pusher", a powerful Danish drama that later grew into a trilogy.

“International competition is tougher than you can imagine. But a local hit, which is easier to finance thanks to Danish government subsidies, can be a ticket to the rest of the world. It’s the best card you can hold,” Refn says.


A third Danish director, Jonas Elmer, is also going international on the merits of a domestic hit movie. His romantic comedy "Nynne" landed him with Creative Artists Agency, the American talent agency that represents Steven Spielberg.

It took Elmer a year or so to find the right script. "New in Town", starring Renée Zellweger, is another romantic comedy.

“I’m deeply fascinated by the American ability to make films that do equally well all over the world, and I wanted to be a part of that. At the same time, I felt that I had something to contribute from the Scandinavian tradition. For example, a lot of the actors told me they were feeling a lot more interest from me than from other directors, which they barely ee, because they’re always sitting behind a monitor,” Elmer says.


Danish filmmakers are also finding work in the rest of Scandinavia. The big Swedish production of mystery writer Stieg Larsson’s "Millennium" trilogy has several Danes on board. One is Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the first film in the trilogy – another is screenwriter Rasmus Heisterberg, who co-wrote the first two films with Nikolaj Arcel.

With the prospect of the films attracting major attention, based on the quality and runaway popularity of the books, his contribution could lead to more international opportunities, Heisterberg hopes.

Michael Nyqvist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo photo Knut Koivisto

Michael Nyqvist plays the journalist Blomkvist in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", the first Stieg Larsson adaptation, directed by Niels Arden Oplev and written by Rasmus Heisterberg and Nicolaj Arcel. Photo: Knut Koivisto

“Getting the chance to take your ideas out in the world is always an amazing opportunity for a screenwriter,” says Heisterberg, who a few years ago co-wrote the huge Danish hit film "King’s Game". “If the screenplay is good, its chances of being made into a film are that much better, no matter whether you’re in Hollywood or Copenhagen”.

Nick Hornby and Lone Scherfig photo Kerry Brown