By Stuart Kemp

Exciting a fresh generation of cinema goers, talking up and never down to children and making films with enough quality to tear teenagers away from YouTube and mobile devices were among the hot topics discussed during the second of three Scandinavian Films’ webinars rolling during the virtual EFM 2021.

The online event entitled The Kids Are All Right: The Boom in Family Films, hosted by journalist and festival consultant Wendy Mitchell, drew together experienced voices from across the Nordic region and beyond to talk all things juvenile in an adult way.

With four films out of 15 selected for this year’s Berlinale Generation section from the Nordic region (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland), the panel revealed why kids’ films are hot and why youth can help cinema survive.

Berlinale Generation section head Maryanne Redpath opened the webinar with a clarion call for the industry. “This is no time for ordinary cinema. For children, for young people for everyone,” said Redpath. “We at Generation like to believe we screen films that truly matter for young people and for everyone else. The everyone else are film goers without an ‘alibi child’. You don’t need to have one to come to one of our films and get a lot out of our films.”

Redpath’s Generation 2021 selection played host to four very different films from the Nordic region: Danish filmmaker Robin Petre’s cinematic nature documentary From the Wild Sea; the Norwegian pregnancy dramedy Ninjababy directed by Yngvild Sve Flikke; Any Day Now directed by Finnish/Iranian director Hamy Ramezan about an Iranian refugee family in Finland; fantasy film Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent, Swedish director Amanda Adolfsson’s take on Martin Widmark’s book of the same name.

Linda Hambäck, director and founder of Sweden-based LEE Film, has Swedish, Norwegian, Danish production The Ape Star unspooling to buyers during this year’s EFM. Her 2D animated film Gordon and Paddy debuted in Berlinale Generation 2018. “When you work with a film, I never think about it as a children’s film, I just work to tell my stories with children. Hopefully it reaches out to the broader audience including parents,” Hambäck said.

Producer Venla Hellstedt of Finland’s Tuffi Films worked on Selma Vilhunen’s documentary Hobbyhorse Revolution, about three teenage hobbyhorse enthusiasts, when she joined Tuffi, confessing that prior to that she never had any interest in youth projects.

“You can’t take the youth and child audiences for granted. They have grown up with screens and have so much content available to them that you really have to concentrate on quality. We don’t want to compromise on this.”

Tuffi has Sihja, The Rebel Fairy at the EFM, a live action film for children ages 6 to 10 about an unconventional fairy and an eccentric boy who overcome their own fears and obstacles in order to save nature. “We wanted to develop an original story not based on an existing book like many children’s films. It’s a realistic fantasy film. We are targeting children but also their parents because at this age children don’t go and buy tickets to the cinema on their own.”

Solveig Langeland, founder and MD of Germany-based sales company Sola Media has been selling youth and animation films for decades, including Nordic projects like Dreambuilders and Louis & Luca. “What is so special about Scandinavian filmmakers is they always put so much incredible quality in their productions even on small budgets. I am from Norway and I always say everything is so expensive in Scandinavia except for animation. What they can do for a budget of €3 million you get half a film in Germany and one third of a film in France.”

Langeland said the hunger for family fair varies across the globe and that live action and animation appetites differ with animation able to travel across borders more easily. Nordisk Film (Denmark) channel editor Kirstine Vinderskov believes family films are popular in the Nordics because the countries have a strong storytelling tradition and enjoy cinema going as a cultural pursuit.

Moderator Wendy Mitchell noted that sometimes content offered up out of the Nordic territories could be perceived as too challenging for kids in other territories; one example from 2021 is Danish animated show John Dillermand, about a man with a very long penis. Vinderskov said the Nordic view on children is to believe kids are able to digest quite a lot and show them the world as it is and not wrap them in a bubble while Redpath posited that adults often project their own trauma onto the children.

Hambach wants to challenge children knowing they want strong stories. “The only thing I ever consider whether or not it is too scary,” Hambach said. For example, she took a choking scene out of a fight in The Ape Star.

Another challenging target are the nine to 14 year olds. Usually Redpath pulls in around 70,000 viewers for the Berlinale Generation titles, and while not all of those are in that age band, she believes there is a hunger among that group for cinema. “I’m not a fan of putting a roof on the age for a film. We don’t call them family films unless they are. They come, they engage, they talk to their parents, or the teachers if they are accompanied.”

Vinderskov currently delivers Oiii, a commercial public service “children’s universe” with a mix of films, TV series and original, locally produced children’s content, developed by Nordisk Film in close collaboration with TV 2 Norway in Norway and Denmark. Sweden is next.

She says the tweens and the teens are the hardest group to target. “They tend to watch explicit content not made for them. They go their own way and that is challenging,” she said.

So are the streamers — both local and global operators — affecting the market, looking to strike headline grabbing deals?

Langeland, who concentrates on four or five films a year, is firmly in the theatrical distribution business. “We licence all rights. We will not go in and do fragmented SVOD deals in territories. We may do a block of territories with a streaming platform but in Europe we distribute theatrical.”

Hellstedt is in limbo with the cinemas closed because of the pandemic. “We are eager to take the film to the people so a global streaming deal for Sihja, The Rebel Fairy is appealing at the moment.”

Hambäck hopes cinema going will come alive again. “You want to leave the couch and the streamers behind, you want to buy popcorn, go with the kids and friends and go to the cinema. I think family film will be the lasting thing in the cinemas.”

Watch the webinar recording here.

Photo: Felix Mooneeram, Unsplash