XpoNorth Town House
by Margaret Chrystall
THE rest of the world REALLY just loves Nordic Noir for its superficial differences - "language, bleak weather and beautifully-designed furniture", was the controversial view of one of the panellists in the discussion about the influential style’s appeal.
Danish screenwriter Emil Nygaard Albertsen also felt that the supposedly character-driven dramas like The Bridge – and autistic policewoman Saga, one of many strong female characters they portrayed – were not all they seemed.
But the session had opened with film producer Ake Lundstrom – co-producer of Swedish crime series Arne Dahl and hit movie The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – giving a quick history of where the screen genre of Nordic Noir had begun.
It was rooted in the 60s with the books of Maj Sjöwall and partner Per Wahlöö who created the Martin Beck crime books.
They decided they wanted to write about society and because people need a story, they decided to do that through crime stories and wrote 10 books.
"They were not interested in crime, but society and they had been reading American crime writer Ed McBain’s books set in a fictional New York called Isola.
"So it’s US genre fiction in a Scandinavian environment.
"These books were popular and especially in Germany and a TV series was made as a co-productions with Germany in Swedish but dubbed into German. Then the series started being shown outside Germany. It wasn’t a plan to show them internationally, it just happened. When we realised we could do this, we started to make a lot – we developed a skill to do these crime stories."
And Ake explained: "They are character-driven but it is the reason in society that makes the crime happen that is the reason behinid telling the story, but of course you have to end it with finding the one behind the crime."
So how has the Nordic Noir style changed the way storytelling and roles are presented on screen?
And why has it proved so popular with the rest of the world?
The session took a look and also touched on how it’s changing things for women – in fiction and real life.
Also, how it’s changed things for the storytellers and film-makers in the Scandinavian countries that evolved the style.
Anders Tangen, Norwegian producer of series Lilyhammer and DAG is moving to America to make TV out there.
He said: "I think we are too into the crime genre because it is easy to sell.
"I’m struggling because I am trying to make new drama and leave the crime genre."
He also pointed out that America wants to take its own TV series to Scandinavia to shoot, with an American script, but shot in Scandinavia and then taken back to the US.
Finnish producer Hannu-Pekka Vitikainen who will next produce the crime series from The Hummingbird Trilogy books, reminded of the origins of the other origins of Nordic Noir – film noir itself from the 1930s with its high contrast black and whites and shadows and films such as The Lady Of Shanghai.
The style proved practical for a crime documentary based on a Helsinki court case he was working on, he told the session.
"It’s about a truck chief and drug trafficking. We have the story told by gangsters and we were thinking how would we make it. The style – for practical reasons we can’t show faces of gangsters who don’t want to be identified – so that is one reason we decided to use that style and make a strong light with shadows.
"Like film noir – we borrowed from that style and did not show the faces."
But Danish Emil confessed he couldn’t understand why the Nordic Noir style is so popular in the UK. He said he doesn’t believe the so-called character-driven dramas spend enough time on their characters and disagrees that strong female characters are what powers the drama – or that they are based on real-life strong women.
But Finn Hannu-Pekka agreed with panel leader and questioner, screenwriter and film-maker Beatrix Wood, that whether the Humming Bird heroine of the series they are both working on was strong or weak, she was believable.
Hannu-Pekka said that the character was written by a woman and as a Serbian woman facing racism in her police station workplace, it was about the problem in society of not belonging, as well as solving a crime.
In Denmark, scripts had to have strong female characters and the scripts that featured were more likely to be funded, the panel audience heard.
But Emil pointed out: "The females in the series Borgen, The Bridge, The Killing are all written by men.
"I feel sorry that we have to say that these women are strong and fantastic, Borgen is stupid, the problems she faces are not real.
"And there is no such woman as Saga and women like her don’t exist in real life.
"The genre is fooling itself.
"And hall four panel members here are men."
A member of the audience then asked if all the positive role models of female characters had not had any impact on the female role in Scandinavian society.
"Hasn’t it worked to get women a share of the power?" she asked.
Anders said that women were writing, but not in the crime genre on screen. And that women who went out of the workplace to have children often didn’t return because it was too difficult to look after children and be a scriptwriter. But later he revealed that on the set of his series DAG, shooting started at nine in the morning.
"We should design TV series so you can have a life. It’s important for scriptwriters to have a life! If you have great men and women you have to create a world where you can have a normal life so you can keep them."
And he pointed out the "strongest producer" in Norway is a woman.
The freedom in Scandinavia to create good drama is something Anders paid tribute to.
"It’s different in Norway, the bosses just want to make a good show.
"We know the whole process, in America people are just writers or lawyers. In Scandinavia the TV station doesn’t sit on you or give you notes.
"But I can’t make my shows in Scandinavia, they don’t want to make my shows, they want crime."
Ake confirmed that when he had pitched to make a TV series set in the Second World War, the Swedish channel had said no and when he asked what sort of series they were planning "Just crime" was the answer.
Yet they were surprised to discover from him Danish TV wasn’t planning on ordering any crime series at the same time.
Also up for discusssion was what will follow Nordic Noir – or how will it develop in future
Ake said: "It’s now developed into other countries and they will make it something else.
"I think the genre will develop."
But he believed the crime series were still a crucial element of the Scandinavian screen scene.
"Though you don’t have the freedom in the way that they are written, they are still our bread and butter. People still love them.
"There are strong female characters, of course, but they are almost always also part of a group of people – that’s also part of the genre. And you can say more in those series than you could in the older ones."
Ake also believed that a lot would change including the role of women both on and off the screen – and on the panel!
"I think a lot of things are changing, you can see a difference and if we have this discussion in five years time, there will be women up here. I think it’s natural to use strong women characters."
An American film-maker in the audience was curious about why American remakes are made of series like The Killing which was made to look glossy, dropping the Nordic Noir style, for American audiences .
Danish scriptwriter Emil said: "People would rather watch the original."
And Hannu-Pekka said: "That American version of The Killing was too polished, the Danish original still has a reality and roughness."
But referring to the popular American crime series, Emil said: "I watch True Detective and it’s exotic to me, but those two guys if they were in a car in Copenhagen, I wouldn’t care. We watch for the characters and story."
But the American film-maker in the audience disagreed.
"We sometimes watch for the aesthetics."
And another member of the audience confessed that the darker days shared by the North of Scotland and Lilyhammer’s Norway had made a similarity of lack of light and winter darkness one reason she had enjoyed watching the Norwegian series – it had felt familiar.
Finally, Beatrix, herself a producer and scriptwriter, asked each of the panel members what they would most like to see happen for their current projects – and the future of Nordic Noir.
Ake reminded everyone: "We didn’t invent the name of the Nordic Noir genre.
"Probably other people will do those kind of films and we will do something else!
"But now [as a result of developing the Nordic Noir genre] we have the skills and Scandinavian directors in Hollywood."
Anders said: "In future crime drama will move more in a drama direction – but will still be sort of crime. Normal TV is going down and struggling with financing it’s probably the same here – but Netflix and HBO are moving up."
And Finn Hannu-Pekka said: "I like that Scandinavia has a label that will help us to be interesting from the outside.
"It means we can bring other projects forward that are not Nordic Noir.
"We can say ‘OK we have nice crime movies’ and then you can ask ‘Tell us about your next movie!’."
For more on the panel and its members: www.xponorth.co.uk