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Smiles Of A Scandinavian Morning

January 01, 1986|BETTY LUKAS

STOCKHOLM — What's up in Scandinavian film making during these post-Bergman days?

Hope, that's what.

Hope and hard-nosed pragmatism.

No one here is about to rival Hollywood's massive film mill. After all, all five Nordic countries produced about 50 films in 1985 in contrast to about 250--both majors and independents--in the States.

But quantity has never been a factor in film making here.

Specialty has.

The current specialty is children's films. Sweden's "Ronya, the Robber's Daughter" has been a runaway success in Europe as well as in Scandinavia, and is Sweden's official candidate for a foreign-language film Oscar.

(It's had three limited screenings in the States, the most recent of which was the San Diego Film Festival in mid-November. A general theatrical release is planned for spring, according to Dan McMullin, its American distributor.)

And then there's the beloved Pippi Longstocking character, who will be making her debut on American soil before too long. Auditions for the redhaired, pigtailed pixie were completed recently, and American producer Gary Mehlman expects to begin shooting "The Adventure of Pippi Longstocking" at Fernandina Beach and Amerlia Island, Fla., in March.

Author Astrid Lindgren, who wrote "Ronya" and a string of other successful Pippi films --based on here equally popular Pippi books--for European release, is scheduled to participate in the American production.

This is not to say that kid stuff is all that's being talked about in Northern Europe:

--Movers and shakers in the Scandinavian media are enthusiastic about the imminent addition of more television channels--commercial ones, for the first time--in both Norway and Sweden.

--They're high on some talented young directors.

--They're bolstered by fresh leadership in Sweden's oldest film company.

--And, most importantly, they're positively beaming at the big bucks that are being flashed in their direction.

Indeed, the year of 1985 will be remembered as a turnaround time in film making here. At least, that's what the Nordic moguls are saying through their dollar-sign smiles.

The fresh sources of funds have been uncommon in these countries where films are usually subsidized by the state.

But. . . .

"Now there are private investors like banks and real estate," said Viking Film's Bo Jonsson, a highly regarded independent producer--one of only a few independent producers in Sweden. "There were always crazy guys, but now banks are interested. There is still no money to talk about, of course. A million-dollar budget is considered large in Scandinavia. It's peanuts for an American company.

"But, for the first time in my life--and almost in the film life of Sweden--I made a package last year." Jonsson's package, which is financed by a variety of investors, consists of four films "signed and scripts more or less ready. I have work," he said with a big smile during an interview in his small two-room office in an old building in downtown Stockholm.

Across town, in sleek new quarters in a remodeled brewery, Lennart Wiklund, the energetic 35-year-old new president of Svensk Filmindustri, Sweden's oldest film company, proudly ticks off the list of 12 films being readied for production.

"It's going to be tough in the coming years, but it's much more hopeful," he said from his gray-carpeted office whose massive windows overlook the shimmering Riddarfjarden.

While SF is not yet in the black, Wiklund said that its deficit has been reduced considerably in the year since being acquired by Bonnier, Sweden's largest magazine publisher and its major publisher of books. The massive firm also manufactures furniture, plastic products, life jackets and software--among other things.

Wiklund, who has a background in print journalism and was running Sweden's largest video rental business when he was tapped for his new job late in 1984, doesn't believe in dwelling on past failures in the film industry.

"We could look in the past, but that's uninteresting," he said. "When you say life is hopeless, it becomes hopeless.

"We're trying to be more optimistic--not unrealistic--because we know what we have to fight, but we think there's a big potential.

"You have to create a new spirit, and we're trying to do it and we are rather successful. We think we have the bridge to that success in children's films."

He pointed with pride to "Ronya" as the first example of this bridge. It has already won a prize at the Berlin Film Festival, and 25% of the Swedish population have seen the film to date, he said.

Three of those 12 films SF is involved with in the next year are aimed at children, Wiklund said, and Mehlman's Pippi number is among them.

Wiklund definitely has his eyes on the children's film market, and he's not at all intimidated by Disney.

"Disney's not holding up," Wiklund observed. "I don't feel they are emphasizing what has been the trademark of Disney films--the films for children."

With a pragmatic eye on the SF pocketbook, Wiklund admits that the new management is "more money-oriented."

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