Lessons from Denmark

Photo: Per Palmkvist Knudsen (Creative Commons)Over the last few years the Scottish Documentary Institute has been cultivating close ties with Denmark, and the more we work with them the more we are envious of their system. While we go on and on talking about the politics of financing film and TV, Denmark has become one of the major European players in film – and it has a population similar to Scotland. How come?

For the first half of this year, Denmark is taking over the presidency of the EU, and to celebrate it, once again it is film that is being pushed. Danish embassies are organising screenings of some of their films all around Europe.

In UK we keep on asking: Why does a country need to spend people's tax in order to subsidise films? Why can't cinema take care of itself?

Photo: Jan Buus (DFI)Henrik Bo Nielsen, director of the Danish Film Institute, says that those questions were resolved way back in the 1970s. and today are no longer discussed in Denmark. In the early 80s a budget of 70 million Euros was passed, dedicated to film production, feeding an average of 25 feature dramas and 30 documentaries a year: "We think it is important that Danes are told stories about themseves and in their language."

Numbers are the proof od the pudding: 13 million cinema tickets a year are sold in 162 cinemas, with an average of 60 people per screening. Five to eight feature films produced in a year will become part of the top 20 films.

Bo Nielsen has no doubt that the quality of production not only reflects the level of investment but also the development strategy from a well-financed National Film School to young talents' first steps into TV and cinema via support from DR and the Film Institute. What is encouraging in the Danish policy is the freedom they have in investing their funding in developing a cinematic language rather than supporting commercial productions.

A quarter of their budget is spent on films for children. Not surprising that in 2010 a third of visitors to the Cinematheque were under 7 years old. There's a strategy for the distribution of films to schools so they can be studied. Teachers can download hundereds of shorts and documentaries for free but also take the children to cinema. Good habits at early age! For Bo Nielsen those activities are justified as social justice, making sure that children from working class background share the same access to cinema both financially and intellectually. A true democratisation of culture!

In 2012, in the face of economic crisis, the institute is facing cuts. But Bo Nielsen opted for cutting costs of running the institute rather than production budgets. A wise decision!