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Crime and vampires driving Nordic film boom

Simon Chinn (L) and Malik Bendjelloul celebrate winning Best Documentary award for "Searching for Sugar Man" at the British Academy of Film
Simon Chinn (L) and Malik Bendjelloul celebrate winning Best Documentary award for "Searching for Sugar Man" at the British Academy of Film

By Simon Johnson

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Gone are the days of Greta Garbo and Ingmar Bergman, but from arty documentaries to brooding crime stories, Nordic movies and television shows are enjoying an international boom.

Swedish documentary "Searching for Sugar Man" won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, Features. Two Swedish sound engineers also won Oscars and movies from Norway and Denmark were both nominated for best Foreign Language Film.

"Right now, here in Hollywood, we are talking about the Nordic trend because we have seen so much great stuff coming from there recently," said Fredrik Malmberg, CEO of Paradox Entertainment, a production company based in Los Angeles and Stockholm.

Scandinavia has in the past mainly been associated with arty, intellectual films. "Searching for Sugar Man", the story of two die-hard fans seeking a missing-and-assumed-dead musician with a cult following in South Africa, fits well in that genre.

"In Sweden, we have had Ingmar Bergman, but also others that have given Sweden a kind of aura - you can think of Garbo and Ingrid Bergman," Anna Serner, Head of Sweden's Film Institute.

"In Denmark, you have Lars von Trier who is one of the world's biggest directors. Finland has (Aki) Kaurismaki."

But it is the darker side of Scandinavian culture which has been the building block of recent success.

That has included the crime novels of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo and Sweden's Henning Mankell, as well as the blockbuster "Millennium" trilogy of Stieg Larsson, of which "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was made into a Hollywood film with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.

"'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' has been a big influence," said Anna Serner, head of Sweden's Film Institute

"When such a film breaks through - and the interest started with 'Let the Right One In' - then eyes are turned to us and since then there has been a lot of interest in Swedish film."

Malmberg, who was executive producer on "Let Me In", which was a 2010 Hollywood remake of moody Swedish vampire flick "Let the Right One In", said the success of Nordic crime novels had opened doors in Hollywood.

Tomas Alfredson, the director of "Let the Right One In" went on to direct Gary Oldman and Colin Firth in Cold War thriller "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" in 2011.

"Any book that gets published in the genre is optioned the day it is produced," he said, describing how Hollywood studios pay for the rights to turn novels into movies.

"Hollywood is very observant, and picks up on trends, that's what we do," he said.

WINTER LIGHT

Crime and horror are odd specialties for nations that are wealthy, healthy, where murder levels are relatively low and child well-being tops the international rankings.

But it is the contrast between light and dark that inspires fascination, said Peter Aalbaek Jensen, who founded film company Zentropa with award-winning Danish director Lars von Trier.

"We are living in darkness up here most of the year and the mentality is dark," said Aalbaek Jensen, whose collaboration with von Trier included "Melancholia" in 2011, "Dogville" in 2003 and executive producer credits for both men on Denmark's 2013, Oscar-nominated drama "A Royal Affair".

"We are these extremely rich and spoiled nations that like to be moody. That's exotic," Aalbaek Jensen said.

A small domestic market has also forced Scandinavians to adapt to the tastes of a wider audience to make their films pay.

"We make 90 percent of our income abroad and most of the financing also comes from outside Denmark," Aalbaek Jensen said. "So we are forced to be international because we don't have any money. Maybe that is an advantage."

TV shows like Denmark's "The Killing" have attracted millions of viewers in countries like Britain and spawned a copy-cat series in the United States.

Scandinavian directors also punch above their weight.

The 2011 smash movie "Drive", starring Ryan Gosling, was directed by Dane Nicolas Winding Refn, while Norway's Morten Tyldum, who made "Headhunters", based on a Nesbo crime novel, has signed up to direct "The Imitation Game" about English mathematician Alan Turing.

"When we are discussing projects right now, we are saying 'can we get a hot Nordic director for this', said Paradox's Malmberg.

Success has dragged along the region's acting talent, with Sweden's Alexander Skarsgard from TV-vampire series "True Blood", Dane Mads Mikkelsen - a recent Bond villain - and Sweden's Noomi Rapace, who has starred in both Bond and Sherlock Holmes - among the hottest international properties currently.

Malmberg, however, was cautious about whether the region could build on its success.

"Hollywood is so trendy, rest assured the trend will move on," he said.

"A couple of years ago it was Korea, Korean movies, then it was Nordic movies. Who knows what the next thing will be."

(Reporting by Simon Johnson, editing by Paul Casciato)

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