Paris-based film director Ari Allansson is behind the idea of the New Nordic Cinema Voices, an event dedicated to contemporary cinema, presented at Institut finlandais in 2023.
We sat down with him to discuss his background in filmmaking, what makes Nordic cinema different and what he sees in the future for it.
Could you tell us a little bit about your career and what brought you to Paris?
I came to study practical filmmaking in Paris in 2005. Before that, I did more theoretical cinema studies for three years at the University of Stockholm. I wanted to know more about how to make films so I applied to a film school here in Paris and was accepted. This is more or less why I came to Paris, it was for films. Today I work as a filmmaker. After I finished my studies I started to work pretty much immediately for other people in film productions, just doing whatever kind of jobs that were available.
What made you come up with the idea for New Nordic Cinema Voices?
We have done this before actually. It was under another name, le Ciné club nordique. That was a few years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic, we did two or even three seasons where we organised screenings of films coming from the Nordic countries at Institut finlandais. The programme was more open than this time around, as we are now looking for recently released films that have come out this year or last year. We are looking for “auteur films”, basically, films that bear some marks of the filmmaker. With the programme selection, we are trying to find a niche for new Nordic cinema here in Paris, which can sometimes be quite difficult since there is the Cannes film festival that presents most of the new interesting and exciting Nordic films. However, I think there is a kind of niche to be explored a little further.
That’s more or less the idea behind New Nordic Cinéma Voices, it’s to try to create a platform to present new Nordic films here in Paris, through other channels than the ones that are already established such as the Cannes festival among other festivals. There are a lot of films being produced in the Nordic countries that I think deserve to be presented to the public, especially in a city like Paris that is well known for its rich cultural life and cinéma. It’s a fantastic city.
Do you think there is a certain interest in Nordic films in Paris?
I think so. I think people should always be interested in a good film. I believe Nordic cinema is interesting to the French public because of the scenery alone. Of course, a film that focuses too much on just showing the scenery is no longer a film, it’s something else. So there is a line to tread there. What has been happening in the past years, in my opinion, is that the audience in France is more and more interested in the real Nordic culture, like the urban culture and the people. I think this is interesting for artists in the Nordic countries to have this kind of a mirror to present their work and to see themselves and their films or their art through those eyes.
I think, for example, the Icelandic music scene that exploded with Björk and Sigur Rós some time around the 1990’s and 2000’s really benefited from the fact that Björk became so popular that people from other countries started to look at Iceland. All of a sudden there was kind of a new energy or new material for artists there to work with. Like there had been a wall that was torn down.
In the New Nordic Cinema Voices we combine all the Nordic countries since it’s a collaboration between the Embassies and the Nordic institutions here in Paris. In the programme I’m looking for something new, hence the title.
What makes Nordic filmmaking different from cinema in other countries?
In the Nordic countries we produce fewer films each year than a country like France or Germany or Spain. It’s because the countries are smaller and the budgets are not as big. For example, Iceland does not make many feature films per year. In that category of the films that get made, there are maybe two or three really really good films, and not even, that’s a really good year!
In Sweden for example, I have noticed that in the past years there have been some really interesting films. I think that this is partly because some years ago there was a conscious effort in Sweden to focus on the avant garde and on filmmaking that is less commercialised. Although there is a dialogue between these two ways to make films, more avant-garde and more artistic or more commercial.
How did you choose the films that are presented in the New Nordic Cinéma Voices festival?
There was a dialogue between the different institutions and in the end the final responsibility was in my hands. We tried to create a large coherent package through the selection. Some of the films are more avant garde and other films are touching more upon the commercial side. In the end when you have seen the films, you can get a feeling of some kind of a spectrum of filmmaking happening in the Nordic countries.
You talked about the coherence between the selected films. Are there any recurring themes or aspects that characterise the films chosen for the festival? Or in Nordic filmmaking in general?
I’m always a bit sceptical when talking about the Nordic countries as one whole. We are trying to pick really good films that propose something interesting to the public and we are putting them all together under a Nordic “umbrella”, it’s like a common project. So I would say that there is coherence, definitely. Each and every country has its own particularity which is brought into the mix. Together these five films kind of make a whole.
There is a strong documentary tradition in Denmark and also in Sweden. Then there is of course the film noir tradition and a lot of Scandi noir coming from Norway and Denmark, and now from Finland and Iceland also. In Iceland every other person I know is writing a thriller or a crime novel that’s set in winter.
The Norwegian film is about youth culture, which is a theme that has been quite strong in the Nordic countries. There is some kind of a climate, in Norway, for this kind of approach when it comes to young voices being heard and talked about. The Swedish film [Knocking ] is a very interesting twist on the “Scandi noir” which is a concept that has become really big all over the world. This film Knocking by Frida Kempff is a really interesting play on that, she takes a genre and does something really marvellous with it. The film goes really deep into the psyche of the characters.
All of these films present pieces in a larger puzzle and I would say that if you look at them together, you can get an idea of the themes and the currents that are going on in Nordic filmmaking. Having said that, as I was starting to talk about earlier, I’m always a bit hesitant to refer to the Nordic countries as one unity, as they are very different. Nevertheless, we share a culture.
What do you see in the future for Nordic cinema?
Good question. I think there is, or maybe I hope there is, some kind of a seed growing for cinema that is asking harder questions. That’s sort of my feeling. Also, museums have opened up a lot in terms of offering cinema screenings. For example the Louvre has been doing that for some years. I think this is a trend that will continue and grow, especially for auteur cinema. It is also something to think about in terms of cinema production; the audience is not only in the theatre.
I don’t know about themes. Scandi crime has been really hot recently. Some of it is good, some of it is less good. Then there is of course Netflix and the Internet distribution and all that. In Denmark, for example, they are trying to get rid of these Netflix productions because all the people in the industry were occupied with Netflix and they were having problems making their own films. I think if a country loses its own filmmaking identity in this big ocean of Netflix, HBO and Disney+ , it’s very dangerous for the filmmakers in that country.
Do you think that the current world events, such as the war in Europe and the pandemic, will have an impact on filmmaking?
I think they already have, for sure. Sometimes the films are not necessarily straightforward about it but very often there is some kind of an undertone, like an underlying thing that is going on. Of course there are many things that you can read into a film and a lot of times it’s based on how you yourself are feeling at the time. A lot of times a film can just propose something and then everyone in the audience sees a different film, which is especially true for art films. You can interpret the film in your own head and your own being becomes part of the filmmaking process. But yes, these things that are happening around us, they affect what we do for sure. Also, filmmaking is really interesting as a medium because it goes straight into our own consciousness, a little bit like music. I think film is a little bit like a dream; you can access a lot of things through a film.
Interview: Helmi Anttila