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The Danish film industry

Award-winning films and series.

Photograph: TrustNordics

Text: Mariano Anthony Davies

Denmark's history of filmmaking dates back to 1897. Today, a wide variety of quality onscreen drama, comedy and documentaries come out of Denmark.

Danish film history

The first film screening in Denmark took place in 1896. The following year, Peter Elfelt made the first Danish produced films. The first movie theatres began to appear in 1904, and 1906, Ole Olsen founded the Nordisk Film Company. Beginning in 1910, the Nordisk Film Company gambled on producing full-length feature films. This was the beginning of the golden age of Danish cinema.

Nordisk Film soon dedicated itself to making full-length feature films for export. Its success made Denmark a centre for filmmaking in Europe and launched the career of iconic figures like Asta Nielsen, Europe's first female movie star.

By the 1920s, the Danish Director Carl Dreyer had emerged as one of the greatest Directors of silent pictures. His drama "The Passion of Joan of Arc" has been called the most influential film of its time.

Then, as sound films became more popular, language barriers made Danish films less suited for international export. Most Danish films from the 1930s-1980s were light comedies, with a few notable exceptions like the "film noir" directed by Danish actress Bodil Ipsen. By the 1960s and 1970s, erotic films from Denmark started to gain the attention of world audiences.

The Danish Film Institute was founded in 1972 to provide state subsidies for selected Danish movie projects. In 1989, it broadened the definition of films it would support - a development that laid the foundation for a revival of Danish film.

The "Dogma" filmmakers

By 1995, four ambitious young film Directors emerged and made a "Vow of Chasity", committing themselves to truer and simpler filmmaking. They believed that Hollywood's dependence on big-budget special-effects movies had weakened the art of cinema. A radical change was needed.

The four film Directors were Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen. Together, they created and signed "The Dogma Manifesto", an artistic initiative that was the basis for several Danish films that became popular all over the world - particularly Vinterberg's "The Celebration" and von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark".

From "Babette's Feast" to contemporary Danish film

Gabriel Axel's 1988 film "Babette's Feast" is most noteworthy, set in rural Denmark. It was the first Danish film to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. The following year, "Pelle the Conqueror", directed by Bille August, won the same prize as the Golden Palm in Cannes.

Since then, seven Danish films have been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture award, including Susanne Bier's 2011 film "In a Better World", which won the award.

"Babette's Feast" was also the first of ten Danish films to be nominated for Best European Film at Cannes, and since then, Denmark has won that prize twice with films by Lars von Trier, including "Breaking the Waves" in 1996 and "Dancer in the Dark" in 2000.

Today, the most active Danish film Directors include Nicolai Winding Refn, Susanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, Nikolaj Arcel and Martin Zandvliet. In recognition of these developments, "Another Round" by Thomas Vinterberg became the fourth Danish film to win an Oscar in 2020.

Modern trends

Biopics and period dramas are trending as the gender debate rages onscreen and in the film industry. Folk comedies are alive and kicking, and Jussi Adler crime films are packing cinemas, while the Earth dies with Lars von Trier. Skilled documentarians show both the good life and the hard life.

However, DVDs are disappearing as streaming emerges.

Four Danish film workshops help develop new talent: Aarhus Film Workshop, Film Workshop Copenhagen, Odense Film Workshop, and the Animation Workshop in Viborg. All four are funded by the Film Institute under the umbrella of the Foundation of Film Talent. Other links in the food chain include StationNext, a film school for children and youth in Avedøre and Aarhus, and the European Film College in Ebeltoft.

Production companies range from well-established names, such as Nordisk Film, Zentropa, Nimbus Film, SF Studios, Miso Film, ASA Film Production and Regner Grasten Film, to several new companies that made their mark in the 2010s, including Beo Starling, Profile Pictures, Snowglobe, Rocket Road Pictures, Adomeit Film, Toolbox Film, Final Cut for Real and Danish Documentary.

Many Danish Directors are now making English-language films in the US and the UK.

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