MEMBER OF THE MONTH – TONE GRØTTJORD, Sant & Usant
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group.
Our EDN member of the month for November is Tone Grøttjord, producer / director at Sant & Usant production company based in Oslo, Norway. Tone runs the company together with her two producer / director colleagues Anita Larsen and Kari Anne Moe.
Sant & Usant has among other titles produced Ahmed – Almost 13 (Ritchie Cavander-Cole, 2011), Knut Sigve fra Folkestad (Gunhild Asting, 2010), Just Another Day (Anita Larsen, 2010) and co-produced The Guerilla Son (David Herdies & Zanyar Adami, Sweden, 2011), which premiered at Nordisk Panorama in Aarhus, Denmark in September this year.
This November Sant & Usant will have a very busy schedule at IDFA in Amsterdam. The production company has two projects selected for the Forum. Bravehearts by Kari Anne Moe will be pitched at the Central Pitch and Maiko’s Dance by Åse Svenheim-Drivenes is selected for the Round Table Pitch. Furthermore Ahmed – Almost 13 will premiere at IDFA in the Kids & Docs programme.
EDN has talked to Tone about Sant & Usant’s current projects, the importance of being at IDFA and about producing in Norway and the Nordic region.
EDN: First of all congratulations on being selected twice for the Forum and having one film premiering at the IDFA festival. Can you tell us about the two projects in development, which you will be pitching at the Forum?
TG: Bravehearts (Til ungdommen) is a feature length documentary that Sant & Usant has been working on for several years. Its one of these films that the director just needs to make, and it is a film that only the director, in this case Kari Anne Moe, can make. One year into actually production, terror stroke Norway and our four young characters life changed completely - and so did also the film:
Sana, Henrik, Haakon and Johanne are all in their late teens and active in different political youth organisations. They are preparing intensively for the election campaigns. Sana is looking forward to getting her dental braces off before summer. Henrik is tired of defending himself against radical youths who claim his party is racist. Haakon looks forward to living on his own while Johanne is about to step down as a school elections debater because she cannot deal with the pressure. But then something happens that changes everything forever. Oslo is hit by terrorism. The Government HQ is bombed and a right-wing extremist mass murderer carries out a massacre at the Labour Party Youth's Summer Camp on the island of Utøya. Bravehearts tells the story of a generation that was marked for life on 22nd July 2011. The film will have cinema release in Norway, august 2012, and so far it has been sold to television in five different countries.
Maiko's Dance is Åse Svenheim Drivenes second film at Sant & Usant and we are very happy to be able to make a new film together with a director that we already have a very strong working-relationship with. It helps us in taking the film "further" in every aspect. The also Oslo-based production company Mediamente and Sant & Usant decided in 2010 to create a slate-development project together. Since then we have been awarded with slates from the Norwegian Film Institute, NRK and Media. Because of this, Maiko's Dance had a fully financed development budget from the very first day. That has created a welcomed space for the producers and director to work closely on the content together. And not at least to have the unique possibility to make a schedule for the development-phase, that really fits the film, as opposed to make the schedule according to the financing progress.
Maiko's Dance is the story about the talented Japanese prima ballerina Maiko who’s fighting to stay on top of her career as a solo dancer in the Norwegian National Ballet. Maiko's destiny was already decided before she was born. The name Maiko in Japanese means dancing child. With her mother as the driving force behind her career her family sold their house and car to send 14 year old Maiko to the most prestigious dancing schools in Europe. She was only 19 years old when she was casted for the most demanding role in classical ballet, Odette in the Swanlake. Since then she's been the star of the company, casted by world famous choreographers, but things are about to change.
EDN: Is this the first time you will be pitching at the Forum? What are your expectations and how do you see the importance of having two projects present at the pitch?
TG: Yes, this is the first time we will be pitching at IDFA. We have always heard the rumour of the very direct and sometimes harsh feedback you receive there, as opposed to the more gentle atmosphere at the Nordic Forum - however we are looking forward to present our projects there, no doubt that this is a very important place to be.
The Forum has a special focus on arts and culture for the round table pitches this year and that is spot on for Maiko's Dance. SVT and NRK are on board and we are hoping to make more presales and co-productions for Nordic and European television. It is a unique opportunity to be able to pitch a project to a group of handpicked financers that are actually looking for the genre we are presenting. Maiko's Dance is still in development and the pitch team director Åse Svenheim Drivenes and producer Anita Rehoff Larsen will attend the EDN pre-pitch training at IDFA in advance.
Bravehearts is selected for the central pitch at the IDFA. We have already pitched the project quite a lot, so many of the financers from Europe are familiar with the film, but mostly as it was originally, before July 22. No doubt that the film now has become more international and it is an expectation from our side to be able to finance the rest of the budget and to make contact for later acquisitions. I think this is a project that fits well at the central pitch. But I guess we will find out during the feedback.
We have pitched two projects at both Sheffield and at the Nordic Forum this year. Our experience is that it is essential to have a different producer for each project - to be able to keep the focus, to have proper time for the director in the preparations and to be able to present one project only in the individual meetings. To be selected for a pitch gives your project a label of quality, when we present two projects it gives our company a label of quality as well.
EDN: Sant & Usant’s catalogue has a focus on local stories from Norway and you have mostly done Nordic co-productions. Are your plans now to go more international both story-wise and co-production-wise?
TG: I felt it was important for the company to first create a strong relationship to our national financers, to develop a relationship with directors and to establish the kind of production house we wanted to be. So in the beginning our focus was to produce high quality films from Norway. Our films have since then been rewarded with Norwegian prestige prizes as Best Norwegian documentary film, Gullruten (The Big Move, Gunhild Asting) and Best short documentary film Salesman 329, Kari Anne Moe. During the production of our first 6 films we created strong relationships with directors, with Norwegian financers, and Sant & Usant has achieved considerable experience on the production side. With that onboard I felt that Sant & Usant was ready to "go international". We have since 2010 been working systematically to gather projects, develop directors and to develop as producers in order to achieve this goal. Our two first films that we have developed for the international market have had great success at international forums (Bravehearts, by Kari Anne Moe and The Return, by Tone Andersen). We find great pleasure in working with international stories and co-productions, and would like to develop this further alongside with our Norwegian stories.
EDN: Is there a certain theme or style for the type of documentaries that Sant & Usant gets involved in?
TG: No, there is a great diversity to our projects. The in common factor for all our projects, is that they were able to spark en emotional connection in the producer, that they come from directors that have a vision in the film language, a drive to develop their personal voice on all levels.
EDN: Sant & Usant has existed since 2007 and is based in Norway. For all our non-Nordic members can you share a bit of information on the documentary production environment in Norway and the support possibilities for documentaries from the TV stations and the Film Institute?
TG: I would say that there is a strong documentary production environment in Norway, both in the production houses and with freelance directors but also made possible by the Film institute and the Ministry of Culture that has had a growing focus on documentary. All together it enables us to grow in experience. There is also a strong attention for documentary in the Norwegian people. They enjoy documentary on television and in the cinema.
NRK is a public service broadcaster owned by the government. It has three national channels, NRK 1, NRK 2 og NRK 3. It is non-commercial and based 100% on license fees. NRK prebuys about 25 international films a year, and 450 hours of acquisitions. Co-productions have to go through a Norwegian production company. NRK pays about 4000 Euro pr hour.
TV2 is a national public service broadcaster financed by advertising. It is required by law to secure at least 50% of its programming from Norwegian production companies. TV2 buys approx. 20 - 30 hours of documentaries a year. Co-productions are of interest on special occasions.
The Freedom of Expression Foundation was established on June 7, 1974 to promote freedom of expression and democratic trends in Norwegian cultural and community life.
In special cases, the Freedom of Expression Foundation, Oslo, can help promote freedom of expression in other countries. Mainly they support Norwegian production companies and directors. International producers can apply directly on special occasions but then Norwegian distribution must be contracted.
Norwegian Film Institute offers support for the Norwegian participation in international co- productions. The institute has in the later years focused on making Norwegian films stand out in the international market. As a part of this there seems to be a strong intention to support co-productions were Norway is the minor part. To be able to apply the Norwegian Film Institute you will need a Norwegian co-producer, you need to pass the cultural test, and you need to leave creative input in Norway.
Fond for lyd og bilde They have about 7 millions NOK for film and video production. Its not possible to get a clear answer if you will need a Norwegian co-producer to apply the fund but the application must be in Norwegian.
EDN: What is needed for a foreign production company to apply for money from Norway?
TG: As a general rule I would say that you need a Norwegian co-producer - and a strong will to use the Norwegian creative input.
EDN: Ahmed – Almost 13, which is selected for the IDFA Kids & Docs programme, tells the story about Ahmed the eldest of five Chechen brothers living in Norway. Can you tell a bit more about the film and the story?
TG: Ahmed is the oldest of five sons. His family are refugees from the Russian/Chechen war and now reside on the outskirts of Oslo. Ahmed’s father is the undisputed head of the household and dreams about returning home. Soon to be 13, Ahmed is beginning to question his role as the son with most responsibility and is beginning to figure out his own dreams about the future. Ahmed's story is a unique glimpse inside the four walls of a Chechen family living in Norway.
EDN: Ahmed – Almost 13 participated in the EDN development workshop Twelve for the Future in 2009 / 2010. Twelve for the Future is a project driven co-production workshop for young Nordic documentary producers and directors providing project development and a network within the Nordic documentary sector. How did the project benefit from participating in the workshop?
TG: Sant & Usant has participated three times with different project at Twelve for the Future and all the projects has benefited in different ways. Kari Anne Moe (producer) and Ritchie Cavander Cole (director) were at Twelve for the Future with Ahmed - Almost 13. Kari Anne says about the experience: The Twelve for the Future workshop represented a milestone for the development of the film. It gave us stronger self-confidence and valuable input to the project.
EDN: How has the film been financed?
TG: The film is financed by The Norwegian Film Institute, Fond for lyd og bilde and The Freedom of Expression Foundation. We had the rare situation that we went into production without a broadcaster but with very strong funding from each fund. We are hoping to be able to bring the story of Ahmed to the Nordic and the international television audience. Hopefully the IDFA premier will help the film to get the broadcasters’ attention.
EDN: The networking at Twelve for the Future also resulted in Sant & Usant co-producing David Herdies’ and Zanyar Adami’s The Guerilla Son. Can you tell us more about the story behind this co-production?
Kari Anne: We met David and Zanyar at the workshop and we saw important similarities in our two projects - both films focus on how a child with a multicultural background handles his life today and how family relations are shaping us as human beings. The informal atmosphere at the workshop made it possible to get to know each other also on a more personal level - something that is important when deciding to do a co-production. The Guerilla Son tells the story of Zanyar Adami who was only five years old when he was sent to Sweden all by himself. His parents were guerilla fighters struggling in the mountains of Kurdistan. One year later they managed to escape the war and join their son. Zanyar´s father, Taher, has never broken the silence about his past. Instead he does everything he can to forget the war, the torture and the murder of his brother. When Zanyar realizes he is to become a father he tries to dig up his family’s history but Taher wants to keep it buried. Finally Zanyar decides to confront his father.
EDN: What is on the plate for Sant & Usant after IDFA?
TG: 2012 will be a busy year for Sant & Usant. Bravehearts and The Return will go into postproduction for later to be distributed internationally. We are also launching Bravehearts in the Norwegian cinemas.
Maiko’s Dance and Graswidow will hopefully go into production and we are at the moment looking for new projects for the company, both Norwegian and international.
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