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Searching for Sugar Man: Validating the use of English language

The most common motive among the producers for the use of the English language in Nordic films has been the story; through either a character or a setting the presence of English language needs to be justifiable. Majority of the producers interviewed for this study find problematic the kind of Nordic films, where Nordic characters speak English in their local Nordic setting, as this feels unauthentic. In films by foreign production companies set in the Nordic countries, including Universal Pictures’ The Snowman (2017) and Working Title’s The Danish Girl (2015), the lessened authenticity has not been seen as an issue as both films have international cast portraying Nordic characters in English. Interestingly, Fredrick Wikström Nicastro, from SF Studios, points out that in the case of The Danish Girl this is less of a problem due to the period nature of the film.

As soon as it is a period story you are forgiven much more. If we would have done The Danish Girl and seen it as an international story and we would have gotten cast like Eddie and Alicia, we would have definitely done it in English, and I don’t think that it would have been a problem.

However, regarding the company’s upcoming, London-set project, based on a novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, Wikström Nicastro immediately rejects the idea of making the film in English:

Jo Nesbø wrote the story set in Oslo, and we bought it, but it would be ridiculous for us to make a thriller in Oslo and have everyone speaking English. So, we changed the setting to London.

An exception to the rule, are genre films like horror, which according to Susan Wendt, the Managing Director of Trust Nordic, a prominent Nordic sales agent, can more feasibly be in English, without disturbing the title’s authenticity (Wendt, 2018). Additionally, horror films are rarely sold with their cast, and hence even when produced in the English language, do not need huge budgets as a known international cast is not necessary for their success. Petri Rossi, the Head of Production and Development at the Finnish Film Foundation, also mentions dystopian films and sci-fi films as genres that play well in English: ‘if a film is set on the moon, like in the case of Iron Sky, it doesn’t really matter what language they speak and hence might as well speak English.’

Another popular form are language hybrids, including titles like Ruben Östlund’s The Square (2017) and AJ Annila’s Eternal Road (2017), which are mainly in local language and hence will be perceived as local language films but which include some English. Susan Wendt, says that if a film has some of its dialogue in English logically, then it does not risk losing its local language audience. In these cases, the English language can add a certain value to the project, allowing the local distributors to ‘change the image of the film’ away from foreign language and arthouse (Wendt, 2018).

*This blog post is part of a larger research project titled: Searching for Sugarman - How, why and to what effect are Nordic producer turning to English language to obtain growth and sustainability for their business.

*For full bibliography as well as an outline of research methods and interviews, please refer to the first post in the series - which can be found here.

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