Göteborg Film Festival Prizes, Takeaways, 2023

Malou Reymann’s “Unruly” won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at Göteborg on Saturday. At SEK 400 000 ($38,000), the Award’s cash prize is one of the largest prizes in the world. 

Jurors Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Sofie Gråbøl, Antonio Lukich and Matti Bye praised the film for telling a “universal story about human spirit against the oppressive system” with “great sensitivity and power.” 

“Although it is rooted in the past, it transcends time and borders, and speaks strongly to our time, our minds and hearts,” they stated.

The Danish director – also behind semi-autobiographical “A Perfectly Normal Family” – decided to go all the way to the 1930s in her sophomore feature, unravelling dark secrets about the real-life Sprogø Women’s Home.

“I am very pregnant and very out of breath, and very touched” said Reymann, accepting her award.  

“This film is based on an actual place for women who were seen as promiscuous and ‘dangerous’ to society. It should be a historical document of something that happened in the past. But sadly, it is about something that happens today,” Reymann added. 

“Societies all over the world are still very concerned with controlling female bodies. It also exists in a much subtler way, inside of ourselves. Shame has been passed on for generations and is still regulating our behavior. Enough. The female body is so strong and so powerful, and should be celebrated as such. It should not be feared and controlled.”

Reymann’s win concludes an eventful edition, one that addressed many ongoing issues openly and heads-on, from Florian Teichtmeister’s scandal, commented on by “Corsage” director Marie Kreutzer, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the current situation in Iran, with “Holy Spider” actor Zar Amir Ebrahimi leading a protest and spotlighting people who have been imprisoned.

“As a film festival, you are in dialogue with what is going on in the world. Zar asked us if we could do something to highlight this issue. There was this list of names and she was mentioning them all, saying what’s their profession, what they are doing. It was very moving,” says festival director Jonas Holmberg.

“A festival is a celebration of art, but it also needs to be a platform for what the movies are about, what they are dealing with and the situations they are made in. How can you arrange cultural activities without talking about that? You have to find the right way to do it, which isn’t always easy.”  

The Swedish fest also continued its tradition of surprising the audience, this time allowing one audience to be ‘directed’ by Ruben Östlund, Göteborg’s new Honorary President, during a special screening Saturday night of “Triangle of Sadness.” 

“It was just hilarious,” laughs Holmberg. 

“Ruben isn’t just a great filmmaker – he is a showman. Something definitely happened there. I also want to encourage a discussion about these kinds of things: How do we watch films, what is cinema even good for? Do we need it for money or for something else? I think we need it for something else.” 

“I think people react [in the cinema], but they react differently. When Ruben talks about how ‘bad’ the audience can be, how unresponsive, I always feel he is talking about me.”

Gender-neutral Dragon Award for best acting went to Alma Pöysti for her role in Selma Vilhunen’s “Four Little Adults.” The win might kickstart a breakout year for Pöysti, who already gathered positive reviews for her turn as Moomin creator Tove Jansson in biopic “Tove” and will be seen in Aki Kaurismäki’s new feature “Dead Leaves” (“Kuolleet lehdet”).

Pöysti plays a on-the-rise politician who, after stumbling upon her priest husband’s affair, starts considering life in a polyamorous relationship.

“Their jobs represent these institutions we have created, the ones that try to enforce ‘the norms.’ I chose the parliament and the church because I am always interested in seeing people working together, in how they can handle things when they have different expectations and needs,” Vilhunen told Variety last week.

“All my life I have been wondering about monogamy. I guess I have been questioning my own choices, what they are based on and whether it’s really the right way to live.”

Four Little Adults, Matias-Eero Milonoff, Juulia Alma Poysti
Credit: Mitro Haerkoenen / Tuffi Films

The Sven Nykvist Cinematography Award was given to Jacob Møller for “Copenhagen Does Not Exist,” a dark story of love and loss from “The Worst Person in the World” screenwriter Eskil Vogt, directed by Martin Skovbjerg. One of its stars, Zlatko Burić, also attended the fest, treating its audience to colorful stories about life decisions motivated by love affairs, making it despite being “no linguistic genius” and playing millionaires. Over and over again.

“I don’t know why they keep thinking I am rich. Maybe because I am so big. I just eat too much,” he joked during a masterclass. 

Comedian Kirsty Armstrong, who hosted the ceremony, also commented on the winners: “‘Four Little Adults’? You can’t tell me that woman wouldn’t just cut off her husband’s penis. I have been to Finland – they are insane. If you don’t believe me, you should know that they put a sauna in their Burger King. What kind of monster does that?”

“Or ‘Unruly’ – a movie about an institution for mentally weak and anti-social women, or what I like to call home. Then we have ‘Copenhagen Does Not Exist,’ which is hilarious, because everyone who has even been to Copenhagen knows that everything there ceases to exist within two hours after you arrive, because you black the f*** out.”

With IDFA winner “Apolonia, Apolonia” by Lea Glob named Best Nordic Documentary, the audience, as well as the critics, also appreciated “Ellos Eatnu – Let the River Flow” by Ole Giæver about Norway’s controversial decision to build a dam in the Alta-Kautokeino river, despite the pleas of the Sámi people. 

“People want to be emotionally touched,” says Holmberg, recalling a “very interesting” screening of the film, as well as mentioning “Empire,” about Danish colonialism. 

“These two films certainly created a lot of interest.”

The festival’s industry strands were buzzy as well, with industry players more than happy to attend first full-scale editions since 2020, says Cia Edström, head of program at Nordic Film Market and TV Drama Vision. 

“We sold out already in early January and had a record attendance of 550 delegates at TV Drama Vision. We will continue to grow, but it’s not as important as staying relevant, keeping up the good conversation with the industry, our Nordic profile and carrying on our European collaborations.” 

Copenhagen Does Not Exist
Courtesy of Jacob Moller

Some 2023 Göteborg Takeaways:

Nordics Embrace Genre, Find New Lessons in the Past 

“The variety of tones and genres continue [to come] from the Nordic countries. We presented sessions about storytelling, financing and production and I think everyone agrees that this is a time of change,” notes Edström. 

While “No, Wait” by Gabriel Bier Gislason, currently in development, and Iceland’s “Cold” promise proper scares, there is also a slew of unusual period films approaching history from another angle: from Erik Poppe’s “Quisling – The Final Days” to Finland’s “Stormskerry Maja,” embracing the rawness of the Åland Islands, and “Stockholm Bloodbath,” which had the audience howling. Not just because – as stated by the moderator – of a lengthy shot of Claes Bang in a bath. 

Female Filmmakers Continue to Reign, but Diverse Voices Speak Up

Female filmmakers also continue to reign supreme, with the likes of last year’s Göteborg winner Tea Lindeburg presenting upcoming “The Seal Woman” and “Dogborn” helmer Isabella Carbonell now working on “Utopia.” Stories exploring motherhood, and its much darker side, are also bound to make a splash, with Alicia Hansen’s “Act of God” and “Mothership,” written by Ilona Ahti, finding humor in pain, frustration and unrealistic societal expectations. 

A more diverse perspective is also on filmmakers’ minds, with Patricia Bbaale Bandak’s “Wannabe” recalling a certain Spice Girls’s hit and her own memories as an Ugandan refugee, and “Abdu” by Ibrahim Mursal, about a refugee recently released from prison, both getting a warm reception. 

At the Nordic Film Market, ”We always set out to reflect the diversity of creative voices from the Nordics and spotlighting new emerging talents, in particular with our selection of films in development. This year we had many strong young female creators represented, but with a wide array of stories and themes. We also had several exciting films that lie on the borderland between arthouse and genre movies, all with very unique approaches,” adds Josef Kullengård, head of industry and the Nordic Film Market.

Co-Production, and Early Partnerships. A TV Way Forward

In an age of escalating drama series costs, “no one can afford to finance these things alone these days. It was possible for some players to do that before but it might not be possible now.” Eccho Rights CEO Fredrik af Malmborg, said at Future Proofing Financing, one of the key panels at Göteborg’s TV Drama Vision. So for producers, after steamers’ sky-rocketing investment in originals is checking, collaboration appears to one major way forward. That cuts several ways: Formal co-production; or distributors or anchor broadcasters boarding projects early. “It is important to talk to people at an early stage,” commented Karin Lindström, the head of originals, Nordics, Amazon Studios. “A lot of producers think they have to come to us first with their idea, or we won’t look at it, but it’s not true,” she added.  

Full list of awards:

Dragon Award Best Nordic Film

“Unruly,” by Malou Reymann

Dragon Award Best Acting 

Alma Pöysti for “Four Little Adults” 

Sven Nykvist Cinematography Award

Jacob Møller for “Copenhagen Does Not Exist” 

Fipresci Award 

“Ellos Eatnu – Let the River Flow,” by Ole Giæver

Audience Dragon Award, Best Nordic Film

“Ellos Eatnu – Let the River Flow”  

Dragon Award Best Nordic Documentary 

“Apolonia, Apolonia,” by Lea Glob

The Ingmar Bergman International Debut Award 

“Runner,” by Marian Mathias

Dragon Award Best International Film

“The Blue Caftan,” by Maryam Touzani

Draken Film Award  

“After Mourners,” by Hanna Högstedt

Mai Zetterling Grant

Mårten Nilsson

Nordic Honorary Dragon Award 

Jan Troell

Dragon Award Best Swedish Short 

“Madden” by Malin Ingrid Johansson

Audience Choice Award, Best Swedish Short 

“Container Scanning” by Edvin Hallberg and Anton Hellström

Angelo Award 

Annika Fredriksson for “Love You Bye” 

Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize 

Kenneth Karlstad for “Kids in Crime”

Liza Foreman contributed to this article. 

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