Gender Equality Receives Top Billing at NYC’s Nordic International Film Festival

Festival founder: “Being a producer myself, I know the uphill battle a lot of female filmmakers fight, and if I can open a door for someone, I’m always happy to do so.”

46,7% of the directors at the Nordic International Film Festival are women. Photo: Ryan Duch.

What do gender equality and sustainability have to do with a film festival? Everything, if you ask Linnea Larsdotter, the co-founder of the Nordic International Film Festival (NIFF) in NYC.

Supported by the Consulate General of Denmark in New York, the film festival has sustainable food consumption and equal gender representation among filmmakers as part of the organisation’s written strategy and among its goals for the future.

#DenmarkinNY met up with Linnea Larsdotter to hear more about why a film festival’s social responsibility is so important, and how the Nordic film scene is already moving towards a more equal future.

DKNY: What inspired you to create a Nordic film festival in NYC?

LL: My co-founder Johan Matton and I started NIFF for two reasons. Firstly, when we did the festival rounds as filmmakers we constantly experienced poorly run festivals with facilities that didn’t serve the best screening experience and, more than that, they often charged ticket sales even for the filmmakers who were there to represent their films. So, we knew we could do it better by creating a film festival that really is for the filmmakers and to give them the best experience possible. Secondly, we wanted to focus on what we know best — Nordic cinema. We wanted to create a platform where Nordic films could reach the audience they deserve as well as tempting international filmmakers to film their next projects in the Nordic region.

DKNY: Whether by design or not, NIFF is very focused on the UN global goals. The festival strives to generate zero non-recyclable waste and to achieve a 50–50 male/female ratio every year. This year you have 87.5% female filmmakers in power positions (director, producer, screenwriter). Why is a film festival’s responsibility to promote gender equality and sustainability so important?

LL: I strongly believe that if every single individual started to take responsibility wherever they could, we would look at a much less bleak future. If I have an opportunity to be a platform to highlight these important issues, I think it is our responsibility to use it. Being a producer myself, I know the uphill battle many female filmmakers fight and if I can open a door for someone, I’m always happy to do so.

DKNY: It is not a secret that the film industry has a diversity problem and women are not as well represented among filmmakers as men. Was it difficult for you and your team to find and select films with female producers, directors and/or writers for the 2018 festival? What were the main challenges you encountered?

LL: This is the most fascinating thing of all — we didn’t search for these filmmakers, they came to us. I think the Nordic region’s focus on equality trickles down into the filmmaking business. We don’t use quotas — we simply select the best films for the festival. It just so happens that the films that we chose had a higher percentage of female filmmakers that the film industry average. Now, if we are choosing between two films that have the same score, we would go with the film that would create the most balance, but so far we haven’t needed to use this method. It is surprising, I must say, that female cinematographers are still very underrepresented, even in our selection.

DKNY: When discussing the Nordic countries abroad we frequently refer to Nordic values (trust, tolerance, gender equality). Do you feel there is something inherently Nordic about the festival raising the flag for equality and sustainability?

LL: I think the Nordic countries are doing a good thing with pushing the individual responsibility for our environment (meaning recycling at home). I try to live as sustainably as I can and there is no reason why I should run an organization any differently. The same goes for equality. I’m very grateful to have been brought up in a family and a country where gender equality is a natural approach and I still get surprised when I come across situations, be it a societally or in a professional environment, where equality is not even a concern. So yes, I do believe it is inherently Nordic.

DKNY: What are your ambitions for next year’s festival? Can we expect an even stronger focus on sustainability and equality?

LL: Next year, we’re celebrating 5 years! Sustainability is something we can certainly focus more on. Already this year we found ourselves doing a lot better by having a lot of the films sent to us digitally instead of physically but I really want to serve more plant-based food during the event as this is one of the best ways to support the environment.

OCTOBER 31, 2018 — NOVEMBER 4, 2018

Katrine Skov Sørensen is the Press and Communications Intern at DenmarkInNY.

The Official Medium Blog for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. For all things Danish, #DenmarkInNY.