It is in the icy wilderness of Finland’s Ivalo, with its endless stretches of white snow and intensely bright sun, that a group of the country’s biggest production companies have joined forces to deliver a major new drama series. Kaltrina Bylykbashi reports from the set in Lapland.
Sitting in the Ravintola Huippu restaurant at the top of Kaunispää fell, the international flavour of what is set to be new drama Arctic Circle is immediately evident. Sat among the tables of production hustle and bustle are teams of Finnish, German and French nationalities all discussing their work in various languages.
This mix of local and global is core to the show’s premise: primarily English language and set in a small town, Ivalo, with lead characters coming from Finland, Germany and, sometimes, other mysterious locations.
The part-crime drama, part-medical thriller follows the life of small-town cop Nina Kautsalo (Iina Kuustonen) after she discovers an abused prostitute in the wintry back country of Finnish Lapland.
However, if you think that sounds like your typical Nordic noir drama, German virologist Thomas Lorenz (Maximillian Bruckner) joins Kautsalo and discovers that the young victim carries an extremely rare and lethal virus.
The duo ultimately team together to fight what looks like it will be a global threat, and it is these elements that the coproducers, Finland’s Yellow Film & TV and Germany’s Bavaria Fiction, believe sets the series apart from its progenitors.
Within the coproduction, a range of European media outfits have gathered together to create the biggest Finnish budget yet on a TV series, with the show set to debut towards the end of 2018.
Joining Yellow and Bavaria are Finland’s national broadcaster YLE and its local OTT service Elisa Viidhe, who have additionally funded the show along with government tax breaks reserved specifically for the picturesque area.
“We in Finland like to compare ourselves with other Scandinavian countries,” says Jarrko Hentula, a producer for Yellow.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been lagging behind their reputation and quality of their series and that has been a big pain for all the public broadcasters, but also for us as production companies. We feel we haven’t been able to produce as high quality shows as them, and that has been painful for us, but also for the broadcasting companies – and mainly YLE – because they are most interested in finding the new Bridge.
“For them, it has been a question of almost national dignity that we have to have our own international TV series. That is one of the reasons that YLE has come on board and why they want to be involved in those types of series.”
Ivalo’s climate, with its ice-cold temperatures that can reach -35C, and its extreme periods of light and darkness are core to Arctic Circle’s tale. As the first drama set in the location, the production partners believe that it will be a unique point of distinction.
“That mix of crime series and medical series, tracking the criminals on the one side and the virus on the other side, that is something new and quite unique,” says Lagardère’s director of acquisitions, Frédérik Rangé, about discovering the series. “The combination is something I felt very interested in.
“Then the project became very international with Bavaria attached; and with the different languages – even though it’s majority English. You have Finnish, Russian and various other languages, which make it varied and organic, and it makes a lot of sense in the stories.”
The series producers have also brought in Finnish-born Hannu Salonen, who is a well-known director in Germany, alongside its main stars: well-loved Finnish soap actress Kuustonen and distinguished German actor Bruckner. Casino Royale’s Clemens Schick and Joi Johannsson (Shetland) have been cast as international bad guys.
Arctic Circle will next travel south and be presented to buyers in warmer climes of Cannes at MIPTV.
“The funny thing is, in the beginning I thought Iina [Kuustonen] was the main actress and I was the main actor. Now I realise the landscape is the third main character in this series, and it’s unbelievable.
“We were shooting yesterday and the wind was blowing like hell. You wanted to speak but your mouth was full of wind. It’s a real challenge.
“There was one point where I was standing with Iina in front of me, and the wind was so hard that we both welled up in the scene, but it was natural. It’s far from a perfect studio-made storm.”
Ice cold dramas
Nordic noir has seen a rise in popularity the past decade, but it seems that alongside the appetite for dark drama, a desire for isolated and chilly climates seems to be growing as well. Here are a few bone-chilling dramas set to appear 2018
The Amazing Film Company/Enderby Entertainment
The show is described as The X Files meets Lost, but set in Antarctica. Developed by Enderby’s Rick Dugdale and written by Orphan Black’s Will Pascoe, the series will peek into conspiracy theories around global warming in the region.
Rebecka Martinsson: Arctic Murders
Yellow Bird/TV4 (Sweden)/Filmpool Nord
Based: Arctic Sweden, Kiruna
Hot-shot lawyer Rebecka Martinsson has a new job at a top Stockholm firm, but she receives a phone call from the small town, way up in the Arctic Circle, where she was born where a close, old friend has died in an accident.
Fortitude (season three)
Based: Arctic Norway, filmed Iceland
As the veteran among the list, Fortitude reaches its final chapter as it follows the aftermath of the murder of corrupt mayor Erling Munk at the hands of a mob led by Sheriff Dan Anderson in the small isolated, fictional town of Svalbard.