Selling Scandinavia at the Ends of the Earth
– Nordic Silent Film in Australasia
Abstract: Long before television or the Internet, impressions of Scandinavian culture spread to the far corners of the earth through the movement of people—primarily sailors and settlers—and silent film. During the silent era, Nordic silent films, particularly from Denmark and Sweden, circulated in countries around the globe, including Australia and New Zealand, where large numbers of Scandinavian immigrants made their home around the turn of the century.
The far-flung distribution of Nordic film was both facilitated and hampered by political and economic developments in different parts of the globe, from immigrant flows to the outbreak of World War I, but it also extended the lifespan of Scandinavian films by keeping them in circulation for years at a time. In the 1910s, the Copenhagen-based Nordisk Film Company was the second largest exporter of films in the world, while Svenska Bio distributed films through Pathé Frérès and on its own. As products of neutral countries, Danish and Swedish films continued to circulate internationally during the war, although (justified) British suspicions that German films might be hidden among the Scandinavian films distributed by Nordisk to Britain and its colonies resulted in delays and temporary bans.
After World War I, despite the increasing dominance of U.S. film exports, the rise of UFA, and Nordisk Film’s financial collapse, Scandinavian silent film gained renewed currency in Australasia, but was handicapped by both competition with the American film industry and changing audience tastes. This paper explores the conditions under which Nordic silent film circulated in the Pacific, both before and after World War I, in order to illuminate the cultural influence of Nordic silent film in a global market and illustrate how the global circulation of Nordic silent film informed opinions and beliefs about Scandinavian culture at the other end of the earth.
Julie K Allen was born and raised in Hawaii, earned her PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, taught Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2006-2012, and is now a professor of Comparative Arts and Letters at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She is the author of Icons of Danish Modernity and Danish but Not Lutheran, as well as several articles dealing with different aspects of Nordic cultural identity.