Danish Colonial Satire ‘Empire’ Wins Nordic Council Film Prize

Empire, an absurdist period drama about Denmark’s colonial history from filmmaker Frederikke Aspöck and writer Anna Neye, has won the 2023 Nordic Council Film Prize.

The award was announced Tuesday evening during the Nordic Council Prize ceremony at the Opera house in Oslo. The gong was handed to Aspöck and Neye alongside producers Pernille Munk Skydsgaard, Nina Leidersdorff, and Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen.

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Speaking of Empire, the council jury said: “It is a rare thing to come across a film that is so confidently and thoroughly thought through in every single detail, and where such an extraordinarily clear vision from the filmmakers behind it shines from every frame. They serve a beautiful, sweet, and colorful treat laced with bitter poison and low-intensity rage. The film is complex and thought-provoking, and the filmmakers do not stumble once while telling their tale about an ugly part of history.”

Conceived and written by Neye, who also stars in the film’s lead role, Empire is set in the Danish West Indies in 1848 and is a story about power and human interdependence that aims to challenge Denmark’s historical amnesia with a mix of earnest drama and absurd comedy.

The film’s full synopsis reads: St. Croix, the Danish West Indies, 1848. Anna Heegaard (Neye) and Petrine (Sara Fanta Traore) are close friends. Both are women of color, but their living conditions are very different – Anna is free and owns the enslaved Petrine. Anna shares her life with Danish Governor General Peter von Scholten at her country house, where she manages the home, her fortune, and her beloved and trusted housekeeper Petrine. Things are seemingly fine until rumors of a rebellion begin to swirl. Which side are Anna and Petrine really on – and is it the same?

The film had its national premiere in Denmark on April 20 after debuting at the Goteborg Film Festival. Following Goteborg, Deadline sat down for an interview in Copenhagen with Neye and Aspöck.

“We’ve been told a completely different story about Danish history,” Neye said of the film’s origins. “We were told we had nice colonies that were more of a social democracy with benevolent colonial lords, and everyone was just happy.”

Empire was selected from six Nordic candidates by a jury comprising one member from each of the Nordic countries, including Greenland. The other nominees were

  • Finland: Kupla / Bubble
    Director Aleksi Salmenperä, screenwriters: Reeta Ruotsalainen, Aleksi Salmenperä and
    producer: Minna Haapkylä

  • Greenland: Alanngut Killinganni / The Edge of the Shadows
    Director: Malik Kleist, screenwriter: Malik Kleist and producer: Nina Paninnguaq Skydsbjerg

  • Iceland: Á ferð með mömmu / Driving Mum
    Director: Hilmar Oddsson, screenwriter: Hilmar Oddsson and producer: Hlín Jóhannesdóttir

  • Norway: Krigsseileren / War Sailor
    Director: Gunnar Vikene, screenwriter: Gunnar Vikene and producer: Maria Ekerhovd

  • Sweden: Motståndaren / The Opponent
    Director: Milad Alami, screenwriter: Milad Alami and producer: Annika Rogell

The prize also comes with a DKK 300,000 ($40,000) cash prize, which is shared between the director, writers, and producers.

REinvent International acquired sales rights out of Goteborg.

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