CfP – Nordic Film Music and Sound

A special issue of the Journal of Scandinavian Cinema (Intellect)

Guest editors: Gunnar Iversen(Carleton University), Pietari Kaapa (University of Warwick), Kate Moffat(University of Stirling)

‘Working from a multifaceted musical palette with a vast variety of experiences to draw from, the Nordic film and media composers are known for their ability to do whatever it takes to tell the story; whatever it takes to serve the film. You can say that Nordic composers make their movies and directors win prizes’ (Nordic Film Music Days).

Nordic cinema has consistently enjoyed a curious relationship with popular culture. As part of small nation cinemas, audience sizes are restricted, requiring institutional support to sustain a healthy film industry. Thus, Nordic cinemas have tended to prioritize artistic or experimental filmmaking, resulting in respected international auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier, Roy Andersson and Pirjo Honkasalo.

While these filmmakers have been explored endlessly in international scholarship, film music and sound remains a frequently ignored aspect of their work. Beyond the Nordic region, and specifically in relation to Hollywood cinema, there is an emerging body of research focusing on the role and relevance of the film score as a key signifier of narrative meaning (such as Murphy’s harmonic taxonomy [2006, 2014], which explores the reciprocal relationship between text and orchestration).

These concerns have become even more urgent with distinct transformations in Nordic film production, which has seen increased investment in popular and especially genre cinema since the 1990s. Subsequently, Nordic film scores have moved from experimental soundscapes to emulating international trends and standards, both in use of melodic content and in the incorporation of large orchestras and advanced synth soundscapes. Film composers like Tuomas Kantelinen and Søren Hyldgaard have consolidated professional careers as industry specialists and often broken out into global film culture. We can also consider the increasingly transnational presence of Nordic composers and multi-instrumentalists like Ólafur Arnalds (whose portfolio includes the BAFTA award-winning score for British noir series Broadchurch [2013-17]) and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score in The Theory of Everything (Marsh, 2014) and Sicario (Villeneuve, 2016). Equally, discussion of scores by the likes of Henrik Skram, Trond Bjerknes, Panu Aaltio and Johan Söderqvist, whose work reaches across a broad range of visual media and genres, remains significantly underdeveloped in both domestic and international contexts.

Journal of Scandinavian Cinema has prioritized this emerging field for an upcoming special issue, triggered by a rising interest in this area, especially following composer Ludwig Göransson’s recent Best Score Oscar for Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) (as well as several Grammies for his producing work for Childish Gambino) and the continued success of Nordic Film Music Days.

At stake here are areas of considerable relevance for Journal of Scandinavian Cinema. This includes an increased investment in exploring Nordic success stories in international markets, but also significant innovation in domestic production.

The issue encourages submissions on the following themes and also welcomes work outside/combining these areas:
• The role of the professional film composer
• The Nordic soundtrack community (fans and communal events such as Nordic Film Music Days)
• Transnational soundscapes
• Moviescore Media (Nordic soundtrack label specializing in international film scores)
• The history of Nordic film music (especially the respective Studio Eras)
• Classical cross-overs (Einar Englund, Jukka Linkola etc.)
• Sound and genre
• Indigenous soundscapes (e.g. Minority cultures and music/sound)
• The role of voices, dialects and sociolects in Nordic film culture
• Technology, industry, practice and education
• The broader role of music cultures
• Synergy and the creation of soundscapes – for instance examining the relationships and thematic interplay between landscape and sound in Nordic film culture
• The relationship between sound and themes of duality, opposition, temporality and authenticity
• The role of technology in the shaping or re-shaping of musical conventions, including the channels of production, distribution and collaboration
• The diversity of musical training and backgrounds
• Influence of other genres considered indigenous (metal; Tuomas Holopainen and Nightwish)

Projected timeline for contributions:
Proposals of 500 words maximum – 1 August 2019
Full article submission (8000 words maximum) – February 2020

All contributions will undergo double-blind peer review. Publication is slated for December 2020.

Please email the guest editors (;; to discuss potential contributions.


Film Review: The Fencer


Dead Swordsmen’s Society: Estonian teacher seizes the day in an inspiring historical drama.

Loosely based on a true story, The Fencer is director Klaus Haro’s fifth film to be submitted to the Oscars and the first to make the shortlist.

In 1952 former champion fencer Endel Nelis (Mart Avandi) is fleeing from the secret police. Hiding out in the remote Estonian town of Haapsalu he has been advised to keep a low profile. The country has been under Soviet rule since the end of World War II. Stalin’s regime is ruthlessly hunting down people who were conscripted by the Nazi occupying forces.

Finding work as a teacher despite feeling uncomfortable being in the company of children, he plans to keep his head down and throw himself into his new job. Endel soon learns the under-resourced school is sharing its limited supply of gym equipment with a local military academy.


Pupils and teacher bond and learn from each other when Endel starts an after-school club. Teaching the children how to fence he gives a class of mostly orphans something to believe in.

An antagonistic head teacher (Hendrik Toompere Sr) is committed to the revolution and highly critical of Endel’s decision to start a sports club. When parents oppose the head teacher’s attempts to stop fencing being taught he starts digging into the teacher’s past and reports his findings to the authorities.

The real Endel Nelis founded a fencing school that survives to this day. His story has, until now, been largely unknown outside of the fencing community. Screenwriter Anna Heinämaa was visiting friends in Haapsalu, Estonia, where the story takes place, when she learnt about Endel’s sacrifices and his ongoing legacy. Speaking with Endel’s daughter and other people who knew him the writer developed the script while studying for Salford University’s Masters degree in Film Screenwriting.

The Fencer is a powerful drama about a paranoid time. A story of how one man was prepared to risk imprisonment so that his class could have a momentary glimpse of hope. This richly rewarding recreation of an era when a disagreement might lead to a spell in a gulag is brought to life by graceful cinematography and restrained performances.

The Fencer is screening at the Nordic-Baltic Film Festival.