New Viking film underway

Animated film to feature Viking Age girls

Viking Girls

Photo: Linn Olsen / Handout / NTB
Norwegian film director Harald Zwart (right) and his producer wife Veslemøy Zwart (center) pose on board a Viking ship at Museum Nord in Lofoten with the boat’s skipper, Terje Bøe (left).

Gitte Johannessen

Harald Zwart has long been asked to make a Viking film, but the answer has always been no. Now he is taking back the Viking genre.

“I have seen more than enough of dark and gloomy portrayals of Vikings, as the Viking heritage has been hijacked by those who love the dark side of it. The fact-checking ‘police’ have destroyed all possibility of playing with the Viking Age,” says Zwart.

Nevertheless, he is working on a full-length animated film, based on a story that he and his producer wife, Veslemøy Zwart, wrote during the pandemic with their daughter, Stella, called VikingjenteneThe Viking Girls.

“The story of these two girls gives me a new way to depict the Viking Age,” he says.

Museum collaboration

The film couple has entered into a collaboration with Museum Nord, which operates the Viking Museum in Lofoten, and they recently met the Viking experts from there. For now, it has been decided that the upcoming animated film’s heroines, the Viking girls Hedvig and Ingeborg, will have their home, their Viking Age kaupang, in Lofoten.

Torgeir Sanders from the Norwegian animation studio Gimpville is responsible for the animation. All the references and elements that will enter the visual world need to be put in place. The story is now with the so-called storyboard artists.

Veslemøy Zwart reveals one thing: “There are strict instructions to all storyboard artists that ‘no, we don’t have horns.’ It turns out to be difficult to draw Vikings without them,” she jokes but adds that “fortunately it’s something that the film’s character designers, Carter Goodrich (Ratatouille) and Peter de Sève (Ice Age), have realized as they are now work on designing  the main characters.

Imagination important

The two Viking girls who moviegoers will meet in November 2027 are highly unconventional for their time. Around the year 1000, the chieftain’s daughter Hedvig and Ingeborg, daughter of a female blacksmith, set out on an adventurous journey around the world to return something that their fathers have inadvertently brought with them from a voyage.

Historical facts are meticulously researched and mixed with fantasy in The Viking Girls. This is something the Zwarts learned that from the ever-popular Swedish author Astrid Lindgren.

“Lindgren anchored the importance of making use of your imagination when you are telling stories,” says Veslemøy Zwart.

“The archaeologists’ imagination must be set in motion as well,” says the experienced film producer. “Everyone agrees, however, that the story, not least of the women of that time, is under-told because we know so little. When a grave was found with two women in it, women who had brought many riches with them, one would hardly believe at first that they could have been important. We base our imagination on the fact that Viking girls have lived who may have dreamed of something else—who dared to think beyond the immediate boundaries.

A new start

The idea behind the pandemic-era script came to them as early as 2004. Then two children’s book authors came to the film couple’s door with the idea for “Viqueens,” a story about two Viking girls, originally intended for much younger children.

“I thought it was so fascinating with two Viking girls who were rebels that I bought the rights. Up until the pandemic, it was shoved into a drawer. We became super involved in history and the idea of how Norwegians went from being regarded by the outside world as a very violent people to not being characterized as such at all today,” says Veslemøy Zwart.

Harald Zwart, the director, declares that he loves the settlement we like to make with our parents, and how each generation can mean a new start.

“Just think: Someone started exchanging gifts and culture rather than hitting each other on the head. Our Viking girls can symbolize the start of we Norwegians becoming a folk tradition that is well liked all over the world!” he says.

A long journey

The budget for The Viking Girls is NOK 73.4 million, and the couple’s production company, Zwart Arbeid, received an early production grant of NOK 12 million from the Norwegian Film Institute. Now three new years of work await for Gimpville and the coproducers Oslo Post Company Megafon and Lofoten Film Collective.

The film couple still has their base in the United States, while the animation will be done in Norway. The film project will run parallel to other things they are doing, including their work as co-producers for the sequel to the Netflix hit Troll. But Harald Zwart says that Viking Girls is extra special to him.

“It’s a lovely story to tell, so it’s close to my heart and what we’re most looking forward to doing,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway