Highlights from the Haugesund film festival

Excitement abounds with awards and big premieres

Photo: Grethe Nygaard / Haugesund Film Festival
WORLD STAGE: “Utekino Mongoland” was one of the theater venues at the 2022 Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund. Each year, the city of about 35,000 residents is host to movie stars and world premieres.

Films of Norway

Congratulations to the Norwegian International Film Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year in Haugesund on Norway’s west coast, Aug. 20 – 22.

I have participated since 1987, and I must say that it is impressive to see what a small film nation like Norway and not least a tiny city like Haugesund (population about 35,000), manages to turn up with when the city is set up for the film festival.

Here, there are flags, bunads, bands, a live TV broadcast (NRK), movie stars, and not least, world premieres. It has become a festival with a shared focus on the film industry and producers, respectively.

The Amanda Awards

For the first time in many years, NRK again broadcast “live” from the Amanda Awards ceremony again.

Historically, it was always NRK that took care of the broadcasts from Haugesund sent in prime time. But for unknown reasons, NRK had given up this assignment for a few years, but now (post pandemic) they were back again.

Since I have the pleasure of reporting from film festivals for The Norwegian American, my press accreditation grants access to most things at the festival, and I could choose whether I wanted to follow the awards “backstage” from the green room or from the hall “live.” I thought about it and said, like Winnie-the-Pooh, “Yes, thank you, both!” It was certainly a bit unusual, because I see that the woman who was in charge of the press was quite stressed and struggled to find the right place for me. I was moved here and there before I could finally settle down in my assigned and distinguished place inside the hall.

I felt so comfortable there, and so much happened that I couldn’t detach myself from what was happening inside the hall. The show was simply magical. NRK is incredibly professional.

Photo: Jan Kåre Ness / NTB
THE WORLD’ S BEST PERSON: Renate Reinsve received the Amanda Award for Best Actress for her role in Verdens verste menneske—The Worst Person in the World.

Everything they handle goes like clockwork. Photo, light, sound, not least direction … it’s just a matter of bending in the dust.

It becomes challenging, of course, when those who are to hand out the awards find out that instead of sticking to what has been agreed and what they are supposed to do, they decide to use the opportunity to speak about a cause they are passionate about. Several women directors took the opportunity to complain about financiers from Norwegian Film Institute for not giving enough money to them.

But NRK had a solution for that, too. It turned out that it was 30 minutes delayed “live” broadcast, so they were easily able to cut out anything “inappropriate.” Perhaps other future award announcers will remember that if you plan your own private “stunt” and think it will be on national TV in prime time, it won’t work: you’ll be cut out!

Well, the show lasted for several hours, but it was so exciting and so extravagant that when it was all over, I discovered to my horror that I hadn’t been able to tear myself away from the hall and to go backstage! I had been sitting in the same chair all evening, so impressed and happy that I had been able to take part in something that for me was simply magical.

Utvandrerne (The Emigrants)

Directed by Norwegian Erik Poppe with Swedish cast, The Emigrants, which premiered in Sweden last Christmas Eve, saw its Norwegian premiere in Haugesund.

I was very excited to see this new version of the classic film, which in its time was a great success, both in the Nordics and North America. The original with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann in the lead roles, was launched in movie theaters in 1971 and later shown countless times on TV.

The story that was told in the first film was factually oriented to the highest standard, but quite frankly, I thought that it was a film that was far too dark and gloomy for it to be to my taste as “good entertainment.” Well then, cinematically speaking, it is art culture at a high level but I realized now, just as I had before, that it was heavy and sad.

So to the point, how is the new Emigrants? Here I can safely say: Rejoice!

Before seeing it, I was a little afraid that this would be exactly the same story as before, only told in a slightly more modern way. But no, here the filmmakers show courage, ability, and willingness to change both the character gallery and the story, so that it is not a mere repeat of something we have seen before.

If you’ve seen the original, you’ll probably find joy in experiencing where the changes have been made, and some, like me, will certainly find that the changes are creative, brave, and add a new layer to the story. Perhaps I would dare to say something along the lines of: fuller, better.

Others will, of course, completely disagree with my subjective assessment and that’s fine. Film can arouse excitement or outrage, and, fortunately, we live in a society where there is room for both and we can freely express the conclusion we come to.

Photo: Grethe Nygaard / Haugesund Film Festival
ICONIC ROLE: Lisa Carlehed (left) and Liv Ullmann (right) attended the Norwegian premiere of The Emigrants. Carlehed plays the lead role of Kristina in the new remake of the classic 1971 film with Ullmann.

Krigsseileren (War Sailor) 

Just like The Emigrants, War Sailor is based on a true story. Currently one of the most expensive films made in Norway (about NOK 100 million), it made its world premiere at the festival.

Yes, I liked this one, too. It is well-made, with skilled, dedicated actors, including Pål Sverre Hagen, Kristoffer Joner, and Ine Marie Willmann. I have seen most of Kristoffer Joner’s films, and think that this must be his best acting performance to date.

It will be exciting to see how it goes for War Sailor at the cinema. I hope there are many who will find their way to the big silver screen, because it is an important film in many ways. We often think that it has been a long time since World War II. For many, the 1940s seem so infinitely far back. We are so safe and well off that we don’t have to think so much about war. Except we were just reminded how quickly it can happen, and how brutal it is with the war in Ukraine.

Well, back to the story about the war sailor from Norway in the beginning of the 1940s.

The krigsseiler were not soldiers, rather civilian sailors from the merchant fleet who were ordered by the Norwegian state to become part of the war, in boats built for shipping, and passenger traffic to become “sitting ducks” in front of the German war machine. They were torpedoed, many died, and those who survived were assigned to new missions. They suffered inhuman stress, in which devastating physical injuries were many, yet the psychological injuries were probably even worse.

This film is full of strong personal depictions. We are drawn into the universe of the characters, and eventually, we not only feel for them, but we root for them, as if we knew them or that we could be family. We are cursed at the injustice and unfairness to which they were subjected. The script has many good twists and turns, and there are more than enough conflicts, so here you just have to stick with it. The film is referred to as a drama and that is not incorrect, but help us, there are indeed quite a few action scenes such that I am tempted to pull the category action drama down from the shelf again.

There are few things to put my finger on both when it comes to The Emigrants and War Sailor. They are simply very good films on all levels, but sometimes I think that when it comes to a film being shown in a movie theater, 2.5 hours is a bit long. Perhaps the stories could have been told just as well and be just as entertaining if they were a maximum of two hours long ….

I think so.

In that case, it would mean that the films would cost much less, and the money saved could be allocated to other new productions, so the selection of films would be even larger.

But, I’ve been wrong before …

Also see A new perspective on Vilhelm Moberg’s masterpiece in the October 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

This article originally appeared in the October 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Geir Mæland

Geir Mæland is the founder and manager of Films of Norway, a Norwegian film-streaming service based in Stavanger, Norway.