A bold Nordkapp Film Festival enchants, surprises, and delights

Norwegian film highlights from 71 degrees north

Nordkapp film festival

Photo: Nordkapp Film Festival
The Nordkapp Film Festival took place in spectacular setting in Honninsvåg, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. The northern lights were seen dancing in the background behind a large outdoor screen, where a host of new films were shown to an enthusiastic audience.

Tove Andersson
Oslo

For the first time, films were shown on outdoor screens during the Nordkapp Film Festival’s 20th anniversary, Sept. 13–17—while the northern lights danced in the background.

With a great diversity of films each year, the film city at 71° north attracts both the national and international film industry. Many of them had their Norwegian premieres this fall and pre premieres took place right there.

This year, human rights were a thread in a program that has a strong footprint because of its location, mainland Europe’s northernmost town, Honningsvåg.

“We want debates to be bold, to challenge what we might turn a blind eye to,” said Birgit Lähdesmäki Johansen from the festival’s program committee.

The Nordkapp Film Festival can be described as an intrepid, innovative festival that includes a range of documentaries and feature films.

The opening film, Lengsel etter nåtid (Longing for the Present), premiered on Oct. 7. It is a feature film where the past meets the present—a natural choice for the festival’s 20th anniversary. Rein Film Finnmark AS released the film.

Lengsel etter nåtid was directed by the “high protector of the festival,” Knut Erik Jensen, 82, from Honningsvåg. For more than 10 years, he has worked to obtain financing for this new feature film based on the trilogy of short films Morgen (2018), Skredskogen (2019), and Minnesmerke (2019).

“It’s one of the most important stories in Norway that needs to be told,” Jensen said.

The director was a child when Honningsvåg was burned down near the end of World War II.  As an adult, Jensen went on to become a professor of film-media studies at various teaching institutions in Norway and abroad. For his contribution to Norwegian film, he received an Honorary Amanda Award and was appointed Knight of the 1st Order of St. Olav.

Lengsel etter nåtid is described as a poetic fable-like journey. Finnmark and North Troms lie in ruins, and the population of the entire region are refugees. Families are splitting up; everything is falling apart. A young woman seeks peace and freedom through dreams and memories. This young woman is played by the director’s daughter, Ellinor Haug Jensen, who was 16 years old when filming began.

Knut Erik Jensen

Photo: Nordkapp Film Festival
The festival opened with a screening of Lengsel etter nåtid by esteemed Norwegian filmmaker Knut Erik Jensen.

International impact

Films from all over the world were available to visitors and locals: India, Pakistan, Finland, France, England, Iceland and the United States were all represented.

Ketil Magnussen, the leader of HUMAN International Documentary Film Festival in Oslo, presented three documentary films: 20 Days in Mariupol, Crows are White, and The Mountains. Mstyslav Chernov, the journalist behind 20 days in Mariupol, spoke directly to the audience after the film.

“You would not believe how close I am to the front,” he said, as the audience could see that he sat in an underground shelter.

The film shows the first 20 days of the Russian invasion of Mariupol, Ukraine, with the horrors of war laid bare. The documentary won the World Cinema Documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

I was very glad that I was warned not to sit in the front rows during the screening.

“It’s painful to watch, but it must be painful,” Chernov said.

The festival featured visiting artists from Ukraine. There was a classical opening concert with Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova, who graduated from the Lysenko School of Music in Kyiv. Her parents Borys Fedorov and Tatiana Abayeva were also present.

Magnussen believes that the role of fiction in depicting reality and creating common history is an important medium for examining propaganda.

The other two films, The Mountains and Crows Are White, are about belonging, both in a country and in a family. Crows are White focuses on belonging to a religion, while The Mountains tries to understand what happens to family relationships after a child dies.

The Mountains was directed and produced by Denmark’s Christian Einshøj, who grew up in Norway. There, the family’s great tragedy occurred 25 years ago, when brothers were separated. With the film, Einshøj tries to break the ice between them.

Norwegian films

The local audience, visitors, and the film industry are taken into consideration when the festival decides which films to include in the program, which is key to its success. The festival has also invested in a complete portable cinema screening equipment that was used during two screenings for free.

The festival simply closed the street to traffic when the beautiful film Fedrelandet (The Fatherland) was shown. This much talked-about film by Margreth Olin has been called a nature documentary. The scenery could not be better, with fishing boats in the background, the northern lights lighting the skies,  and an open fire to warm our hands. The film has since been selected as a contender for an Oscar. (See Fedrelandet in the November issue of The Norwegian American.)

The film Ottar Brox­—Kampen for Kysten (Fighting for the Coast) was shown and discussed with the political editor of newspaper Nordlys, Skjalg Fjellheim; Bjørnar Skjæran, Norway’s minister for fisheries, and oceans; and former North Cape Mayor Kristina Hansen. The question of whether it is possible for northern Norwegian coastal communities to take back control of their basic resource of the seas were among the questions raised.

Other films with local flair were The Bitcoin Car, a humorous film from rural Norway. It is fun but serious at its core, touching on topics such as investment capital, electricity energy, and green energy. The pre premiere Ola­—a very ordinary unusual guy, a heartwarming film about equality and belonging, received good reviews. In Cod We Trust is a documentary film from Båts­fjord.

One of the films had won the award “Gledessprederen”—“The Joy Spreader”­­—at the International Film Festival in Haugesund on Norway’s west coast this past summer. Hør her’a! is based on the book by Gulraiz Sharif, with a script by Erlend Loe and Nora Landsrød and directed by Kaveh Tehrani. The film is about  a teenager, Mahmoud, who longs for a relaxing summer. But then Uncle Ji comes to visit from Pakistan, and things turn out differently.

“We want to show films that tell us something about where we live, who we are, and what we do for a living. For us here in the north, fish, the sea, fresh air, clean nature, and silence are values that we must never give up,” said organizer Johansen. “Therefore, through some of the documentary films we want to create both reflection and discussion about these values.”

The festival’s closing film was the Norwegian blockbuster film Sulis 1907. The film was inspired by real events in Sulitjelma in Fauske in Nordland. Described as “a Western-inspired mining film,” it was directed by Nils Gaup, known for The Pathfinder / Veiviseren (1987), Kautokeinoopprøret / The Kautokeino Uprising (2008), Birkebeinerne (2016). The script was written by Christopher Grøndahl of Kampen for Narvik / The Battle for Narvik (2022) fame.

“Sulis,” as Sulitjelma was colloquially called, is described as Lapland’s hell, where 104 people lost their lives during 104 years of mining. Filming took place in Røros, Sulitjelma, and Målselv in Troms.

Surprises

One of the surprises at the festival were screenings of live recordings of the local band Moillrock. “Moillrock Live at Vulkan Arena 2023” had gathered 800 audience members in Norway’s capital.

Each year, the festival posters are works by the artist Bjarne Holst (1944-1993). This year’s picture was entitled “Retreat.” It was painted in 1968, the year the Soviet Union entered Czechoslovakia, while the Vietnam War was ongoing. The movie poster doesn’t let anyone pass by without being moved.

The biggest surprise, however, was at the closing ceremony when Knut Erik Jensen appeared on stage in a real-life wedding ceremony. The esteemed director married his partner, Mona Haug, before a jubilant crowd. The happy couple then danced like teenagers to the Cliff Richard version of the song “Congratulations”­—a perfect ending.

This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Tove Andersson

Tove Andersson is a freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture. She conducts interviews for the street magazine Oslo while writing poetry and fiction. Jeg heter Navnløs (My name is nameless) was published in 2020. Her website is www.frilanskatalogen.no/frilanstove, and she can be reached at tove.andersson@skrift.no.