The Kicksled Choir
Norwegian Oscar nominee for best live-action short film
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Refugees are either welcomed to the community or unwelcomed. Norway and northern Norway is no different. In the 18-minute film, The Kicksled Choir, writer/director Torfinn Iversen and producer Julia Andersen of Fjordic Films, have crafted this dichotomy, while also interjecting other messages in a simple premise.
An intergenerational choir of residents in a small village in northern Norway goes door-to-door singing to collect money or clothes for the refugees living in the hamlet. They get around on kicksleds, sleds with seats. One sweeps or kicks their leg on the ground to get it to accelerate. The sleds are lined up in a row. Ten-year old Gabriel (Benoni Brox Krane), who loves to sing, longs to join the choir, but his father (Stig Henrik Hoff) dislikes the refugees.
The film has already won Best Live-Action Short at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival; Best Child Actor (Krane) at the Japan’s Sapporo Short Film Festival & Market; the Audience Award at Norway’s Tromsø International Film Festival; the Nordic Star Award (Krane) at the Buff International Film Festival in Malmö, Sweden. It was the official selection at several other film festivals: Reykjavik International Film Festival; Lucas International Film Festival for Young Film Lovers in Frankfurt, Germany; Canada’s Edmonton International Film Festival; Best International Short Competition Amsterdam’s Cinekid Festival; Nordisk Panorama in Malmö; Kristiansand International Film Festival in Norway; 39th Oulu International Children’s and Youth Film Festival in Oulo, Finland; Ale Kino! International Young Audience Film Festival, Poznań, Poland; Turkey’s Izmir International Short Film Festival, and Norway’s Nordkapp International Film Festival.
The ultimate, cherry on top, was when the film was shortlisted from 100+ entries—including American films—in the live-action short film category for the 93rd Academy Awards, which will be announced on April 25.
Iversen said he was also focusing on the tension of the father-son relationship, one standing up for beliefs, and other associated images.
“It was a story that took time to develop because I was searching for several images,” said Iversen in a Zoom interview from Oslo. “It means something interesting to me like a chain of pictures. I wanted a main character who had to fight for his beliefs. Myself, I grew up in a small town, Sortland (above the Arctic Circle, an hour from Lofoten Islands). There were not many refugees there, but I’ve always been interested in outsiders and their relationships, and father-to-son relationships. I also did a lot of research. I went to refugee centers or homes in northern Norway. It was also a personal story in many ways which developed over time. So, a lot changed during writing, so we ended up with this now.”
Andersen is from Tromsø, the largest city in northern Norway, where there was an influx of refugees in the middle of the 2000s. “I worked with them,” she said from Oslo. “I ran a circus and a theater for years before I went to film school. During the refugee crisis in 2015 a lot of them came to Tromsø. They were scattered everywhere. Some people were lucky. They got to stay in the city, but others were shipped out to the countryside. It was quite dark and snowy, horrible for therm. We invited the kids one summer for theater and circus camp. I was part of arranging that.”
Benoni, who also lives in Tromsø, had a personal experience with a refugee. “Here, we don’t have a refugee home nearby,” he said. “We had a woman living in our house. She was a refugee from Eritrea in Africa and was looking for a place to live because she was studying. So, we said yes you can live here. I have learned a lot from that.”
This was the 12-year-old Benoni’s film debut, and he’s already won a couple of acting awards for it. “Both my parents have been actors,” he said. “They developed in us an interest in acting in my childhood. They took us to the theater. I was in a theater group. That was the first thing I did in theater life. I got a role in a play with that theater. I just liked it. My mom heard about the audition and showed it to me. I thought it would be fun to try. I think it is a very important theme. I think many can relate to it.”
“I worked with his parents before, on stage, in theater,” said Andersen. “His mom texted me saying, ‘hey I heard you’re having auditions. Can Benoni come by?’ ‘Of course.’ He was the best. He did a great job.”
There’s not a lot of dialogue, as the tension of the silence takes its place. In the beginning, Gabriel’s father (Stig Henrik Hoff) is buying a window. When a refugee, Senai (Khaled Saleh Akila), won’t get out of the way so Gabriel’s father can drive past, the two get into a fight and Gabriel’s father throws the man over a railing into the river. This shocks Gabriel. At home, while they sit through a quiet dinner, the choir comes by. Gabriel welcomes them, but his father shoos them away. At school, he overhears people saying, “the crazy farmer threw the refugee in the river,” and “don’t call them immigrants, they’re refugees.”
“I think immigrants have chosen to go to a place,” explained Iversen. “Refugees might be in a situation where they cannot choose. I remember when I was a kid this was always discussed in school.”
The film has a happy ending.
The elements of the film came together in an unusual way. They aren’t kicksled choirs, but “There are a lot of choirs in Norway everywhere, in the small towns,” said Iversen. “So, the idea was to place them together to go from house to house.”
The Kicksled Choir was filmed at Film Camp in Øverbygd (255 residents) in the municipality of Måselv, outside Tromsø. In 2015-2016, it served as a refugee center. “They came and were taken care of there,” said Iversen. “People gave them clothes. Some people did not want to give them clothes. The movie was all based on some true stories in this area.”
As for the kicksleds, “One summer day, Torfinn and I were talking about riding kicksleds, as kids and putting them together in a long row,” said Andersen, “It was quite dangerous. We did that every winter. Then, it was like ‘wow, maybe we should put that in a movie.’ Then, we thought it might not be interesting enough to just have the kids, maybe adults should do something. These pieces we put together in a choir.”
“I think it’s a story everyone can relate to,” said Iversen. “Some of the messages of this film are what choices you have to make to follow your own beliefs. Often, as a kid, you do something else than your parents want you to do. It’s about building your own identity, finding your own direction and the importance of that. Trying to see things and discuss it. These are some of the things we can do after we watch the film. I think it’s very interesting to talk about this film with other kids. When I was writing this script, I heard about some young kids who wanted to give away clothes to the refugees, but their parents didn’t allow them to. This was in Norway. Sometimes people change and we don’t really know why, but it’s obvious (in the film) that there is something Gabriel has contributed to.”
All photos courtesy of Fjordic Film AS
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.