26th Tromso International Film Festival

Norway, January 18 - January 24 2016

The jury

Demetrios Matheou (Great Britain), Covadonga de la Cuesta G (Spain), Peter Stuart Robinson (Norway)

Awarded films

One of the most northernmost film festivals in the world, Tromsø draws much of its unusual character from its Arctic location – in the grip of the sub-zero Polar Night – and its warmth from the population, a friendly crowd who eagerly embrace a wide-ranging programme of films.

There’s something akin to Sundance about the atmosphere here, as style gives way to practicality in the clothing, staying on one’s feet in the icy streets is a constant concern, and filmgoers bond over the conditions in between film critiques. Even Tromsø’s main drag, Storgata, is reminiscent of Park City’s Main Street.

It also runs concurrently to the bigger-profile event. Yet without the Hollywood industry circus, Tromsø has an ease and charm all its own, epitomised by the Winter Cinema – an outdoor screen playing to kids in the mornings, adults in the evenings, hundreds of whom defy sub-zero temperatures to watch films.

In its first quarter century, total admissions grew from 5,200 in 1991 to more than 59,000 in 2015, making it Norway’s biggest film festival. One of the world’s many “TIFFs”, it presented its 26th edition on 18-24 January this year, under festival director Martha Otte. With the slogan Frozen Land, Moving Pictures, as usual the programme of international titles was targeted primarily at Norwegian audiences, many of whom travel from other parts of the country to see films that may not receive distribution in Norway.

The festival opened with Doing Good (Mannen Fra Snäsa) a documentary by the respected Norwegian filmmaker Margreth Olin, who was also the subject of a mini-retrospective; it closed with the international hit Room. In between, the competition involved 12 films vying for three prizes: the festival’s Aurora Prize, The Don Quixote Prize from the International Federation of Film Societies, and Fipresci’s own. Three other prizes included an audience award.

Away from centre stage, a handful of sections displayed the programme’s quality and ingenuity, and also a little mischief.

Among these, Horizons featured an eclectic, by no means obvious selection of films from Norwegian and foreign film festivals. There was an homage to the legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, and snapshots of Quebec cinema and the independent film scene in contemporary China – films that are being made and screened in China without state approval, offering Norwegians a glimpse of “several Chinas that they haven’t yet imagined.”

The strand Game On had the subheading “The Post-Pacman Apocalypse, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Game,” its selection of documentaries, animation and live action films touching on the relationship between the worlds created in gaming and the “real” world, while attempting to brush away the negative stereotypes that beleaguer gamers.

This section demonstrated the desire of the festival to think outside the box. On a more familiar level, Films from the North featured documentaries and short films from the Barents region and other Polar areas, casting a spotlight on emerging local filmmakers and their stories.

At the business end, events aimed at both industry professionals and general audiences included a panel discussion in which critics considered the strength of Norwegian cinema internationally, and a conference discussing the Norwegian government’s impending regulations for film funding and dissemination. (Demetrios Matheou)

Tromso International Film Festival: www.tiff.no