Small is Beautiful By Odd Vaagland

in 17th Tromso International Film Festival

by Odd Vaagland

Tromsö is a small town in size (with a total of about 60,000 inhabitants), but sometimes it so happens that small is beautiful. The town is clearly boiling with creative energy and optimism. The modest extent makes the film festival more visible to visitors from abroad and the people of the town. The impressive amount of voluntary help from the general public evidently involves local people and creates more interest in high quality films.

The broad spectrum of films are admirable. The importance of the festival as such is first and foremost the presentation of a broad scope of feature films to an international public (the documentaries, the short films, the special screening of Norwegian films, etc.) should not be forgotten. Most of the films offer a deeper knowledge of other cultures and different ways of life. The best films give a unique insight into other peoples’ lives; sufferings and happiness, misery and hope.

Being aware of this important political and social subject, the festival and the University of Tromsö arranged a lecture and a debate about the impact of films on political processes. Professor Michael J. Shapiro from the University of Hawaii was invited to give a lecture with the title Can Film make a Difference? Shapiro has written a great number of books about film and politics and the relation between films and war. If some of the films at this festival may change the mind and attitude of onlookers and give us the wisdom not to hate and fight each other, it is certainly worth all the work and money spent on the film festival in Tromsø.

The jury’s task was to decide which out of 12 chosen films were praiseworthy, which gave a narrow scope to judge the festival’s choice of quality films. It’s a pity that no African films were among those presented to our jury. Apart from this the films were admirably well chosen.

Two themes in the program were obvious; the amount of political movies and how longing was clearly and crisply present as a theme in most of the films. The political films (3 out of 12) were Borderpost (Karaula), a “Yugoslavian” tragic comedy from the border area between Albania and Yugoslavia. It is about how easily violence may break out when a warlike atmosphere is being whipped up; the Argentinean Chronicle of an Escape (Crónica de una fuga) which is set in the time of the military dictatorship (1977 — 1983). The story is told in the style of a startling thriller. It is about kidnapping, torture and escape. The torture scenes may allude to the torture centre at Guantanamo; and Still Life (Sanxia Haoren), a Chinese movie located in the area where the Yangtze River was being dug up tells the tale of 1.4 million people about to be moved away from their homeland by the authorities.

This last film also has a strong element of longing which brings us to the films where this theme clearly comes into view. The different films elaborate on the object in different ways. It may be the longing for the past (Still Life), longing for freedom outside the prison (Chronicle of an Escape), longing for wives who have left (Colossal Youth/ Juventude em marcha) and Still Life), longing for safety and a fixed role in life (Lucy). It may also be the longing to meet a runaway father (Taking Father Home/ Bei Yazi de Nanhai), longing for reconciliation and peace of mind (Born and Bred / Nacido Y Criado). Teenagers longing to be adults (Glue), a religious girl’s longing to live a normal, modern life (Requiem). The main protagonist in Longing (Sehnsucht) has a tragic longing to return to both his wife and mistress. Finally, people in Palestine are longing for peace and freedom in Waiting (Attente).

Why all this longing? Even if 12 films is not enough to jump to conclusions, I think this prevailing theme brings to light the conditions of people living in our time. A global economy and too much alteration create a feeling of alienation and searching for something else and somewhere else to go.

The Norwegian film Winterland (Vinterland), shown as the opening film, was well made as a feel good movie about cultural differences between lifestyle in the cold North of Norway and Iraq, but could have done with a sharper definition of the differences. At the moment Norwegian short films and documentaries seem to be given more attention internationally. But well done feature films are generally also getting more attention.