A "Best of“-Festival North of the Arctic Circle

in 32nd Tromso International Film Festival

by Florian Vollmers


The 32nd Tromsø Internasjonale Film Festival defied the Corona crisis with a rich program. 

Mia Hansen-Løve, Erik Poppe, Maria Speth—such big names in European film—had announced their personal visit to the Tromsø International Film Festival from January 17th to 23rd and then because of the increasing number of Corona-infected people in Norway had to stay away from the popular public festival north of the Arctic Circle. Despite the lack of film guests, the organizers dared to open the cinema halls and were able to sell around 31,000 tickets, c. 3,400 of which were online tickets for VOD streaming. At the venues with 50 percent occupancy, the relief and the great desire to go to the cinema were clearly noticeable. In normal times before the pandemic, the festival organizers had announced that the number of viewers had doubled. It was fitting for the tense situation that the Norwegian Minister of Culture, Anette Trettebergstuen, who happily announced the return to the cultural experience in the cinema hall at the opening, canceled the second half of the festival because she had been infected with the Coronavirus.

The festival did not remain entirely without film guests. Leading actor Anders Danielsen Lie chatted in a good mood about the shooting of Mia Hansen-Løve’s competition entry Bergman Island, which had to be repeatedly interrupted due to cast changes and the onset of the Corona crisis. The finished mixture of Bergman homage, summer comedy, and love drama has turned out surprisingly well, which at the same time fits seamlessly into the autobiographical studies of the director and will see its cinema release in numerous European countries in the coming weeks. According to the festival, some of the most popular titles at the 32nd Tromsø International Film Festival were established art-house heroes, including Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers (Madres paralelas), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza and the Semaine de la Critique-discovery Zero Fucks Given (Rien à foutre) by Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre. 

The Tromsø International Film Festival is Norway’s largest audience festival, dwarfing even its heavyweight siblings in Oslo and Haugesund. The reason for this is the concentration on the low-threshold presentation of a kind of “Best-of” from the most famous film festivals from Berlin, Cannes, and all the way to Venice, combined with a rich cinema tradition in the small town of Tromsø, where there are numerous cultural meeting places now converted into cinemas, as well as the beautiful Verdensteatret, Norway’s oldest cinema from 1916, and an open-air cinema overlooking the Tromsøysundet strait. Even in the freezing cold, schoolchildren in blankets endured a morning screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime classic Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi), while the following evening the adults watched Questlove’s stirring documentary Summer of Soul. In this case, the contrast couldn’t be greater: while—on-screen—soul legends were sweating at the Harlem Cultural Festival in August 1969,  figures wrapped in thermalware rested on the open-air seats in sub-zero temperatures in winter 2022.

The Brazilian political horror thriller Medusa by Anita Rocha da Silveira was awarded two prizes, the main Aurora prize and the church prize, Faith in Film. In the film, women clinging to traditional role models roam the streets to punish members of the same sex who indulge in a different way of life that goes beyond bourgeois standards of family and marriage. Incited by a paramilitary male caste and religious madness, they gradually lose control of their nightly mask games, also because individuals discover new aspects of their desire. Director Anita Rocha da Silveira immerses her wild genre fantasy in glaring neon light images and paints a frighteningly contemporary picture of revisionist currents that can be heard worldwide—not least because of individual insecurity in the pandemic and the associated longing for a strong hold on traditional norms. 

Controversial documentaries with a finger on the pulse were well represented in the program of the Tromsø International Film Festival. Liselotte Wajstedt presented the very first film on the subject of sexual abuse in the otherwise often trivialized and glorified Sámi culture: The Silence in Sápmi (Tystnaden i Sápmi). And Håvard Bustnes’ long-awaited documentary Name of the Game (Trond giske – makta rår) about the case of an up-and-coming politician in the course of the MeToo-movement caused a lot of conversation, especially in the regional market. Maria Speth’s three-and-a-half-hour long-term documentary Mr. Bachmann and his class (Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse) about a committed teacher and his students in the province of Hesse (Germany) caused a sensation with its radically humanistic approach and insistence on the concentrated experience in the cinema hall and was ultimately awarded the FIPRESCI  Prize.

Florian Vollmers
Edited by Savina Petkova