16th International European Documentary Film Symposium
Is the New Documentary. That New?

Kalle Lochen
Film Theorist
Personal stories. Norwegian Documentary now.

So what is new in Norwegian documentary film making? What has happened during the last fifteen years is interesting in this view. Until 1989 Norwegian documentaries where scarcely seen in Norwegian movie theatres. As a former student in film theory from the University in Stockholm in the beginning of the 80's, I looked with envy on the Swedish variety of film production, and that included documentaries made for the big screen. They hade a name, and a very enthusiastic person, in Stefan Jarl, and they had a network of cinemas and a distributor who cared for documentary films. That was definitely not the case in Norway. Until 1989, when Sigve Endresen released his documentary, "For your life", about young drug addicts trying to get off the streets with help from an ambitious training program. The film was seen by over 60 000 people in the cinemas. He followed up this film with "Big Boys Don't Cry" in 1995, about eight men serving longer prison time

and drug abuse, going through a similar program before their release. This film sold over 40 000 tickets. These figures were at the time considered very good for Norwegian films at all.

In the 90 's, the state funding for film in Norway was divided between Norwegian Film Institute, with a feature film consultant, and the Audio-Visual Fund, which was based on money from the Norwegian TV channels beside the state support. TV channels are always in need of good programs, and documentaries have always been regarded as such. Through the A V-fund lots of documentaries got funding, but the hook was that every film that got support had to have a cinema release. Several of the projects that got a release was primarily documentaries that suited the TV-format as well as a cinema release, but this was a starting point for focus on documentaries made for the big screen, in feature film length. The 90's saw the rise of three excellent Norwegian film makers; Sigve Endresen, Margreth Olin and Trond Kvist.

They were all engaged and enthusiastic about making feature length documentaries, and had relatively success with their films, especially among film critics that suddenly had to cope with documentary films for reviewing. In 2001, all state funding for film was located in a new organization, Norwegian Film Fund, and since their start we have seen over 20 documentaries in Norwegian Cinemas. It all started with the film "Cool & Crazy" by Knut Erik Jensen, a film that had over 500 000 admissions in movie theatres during 2001, and also got wide international recognition and distribution.

Everyone knows that the films will be seen by much more people through programming in television, but still nothing beats the possibility to see documentaries on a big screen, with an audience. And a cinema release also gives the filmmakers a much better opportunity to focus on the themes that are developed in the films. By the time the films will be part of the TV channels

programming, they are well known by the audience through the cinema release.

The general interest among the public has also been increasing during the last five years. Several international documentaries have been screened in theatres, and almost every film festival in Norway has a lot of documentaries in their program.


The before mentioned directors, Sigve Endresen, Margreth Olin and Trond Kvist have all been telling stories that are related to society, telling stories about people (often as a collective or group) living on the edge, trying to cope with the standards of normality, which frankly is common standards in a rich land as Norway. Many have said about Norwegian feature films, that they have no agenda, because Norway seemingly is a nation without problems. The documentary film makers have no problem with seeing society from another point of view, from the less fortunate, from

people struggling for life, and they are more than willing to tell their story.

There are a lot of documentary films from Norway that should be considered personal stories. In some cases they involve the director himself (Benestad, Olin, Hall Jensen) but there are also intimate stories that is based on a person's life, with a certain focus on specific parts that involves their place in conflict with society, or the so called standards of normality. And some of these films are concerned with men or women's choice of way of living.

The 2nd World War is always returning as a theme in Norwegian documentaries. Knut Erik Jensen has dealt with these issues in all his films, both features and documentaries. His concern is with telling the stories, and the history, of northern Norway, through the way people remember, and still is influenced by the wounds of the war. That is also the case with Jensen's documentary hit "Cool & Crazy", which had some touches of melancholy though

the film was received by a large audience as feel-good material. In the last few years we have seen a couple of good documentaries made for TV by younger artists, dealing with themselves and their nearest family, in search of truth or understanding concerning the Holocaust. One of these films, "Forever Yours" by Monica Csango, won the Amanda for best Documentary in august.

I have headlined this article "Personal Stories", because I feel that the artists involvement in the stories they are telling are primarily personal. It might concern them directly, but telling stories about others is also a way of telling stories about themselves. There is a clear engagement in most of these documentaries which certainly goes beyond the theme of the movie. But one problem with the personal story might be that the filmmakers are too concerned with himself, or the person portrayed, that he leaves out elements that definitely could widen the perspective and give a firmer reason for this story to be told. In many cases I have

witnessed, the discussions afterwards with the filmmaker have been just as interesting as the movie. As if there might be some information, or a point of view, that really should have been in the film itself.

The light apparatus for making films is also a tendency very visible in documentaries. The filmmaker can follow the subject wherever he or she goes, waiting for moments to occur. The DV-camera is frequently used, but in some of these films combined with splendid 35mm photography, and in some films combined with the more rough use of Super-8 film stock.

At the Norwegian Short Film Festival in Grimstad there is a certain focus on documentaries. 13 new films where screened this year out of a total of 80 films submitted. The tendency of choice of themes was the same there. Personal stories made by, in many cases, new up-and-coming directors. But most of these films were made for TV, with the absolute slot time of 52 minutes. Some of these films had a story that reasonably could

have deserved a longer running time, and some of them could, of course, have been shorter.

From my point of view, there are stories to tell that reflect some conflicts in society, that rarely is visible in feature films, but have their place in documentaries. We might call them the new documentary, but the important thing for us in Norway is the focus these films get from a release in the movie theatres. - Home
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