Films from The North to Russia is a showcase of emerging Nordic filmmaking talent. Organised by the Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF) and now in its third year, the tour shows a collection of five short films in six Russian cities. The films reflect human experiences and touch on themes of personal isolation, the fear of loneliness and the seemingly opposing forces which tie us together and drive us apart. Each film is exquisitely crafted and the collection is a tour de force of contemporary Nordic cinema; with dry wit, insightful interpretations, heartfelt compassion, intimate characters and technical competence the films represent themes of the North with an understated elegance.
I joined Igor Shaytanov, the Project Manager at TIFF, and Trond Kvig Andreason, the director of Reality Refugee, for the Murmansk to Apatity leg of the tour.
It is mid morning by the time we leave Murmansk. Heading south on wide Russian highways the apartment buildings and smoke stacks quickly give way to the typical northern landscape of low rolling hills, pine tress and open tundra. The journey to Apatity is around two and a half hours and we are four in the car; Ivan is our driver, Igor is the front seat passenger and Trond and I are in back.
During the drive Trond and I talk about the vibrancy and enthusiasm that Russians have for creating and consuming new culture in Murmansk. We talk about our shared experiences of the North. We talk about the processes of making work and the challenges of the creative industries. I soon learn that, like all good story tellers, Trond has a sense of his surroundings and human interactions which can often be missed in their subtleness. He is humble, observant and curious. Reality Refugee reflects this with the level of intimacy in which the films hero, Magnus Eliassen, is portrayed. “He is an amazing character to work with” explains Trond, “We spent time with him in the forest, following his day to day and learning about his life and his views on the world.” Trond also describes how the versatility of digital cameras and working with a small crew allows flexibility on the shoot, “Sometimes keeping the camera rolling is the best thing to do, situations occur which can’t be planned for and this adds another level of story telling to the film.”
Trond, originally from Bodø, will graduate from the Norwegian Film school at the University Collage of Lillehammer this June. “I am currently putting together my final film for my degree, it’s a pretty busy time but when Igor contacted me and asked me to join him on the tour I couldn’t say no.”
We arrive in Apatity well ahead of the screening time. Igor is a professional and leaves nothing to chance. As soon as we arrive we head straight for the projection room at the Polarniy cinema for a test of the equipment. The cinema is simple but we are all surprised by its size The enormous screen is a pristine silvery white with a large wooden stage extending six meters or so from its base, there are red velvet seats enough for 300 or more. “This is good” Igor murmurs with raised eyebrows. I get the impression Igor knows cinemas, and knows a good one when he sees it.
We have some hours to kill in Apatity before the screening and Trond describes the overwhelming response the tour has received so far. “In Murmansk last night we packed out the cinema, people seem genuinely excited about the tour and are fully engaged with the question and answer session we run after the screening. The questions are great, it’s so nice that the audience is as excited as us about the tour”. The Apatity screening is also well received, although the crowd is smaller than Murmansk the enthusiasm is still as palpable. Before Trond and Igor can leave the cinema a line of locals forms for selfies, handshakes and heartfelt messages of thanks. There is a mutual respect here and Trond is humbled by the audience, he quietly asks after we leave if I got any photos “because in Norway, people won’t believe this happened.”
On the drive back to Murmansk later that evening I ask Trond what his thoughts are of the tour and what it means to show films in Russia. “We have so much to learn from each other. As a people, sharing a border, and as film workers too. One thing that really stuck with me after the tour is how hardworking the Russians working creatively are - if it’s film, photo, design or events. In Norway artists apply for money from the government to create, in Russia a lot of people work for nothing, just because they love it.” Trond is also enormously thankful for the opportunity to tour with his film, I get the impression that he is benifiting from this experience as much as the audiences who get the chance to enjoy his work. “I always think it’s an honor to be able to show our work. To be able to get direct feedback on the films, to just hear the audiences reaction to the film. Especially abroad, the audiences are just more honest and straight forward with you. I learn so much every time. Hearing peoples response creates new ideas and new ways to think about my own work. I cannot thank the people who made it all happen enough. “
It is 2:00am by the time we arrive back in Murmansk, tomorrow Igor and Trond will travel to Arkhangelsk, then the following week St Petersburg, Petrozavodsk and finally Moscow. This is the most ambitious tour to date but there is a sense that it will only grow in the coming years. The success of the program so far in Murmansk and Apatity illustrates, that on many levels, there is a shared cultural identity in the North. A kind of shared understanding of living above the polar circle and a resonance around certain themes. The skill of the filmmakers and the receptiveness of the audiences ensures that this is an exciting conduit for sharing ideas across borders in the Barents Region.
Tronds next film is “a documentary experiment about random, unplanned encounters between humans. It won’t have one main character, but move from one person to the next as their paths cross.” The film is to be released later in 2014.