Nordic films at the Movies That Matter Festival 2017

Movies That Matter Film Festival

Movies that Matter believes that the film camera is a powerful weapon against social indifference. Film has an unprecedented capacity to open eyes. What cannot be accomplished by spoken and written language, is sometimes achieved by motion picture. Cinema fascinates, stimulates, inspires and raises awareness. It serves as a mirror and helps us to become familiar with other cultures. Inspired films incite to compassion, reflection and discussion. Films have an emotional appeal and serve as a mouthpiece for victims of injustice.

For all those reasons, film is an excellent way to stir debate and promote human rights education. And that is no luxury, since research from the Human Rights League and the University of Amsterdam has shown that (young) Dutch citizens know little about human rights.


24th March 2017 – 4th April 2017


The Hague, The Netherlands


Last Men in Aleppo

Directed by Feras Fayyad & Steen Johannessen

When Khaled looks up, he sees a plane fly over. That’s not a good sign, since the plane is about to drop a barrel bomb on Aleppo and Khaled will be called upon to remove victims from underneath the rubble. Director Feras Feyyad zooms in on the volunteers wearing white helmets and the terrible dilemma they face.

Khaled feels trapped. His freedom is severely restricted in Aleppo yet if he were to leave the city, he would be a fish out of water. Every day, right where he grew up, he puts on his white helmet to extract shelling victims from underneath the rubble with the help of other volunteers. There is an outburst of joy whenever they succeed in saving the lives of entire families, although at many occasions they recover casualties. A cease-fire enables them to get away from things and take their children to a playground. Meanwhile, they face ever greater risks increase and doubt sets in. Should Khaled take his wife and children and leave the city to seek refuge elsewhere?

MTM Synopsis

Movies That Matter Link

Nordic Film Database

Faroe Islands

The Islands and the Whales

Directed by Mike Day

Not much grows on the rocky hills of the stunning Faroe Islands between Iceland and Norway. The indigenous population has been living off whale meat and sea birds for centuries. Serious pollution now endangers their way of life. Whales are full of mercury, birds are filled with plastic, and whaling has become the object of criticism.

The remote Faroe archipelago is a magical location, with dark islands behind thick layers of mist. The indigenous population has been living in harmony with nature for centuries. Their traditional diet consists of sea birds, such as the lovely puffin, and other sea life, including the equally endearing pilot whale, that looks like a dolphin. Fathers teach their sons to catch birds from an early age. Traditionally, sailing out to hunt whales is a major event in which the entire community participates.

But this way of life is threatened. Local toxicologist Pal Weihe has discovered that the mercury in whale meat seriously affects human health and child development. Birds increasingly swallow small pieces of plastic, and the ocean’s pollution has caused a sharp decline in the number of puffins nesting on the islands. And then there is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Island dwellers watch with sadness as its activists moor their vessel to go ashore, equipped with pirate flags and former beach babe Pamela Anderson as their figurehead. ‘We have had bad experiences with pirates…’ recalls one of the elderly people.

At a press conference of the well-meaning environmental activist group, a worried island dweller asks where they have to get their food from, since nothing grows on the islands. ‘If you give us a cow to eat, will you leave us alone?’ But that question finds no echo, as Sea Shepherd is only concerned with sea life.

MTM Synopsis

Movies That Matter Link

Nordic Film Database


The Other Side of Hope

Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

In the opening film of the Movies that Matter Festival 2017, author-filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki shows in his characteristic style how a Finnish trade representative and a Syrian refugee cross paths.

The latest film from idiosyncratic Kaurismäki would be hilarious if it were not so terribly tragic. Khaled Ali has fled Syria and, after traversing Europe, is looking for asylum in Finland. ‘Seeking asylum is not the problem, a lot of people do that,’ is the level-headed answer of the policeman to whom Khaled submits his asylum request.

Somewhere else in the same Finnish city, Wikström makes the important decision to radically change his life. He leaves his wife and quits his job as trade representative. He wants to start a restaurant. A few days later, he finds Khaled amidst his dumpsters. Khaled considers the space between the containers to be his bedroom. Wikström has a different opinion about that, and a fight ensues. When the bleeding has stopped, Wikström decides to help Khaled out of his predicament and offers him a job in the restaurant. Hope is dawning. It would all have been hilarious if it were not so tragic.

MTM Synopsis

Movies That Matter Link

Nordic Film Database

The Good Postman

Directed by Tonislav Hristov

In an utterly desolate hamlet near the border of Turkey and Bulgaria, a postman has a heart-warming plan: to invite the hordes of Syrian refugees who pass through to stay in the village, in order to revive the community.

The sleepy Bulgarian village lies close to the border of Turkey and has been the major gateway to Europe since time immemorial. The rundown houses are home to a mere 38 residents, many of whom are well past 65. The half-ruined school building is no longer used. All the young people have left for the big cities. The elderly have remained behind with nothing to do. Recently, however, they see droves of refugees passing by. These are Syrians, fleeing the war in the hope of finding a better place in Europe.

The local mailman, Ivan, has a good idea: why don’t they ask the refugees to stay? They could revive the village. Their children could go to school and they could help rebuild the village again. In order to realise his plan, he wants to run for mayor. His unemployed opponent isn’t convinced at all: he would rather go back to the days of Communism and promises the villagers work if they choose him. The exact details of his plan, however, are never quite clear. Despite their differences, both candidates hate the current mayor, who has been in charge for years.

Director Tonislav Hristov manages to capture the tragedy of the countryside in beautiful images and concentrates all the challenges of the European community into this small story of a local election.

MTM Synopsis

Movies That Matter Link

Nordic Film Database


Liberation Day

Directed by Morten Traavik & Ugis Olte

Slovenian rock band Laibach is more notorious for their flirtations with fascist symbolism and rhetoric than for their great covers of ’80s hits like Life is Life and The Final Countdown. But is their act not a mockery of totalitarian regimes? The fact that they were the first Western band in the world to be asked to perform in North Korea is ironic, to put it mildly. Is this a match made in heaven, or is it asking for trouble?

Laibach is the first band ever to be allowed to perform in ‘reclusive state’ North Korea. They have been invited to give a concert as part of the Liberation Day celebrations. It is a weird combination: originally a Czechoslovakian cult band, they became notorious for their flirtations with fascist symbolism and rhetoric. The fact that the band mainly used these elements as mockery was not clear to everyone, which is why the media has often wrongly vilified them and decried them as Nazi sympathisers.

That this band, of all bands, was picked to play in North Korea is truly the epitome of irony. Or does it all make sense? Under the inspirational leadership of film director, artist and huge Laibach fan Morten Traavik, the band undertakes a journey to the most closed-off country in the world. ‘Just like your country, Laibach is often misunderstood.’ With that statement, Traavik tries to bridge the cultural gap between the band members and the North Korean delegates who have been charged with guiding the group.

The film follows the difficult preparations towards the run-up to the performance. Besides the many technical difficulties and huge cultural differences, there is the ever-watchful eye of the censors who constantly want to tinker with the lyrics and visual projections, to the aggravation of the band and crew. Meanwhile, the tensions at the border with South Korea rise.

MTM Synopsis

Movies That Matter Link

Nordic Film Database


Sami Blood

Directed by Amanda Kernell

Christina reluctantly returns to the place where she was born to attend her little sister’s funeral. During her teenage years, she decided to give up her traditional clothing and to no longer live like a Lap, because they were seen as an inferior people.

Christina grew up as Ella-Marja and, during her teenage years, gradually discovered that she was seen as a member of an inferior group of people. On her way to school, she was bullied by Swedish children. At school, a doctor investigated the children to scientifically prove their inferiority. When it becomes clear that Ella-Marja will not be able to continue her studies to become a teacher, she decides that enough is enough. She decides to leave her traditional life behind and moves to the big city to build a life and a career as a ‘normal’ Swede. To that end, she trusts the benevolence of her contemporary Niklas, whom she met at a village party.

With this subtle coming-of-age story, director Amanda Kernell demonstrates the consequences of racism. What drives people to deny their own background and assume a new identity?

MTM Synopsis

Movies That Matter Link

Nordic Film Database

The Girl Who Saved My Life

Directed by Hogir Hirori

A filmmaker who fled to Sweden returns to his homeland Iraq to give a face to the millions of refugees in that region. He meets an 11-year-old girl who stops him from making a fatal journey.

In 1999, filmmaker Hogir Hirori flees Iraq and, after a harrowing journey, ends up in Sweden. He has been living there ever since. By now he is married and his wife is hugely pregnant with their first child. When he sees the images of his homeland under the scourge of IS, and of the multitudes on the run, he feels compelled to return and help the refugees, even if just to give a face to the 1.5 million people who left their homes to escape the terror of IS.

After arriving in Iraq, he gets an opportunity to join a helicopter transport to the Sinjar Mountains. The flight is intended to transport food and water to a remote area that is surrounded by IS. Hundreds of people are trapped there without access to food, fresh water, or medicine. On his way to the helicopter, Hirori stumbles upon Souad, an 11-year-old girl lying on the ground in the scorching heat. She is in pain, alone, and has not eaten for days. He decides stay and help her instead of boarding the flight. As becomes clear later, this proves to be a decision that will affect the course of his life. An exciting and personal account of the appalling circumstances in the refugee camps in and around Iraq.

MTM Synopsis

Movies That Matter Festival Link

Nordic Film Database

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.