Nordisk Panorama unveils competition lineup

This years Nordisk Panorama has announced its lineup for 2016, with fourteen titles competing for the prize of best Nordic Documentary. A selection of new and upcoming Nordic documentaries will also be pitched.

Nominees for Best Nordic Documentary

Becoming Zlatan, dirs Fredrik Gertten & Magnus Gertten (Sweden, Netherlands, Italy)

The decisive years of Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, told through rare archival footage where a young Zlatan speaks openly about his life and challenges. The film closely follows Zlatan, from his debut in Malmö FF in 1999, through his conflictual years with Ajax Amsterdam, up to the final breakthrough with Juventus in 2005. BECOMING ZLATAN is a coming-of-age film, depicting the complicated journey of this young, talented and troubled player who finally becomes a superstar in the international football world. It’s a story about a young talent living under constant pressure. From the teammates in Malmö who think he’s too egoistic and only plays for himself. From the tough managers of Ajax who send him to the bench, where he loses his self-confidence.

Brothers, dir Aslaug Holm (Norway)

Markus and Lukas are brothers and the sons of the Norwegian filmmaker Aslaug Holm, who over the course of more than eight years has filmed their childhood and youth from when they were five and eight years old. The result is an unusually poetic and almost epic home movie. And no, you don’t just make your own documentary version of ‘Boyhood’ from one week to the next! Big brother Markus loves soccer and is dreaming of playing at the top level in Liverpool FC, whereas little brother Lukas is less physical and more philosophically inclined. But then again, human nature is more complicated than that, and Aslaug Holm’s great talent comes through in the way she manages to show the tiny details that sometimes make way for big changes in the brother’s relation. And she doesn’t shy away from showing how the presence of her camera itself complicates the rules of the family game. Holm’s beautiful film takes part in the boys’ dreams and expectations with both tenderness and an adult eye, and follows the brothers all the way into the wildness of teenage life. You will recognise much from your own life, and be reminded of even more.

Bugs, dir Andreas Johnsen (Denmark)

Insects as food is a hot topic. Particularly over the last few years, since the UN recommended edible insects as a resource to combat world hunger, they have been heralded for their taste by cooks and gastronomes, for their low ecological impact by environmentalists, and for their nutritional content by public health scientists. It would seem that insects are the new superfood that will fix all our problems of global food security.

Diving Into The Unknown, dir Juan Reina (Finland, Norway)

Four Finnish cave divers face their worst nightmare when two of their friends drown deep inside an underwater cave in Norway. When the official recovery operation is called off by the Norwegian and British authorities after being deemed too risky, the friends set out on a secret mission to retrieve the bodies themselves.

Diving into the Unknown isn’t just the dramatic story of a life-threatening mission. It is also a story about unconditional friendship that truly runs deep. While each member of the team has years of experience exploring dangerous deep-sea caves, together they are about to face the biggest challenge of their lives. To make it out alive, they will need to be able to rely on each other every second of the way. And the physical demands of this operation will pale in comparison to the psychological toll it will take on everyone involved.

With footage from the actual accident and multiple cameras both above water and deep below the surface, this film follows the breathtaking recovery mission from beginning to end.

Don Juan, dir Jerzy Sladkowski (Sweden, Finland)

Twenty-two-year-old Oleg doesn’t live up to his mother Marina’s idea of a real man. She thinks he’s an autistic loafer. He’s enrolled at the University of Nizhny Novgorod and is supposed to be watching online lectures, but his mother says all he actually does is hang around watching TV. Oleg doesn’t have any need for friendships, either. Marina wants him to improve his life and subjects him to a series of unconventional treatments. In one particularly uncomfortable scene, we see the therapist riding him as if he were a horse. Another psychiatrist tells Oleg how useless he is and that he will always be alone. Strangely enough the camera seems to be welcome everywhere, and it closely follows these dramatic developments. This gives this documentary a slapstick feel – with a nice dose of satire for good measure. Nonetheless, heated kitchen table conversations between Marina and her own mother reveal the bitter seriousness of the matter, and Marina’s mother wants her to adopt a more positive attitude towards Oleg. Don Juan raises questions about the distinction between introversion and autism. When will Oleg be allowed to be himself at last? Salvation eventually comes from an unexpected source. It is an encouraging victory for humanity, as well as a comment on mental health care.

Dugma – The Button, dir Paul Refsdal (Norway)

When al Qaida in Syria are up against a seemingly impenetrable enemy position, they send in the Martyrdom Seekers – volunteers who drive a truck or an armored personnel carrier loaded with tons of explosives towards the enemy and detonate the load. These operations are simply known among the Jihadis by the Arabic word for button – Dugma. In the film Dugma we follow four Martyrdom Seekers in their daily lives waiting for their turn to go on the final mission.

Keep Frozen, dir Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir (Iceland)

On a cold winter night a loaded factory trawler enters the old harbor of Reykjavík. On board there are 20.000 boxes of frozen fish, each weighing 25 kg. The temperature in the freezing compartment is -35C°. A group of men has only 48 hours to empty the ship before it heads back out to sea. While they do the impossible, we hear stories of both the light and dark sides of the lives they lead.

Magnus, dir Benjamin Ree (Norway)

Magnus Carlsen is widely known as the ‘Mozart of Chess’ because, unlike many chess grandmasters, he not only possesses an innate ability and a remarkable memory, but he blends those attributes with unrivaled creativity and intuition. Memorized moves and calculated probabilities can carry a chess player extremely far. But Magnus’ journey eventually proves that there can be other elements of the game, ones that are impossible to measure or calculate.

From a young age Magnus Carlsen had aspirations of becoming a champion chess player. While many players seek out an intensely rigid environment to hone their skills, Magnus’ brilliance shines brightest when surrounded by his loving and supportive family. Through an extensive amount of archival footage and home movies, director Benjamin Ree reveals this young man’s unusual and rapid trajectory to the pinnacle of the chess world. This film allows the audience to not only peek inside this isolated community but also witness the maturation of a modern genius.

MonaLisa Story, dir Jessica Nettelbladt (Sweden, Denmark, Norway)

‘I was born high,’ says Monalisa, whose mother was a drug addict and who now finds herself struggling to drop heroin before it’s too late. ‘When I took drugs for the first time, it was like coming home.’ Jessica Nettelbladt has followed the long-suffering but at the same time proud and stubborn Monalisa for eight years, and has documented her life’s ups and downs, both in chemical and mental terms. And the result is an unusually honest – and raw – film. Monalisa also has a past as a school teacher and mother. If you entertain a romantic notion about drugs, her story is an abrupt awakening to a reality that is anything but ‘heroin chic’. What is romantic, however, is her relationship with Fredrik, another lost soul she meets while they are both well underway to destroying themselves. Monalisa falls in and out of abuse and prison during the eight years that Nettelbladt follows her. But maybe she and Fredrik are also each other’s last chance? ‘Monalisa Story’ is the story of a both vulnerable and strong woman’s struggle with herself and the world.

Motley’s Law, dir Nicole Horanyi Nielsen (Denmark)

‘I grew up in a bad neighborhood and Kabul is just that; another bad neighborhood’ The last international troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. 38-year old Kimberley Motley has left her husband and her three kids in USA, to work as a defense lawyer in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the only foreign lawyer, with a license to work in Afghan courts, not to mention, the only woman. With her afghan assistant Khalil, Kimberley defends western and afghan clients, accused of criminal offenses. Money and prestigious human rights cases has motivated her for five years, but the personal threats and the dangerous conditions in the country, makes it harder and harder for Kimberley to continue her work.

Reflections, dir Sara Broos (Sweden, Latvia)

The director takes her mother Karin Broos, a famous Swedish painter, on a seaside trip to Latvia, hoping to close the silent gap between them.  Out of this experience came an intimate and poetic film exploring the innermost rooms of the human mind and the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship.

The younger and the ageing woman mirroring each other’s experiences – the will to live, and lack thereof. In a meditation on life and art, health and illness, secrets and shame, serenity and nightmare. A cinematic catharsis through evocations of daily life, dreams, archival material, diary notes, the mother’s paintings and captivating footage. A glimpse into the unconventional world of an artistic family in the countryside of Nordic Europe, set to a soundtrack that totally draws you into the story.

Return Of The Atom, dirs Mika Taanila & Jussi Eerola (Finland, Germany)

Finland was the first country in the west to give permission to build a new nuclear power plant after the Chernobyl disaster (1986). The OL3 plant in Eurajoki is being built by the French nuclear company Areva and was supposed to be ready in five years (2004–2009), being a calling card for nuclear industry’s second coming globally. However, the project has faced serious problems in planning, construction and safety automation. The project is delayed over nine years at the moment. The film portrays the strange and stressful life in a small “nuclear town” during an era of nuclear renaissance. There’s hardly any anti-nuclear resistance in Eurajoki, which creates a tense, unspoken consensus amongst local inhabitants and leaves room for paranoid scenarios.

The Magnitsky Act, dir Andrei Nekrasov (Norway)

A drama about a Russian police plot to steal a billion dollars from a US financier and murder his faithful tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, turns into a real life investigation of contradicting versions of the crime.

What started as a drama about a Russian police plot to steal a billion dollars from a US financier and to murder his faithful tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, has become a real life investigation of contradicting versions of the crime. The Magnitsky Case is central for the policy of blacklisting bad guys from Putin’s Russia (“Magnitsky List”), which was then adopted by the West in retaliation for Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Shockingly for the film’s director, dissident and Putin basher Andrei Nekrasov, the official Western story turns out to have serious flaws.

Those Who Jump, dirs Estephan Wagner, Moritz Siebert & Abou Bakar Sidibé (Denmark)

In northern Morocco, lies the Spanish enclave of Melilla: Europe on African Land. On the mountain above, live over a thousand hopeful African migrants, watching the fence separating Morocco and Spain. Abou from Mali is one of them – the protagonist in front of the camera, as well as the person behind it. For over a year, he has ceaselessly attempted to jump the fence.

At the fence, they have to overcome the razor-wire, automatic pepper spray and brutal authorities. After every failed attempt, they return to Mount Gurugú, scouring for food in the nearby villages, trying to uphold some sort of order in the camp and building up their confidence again. Some give up and return home, others never return.

Through the lens, Abou gradually finds expression and meaning in his situation. “When filming I feel that I exist”. But after 16 months on the mountain, Abou is close to a tragic accident. Returning to Mali is not an option for him and he becomes more determined than ever to pursue his dream of a better life in Europe.

Projects being pitched

The projects being pitched include Johan Von Sydow’s Swedish documentary about American musician Tiny Tim; Lea Glob’s Danish documentary about a female painter’s coming of age in Paris; Emil Trier’s feature debut about Norwegian con man Waleed Ahmed; and The Act of Killing production company Final Cut For Real’s new Ukraine-set project The Distant Barking of Dogs.

Here are the projects being pitched:

  • 16, dir Kenneth Elvebaak, Fuglene (Norway)
  • Adil and the Spy, dirs Randi Mossige-Norheim & Johan Palmgren, Mantaray Film (Sweden)
  • Apolonia, Apolonia, dir Lea Glob, Danish Documentary (Denmark)
  • Confessions of a Military Dictatorship, dir Karen Stokkendal Poulsen, Bullitt Film (Denmark)
  • Femimam, dir Marie Skovgaard, House of Real (Denmark)
  • Hockey Dreams, dirs Janne Niskala & Oksari Pastila, Vaski Filmi (Finland)
  • Hunting For Hedonia, dir Pernille Rose Gronkjaer, Danish Documentary (Denmark)
  • Last Men in Aleppo, dirs Feras Fayyad & Steen Johannessen, Larm Film (Denmark)
  • Lost Diamond, dir Rita Broka, Laika Film (Sweden)
  • Mother Slave, dir Charlotta Stromberg, Illume (Finland)
  • My Heart Belongs To Daddy, dir Sofia Haugan, Indie Film (Norway)
  • Permaculture Preacher, dirs Heather Millard & Thordur Jonsson, Compass Films (Iceland)
  • Rodeo, dir Raimo Joerand, Traumfabrik (Estonia)
  • Surrogate, dir Sven Blume, WG Film (Sweden)
  • The Distant Barking of Dogs, dir Simon Lereng Wilmont, Final Cut For Real (Denmark)
  • The Russian Job, dirs Petr Horky, Krutart (Czech Republic)
  • The Waleed Ahmed Story, dir Emil Trier, Motlys (Norway)
  • War of Art,Tommy Bulliksen, Norsk Fjernsyn (Norway)
  • What’s Eating Tiny Tim?,dir Johan Von Sydow, Momento Film (Sweden)

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.