«We are a festival that tries to make a difference and to uncover injustice»

MOVIES ON WAR: Modern Times Review spoke with Festival Director Øystein Egge on the nature and mission of the festival, the importance of presenting a balanced programme, and, the highlight films throughout.

Norway’s Movies on War is a film festival devoted to war and conflict, peace and reconciliation. This year’s edition, held between 16 and 20 November in Elverum, Norway, covers the full range of armed conflicts, regardless of geography, and provides insights into social movements, cultural events, popular uprisings, and political change.

Ahead of the twelfth edition of Movies on War, Modern Times Review spoke with its Festival Director and Head of Programming Øystein Egge. Here, we speak on the nature and mission of the festival, the importance of presenting a balanced programme, and, of course, the highlights throughout.

Movies on War Film Festival Norway

As the Festival Director, how do you personally define your role and responsibilities? In addition, you are head of programming. What is your approach to curation aside from the thematic connection from film to film?

I am directly involved in all the different aspects of running the festival, from funding to marketing and curation; as I am so involved, I think a lot of my personality is reflected in the festival – a cineaste with great interest in the world around us.

Curation at this festival is a process with a great deal of different considerations; not just should the artistic qualities be inherent in what we screen, but we also must make a lot of hard choices in what we choose to shine a spotlight on and what not to as we are a festival that tries to make a difference and to uncover injustice.

We have also experienced, unfortunately, a heightened sense of urgency and importance from year to year, especially this year, with an ongoing war in Europe.

This will be the 11th edition of the festival. Can you give us an idea of its origins and evolution through 2022?

It is actually the 12th edition. The idea of the festival was to have a festival that talked about war and conflict. And the reason it was chosen to be situated in Elverum is that the district has a lot of history from the second world war and because there are several military bases in the area. Initially, I think the festival was more of a «war-film» festival, and a lot of the focus was on revisiting our past regarding WW2, as we saw a development where one can start to talk about sides of the conflict that was not as easy in the first 50-60 years after. But as the years have gone by, it has become more activistic and broad in its themes. We have also experienced, unfortunately, a heightened sense of urgency and importance from year to year, especially this year, with an ongoing war in Europe.

Do you consider yourselves a «niche» festival?

Understandably, we could be labelled as one, but I like to think our themes and our variety in programming make us quite universal as we screen films regardless of genre or format.

Movies on War Film Festival Norway

Of course, this will be a festival with the war in Ukraine actively going on. Though there has been war across the world for decades, this one seems to have garnered a significant amount more attention and sympathy on the continent. Not to mention a significant disparity in the way refugees are treated depending on their place of origin. How do you ensure a balance between the European conflict and the wars that raged across the Global South in terms of focus and visibility in the programme?

That is a great question. We think it is necessary to shine an ample light on something that preoccupies many of our local audiences; after all, Russia is our neighbouring country, and we should also recognize where we are situated.

But we do recognize how fast one moves from one disaster to another; we are not done talking about the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan, we are not done talking about the refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, the remnants of ISIS, the protests in Chile or Iran, the Yemeni civil war or our recent history. Therefore all these things will be featured this year – amongst others. And our opening speaker will be Mads Gilbert, who has spent a lifetime as a doctor and activist in Gaza.

Movies on War Film Festival Norway

What are some of the highlights of the programme? Meaning if you were an audience member and checked the website to buy a ticket (or two or three), what would you choose?

Patricio Guzmán’s latest film, My Imaginary Country, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year, is one of my highlights in this year’s programme, as it goes full circle for Guzmán and his life of documenting Chile, and it offers some hope for a change.

A Rising Fury, our opening film, by Lesya Kalynska, and Ruslan Batytskyi, is a great history lesson of the last nine years in Ukraine, from Euro-Maidan, through the war in Donbas to the present invasion. We are giving a bigger perspective through the personal – a love affair.

Retrograde by Matthew Heinemann, about the abandoned Afghans during 2021, is also a strong watch; there are many veterans from the conflict locally in Elverum, so it will be interesting to hear what they are doing have to say about the development.

Also we are screening The Ascent by the great Larisa Sheptiko; a marvel I am proud to present.

I would probably also buy a ticket for Unicorn Wars by Alberto Vázquez Rico, a sort of Apocalypse Now! meets Bambi meets Happy Tree Friends. It is quite insane but has a strong anti-war message.

Finally, we have a Nordic-Baltic competition for films under 60 minutes that I am proud of; the middle-length films are often overlooked, especially docs along that timeframe. So I think it will give a lot of great perspectives and a lot of the filmmakers attending will give great talks.

I might have broken your 2-3 film rule, but so be it.

Do you have a film on war, conflict, or resolution that you find particularly effective, stirring, or important? For me, conflict documentaries are what got me into the genre in the first place. Despite its US Military chest bumping, a personal such film would be Restrepo. Hell and Back Again, My Country, My Country, and Only the Dead would be further examples.

Thank you for the recommendations! My all-time strongest film experience in the genre (or at all) is a fiction film, which is as devastating a watch every time I see it, and that is Idi i Smotri by the great Elim Klimov. It is beautiful and absolutely harrowing and reminds me of what we are capable of. I also have an affinity for animated documentaries, like, from the top of my head, last year’s Flee, Chris the Swiss or Waltz with Bashir. Animation can bring forth something. Nothing else really can.

Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He writes for some platforms and does some other things as well.

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