Viktor Kossakovsky and the Norwegian production company Sant & Usant's new film Gunda has been selected for Encounters, the new competition section in Berlin – and is also competing for the Berlinale Documentary Award. In addition, Maria Sødahl's feature film Hope will be screened in the Panorama section during the Berlinale.
The new Encounters section is a supplement to the main competition in Berlin, with the purpose of showing aesthetically and formally inventive films that challenge the traditional film language.
The Panorama section in Berlin is for films from all over the world that are challenging audiences and tell stories in new ways. The section has its own audience award.
We share our planet with more than a billion pigs, more than a billion cows and over 20 billion chickens. In industrialized societies, we are oblivious to or ignore them as the sentient beings they are. What do they think about us? What would they say to us if we knew their language? Can we understand them by opening up and observing them carefully? What can they teach us?
In GUNDA, Russian auteur Victor Kossakovsky offers a moving intervention to recalibrate our moral universe by showing us their individuality. A pig named Gunda, two ingenious cows and a scene-stealing one-legged chicken remind us of the value of life for each of our fellow creatures.
Returning the sow's holding gaze and listening to the cow's gentle lowing, Kossakovsky debunks any pretension that we are separated from them by a uniquely human capacity for emotion, consciousness or will.
Immersed in their lives, lived to the full in joy and pain, just like ours, it becomes inconceivable for humankind not to swiftly undertake the major changes necessary to end mass cruelty and slaughter.
Gunda is Kossakovsky’s deeply personal attempt to renew our vision of life, a meditation on the mystery of all animal consciousness, including our own.
About the director, cinematographer and producer
Victor Kossakovsky started his film career as an assistant cinematographer, director and editor at Leningrad Studio of Documentaries in 1978. He was educated at Higher Courses of Film Writers and Directors in Moscow. He has made a large number of award-winning documentaries, often in the capacity of director, cinematographer and editor. Kossakovsky's films have won more than hundred awards all over the world, and his previous work, Aquarela, premiered in Venice in 2018.
This time it is the Norwegian cinematographer Egil Håskjold Larsen who is filming the livestock in Gunda. Larsen, who is also directing and shooting his own films, was nominated for the Norwegian Amanda Award for Best Documentary with his debut film 69 Minutes of 86 Days (produced by Sant & Usant), and later won an Amanda for his next documentary Where Man Returns, produced by Yellow Log. The film opened the Tromsø International Film Festival in 2019.
Kossakovsky has cooperated with the Norwegian company Sant & Usant since 2015, when they made the children's documentary Varicella (2015). This film won an award during the Message to Man Film Festival in Russia, and received a Special Mention in the competition programme at IDFA. Already before its premiere, Gunda has drawn attention, including being shown in Cannes and during DOC Norway in Berg.
Gunda has received a total of NOK 3,4 million for development, production and launch from the Norwegian Film Institute.
Also Maria Sødahl's critically acclaimed feature film Hope has been invited to the Berlin International Film Festival. The screening in the Panorama section will be its European premiere after the world premiere in Toronto in September.
Almost ten years after Maria Sødahl's debut film Limbo, she has made her second feature film, Hope. One of the reasons for the long wait is the cancer illness that hit the director - and from which there are autobiographical elements in the film.
Maria Sødahl has both written and directed this film about what happens with love when a woman in the middle of her life gets three months left to live? Anja (43) lives with Tomas (59) in a large family of biological children and stepchildren. The day before Christmas Anja gets a terminal brain cancer diagnosis. Alone with her grief and fears, Anjas realises that she needs Tomas's full help and support. In the course of a Christmas week the couple are thrown into a lightning course in mutual trust and a common struggle to handle an unexpected and premature death. In such a crisis will they suceed in learning to love each other again after a long life together?
About the director, actors and producer
Maria Sødahl (b. 1965) made her first short film, Life is Hard and Then you Die, in 1989, following which she attended the Danish National Film School's directing-programme, graduating in 1993. In the following year she has written and directed several TV-dramas, documentaries and short films, and has been the recipient of multiple national and international awards for her work, such as The Grand Prix at the Norwegian Short Film Festival in 1993 for the short Bulldozer, and The Special Price of the Jury at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in 1995, for the short Sara.
She made her debut as a feature film director with the critically acclaimed drama Limbo in 2010, which she also wrote the original screenplay for. The film was widely hailed by critics, and even garnered her the Best Director award at the 2010 Montreal World Film Festival.
The cast includes Norwegian actress Andrea Bræin Hovig (An Affair, 2018; All the Beauty, 2016) who takes the female lead opposite multi-award-winning Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (Chernobyl, 2019; Out Stealing Horses, 2019), who stars as the male lead in the drama.
Hope is produced by Thomas Robsahm for Motlys in co-production with Zentropa Sweden, Film i Väst and Oslo Pictures, with support from the Norwegian Film Institute, Swedish Film Institute, Nordic Film and TV Fund, Eurimages, and in cooperation with SF Studios, TrustNordisk, NRK, SVT, Amarcord, Talent Norge and Storyline Studios.
Hope has received a total of NOK 11,5 million for development and production from the Norwegian Film Institute.