The documentary about Mats Ibelin Steen and his life in the gaming world, Thea Hvistendahl's feature film Handling the Undead, and Silje Evensmo Jacobsen's documentary A New Kind of Wilderness have been invited to competition at Sundance Film Festival. The alternative film festival Slamdance will feature the fiction film The Bitcoin Car, the documentary film Punishment, and the short film A Home on Every Floor and Complications.
"Sundance is one of the world's most important film festivals and a central gateway to the North American market, so having two documentaries and a feature film in the competition programs is proof of the high international level of Norwegian cinema. For Ibelin, A New Kind of Wilderness, and Handling the Undead, this is an excellent starting point for the films to reach a wide audience globally," says Kjersti Mo, CEO of the Norwegian Film Institute.
The Sundance Film Festival, taking place in Utah from January 18 to 24, 2024, is in its fortieth edition this year. The festival, started by Robert Redford among others, and named after the western character Redford once played, is expected to draw an especially large influx of prominent filmmakers. The three films are invited respectively in the World Cinema Dramatic and World Cinema Documentary competition programs.
Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer, died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. His parents mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life, when they started receiving messages from online friends around the world. The film recreates Mats' adventurous online life as Ibelin. All dialogue and events are based on actual archives from roleplay in World of Warcraft.
The documentary film is directed by Benjamin Ree, whose previous film The Painter and the Thief (2020) was the first Norwegian-registered documentary in the main competition at Sundance, where Ree won the Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling. Ree's new film Ibelin has been invited to screen at the prestigious Egyptian Theatre on opening day for the 2024 festival.
"We are incredibly proud to have our world premiere at Sundance Film Festival. For a documentary like this, there is no better festival to premiere at, in my opinion. We have taken artistic risks with this film, as we recreate an actual lived avatar life with game graphics, mixed with family videos and interviews. This has never been done before in this way, so we are extremely excited to see how this storytelling approach will be received," says director Benjamin Ree.
The film is produced by Ingvil Giske for Medieoperatørene and will have its Norwegian premiere in March 2024. It has received 4.2 million kroner in development and production grants from the Norwegian Film Institute. Sales are handled by Autlook Filmsales.
A New Kind of Wilderness
A New Kind of Wilderness by director Silje Evensmo Jacobsen takes place on a small farm in a Norwegian forest, where The Payne's lives an isolated lifestyle, aiming to be wild and free. Maria and Nik, together with their four children, embrace self-sufficiency, home-schooling and want to live an independent family life in harmony with nature. To make ends meet, Maria occasionally works as a photographer. She also captures her family, sharing their life through photos and stories on her blog, 'wildandfree'. But their world turns upside down when tragedy strikes. Reluctantly the family need to change their isolated and natural lifestyle and be a part of the modern society.
Director Silje Evensmo Jacobsen has worked on several documentary films and series, including Team Ingebrigtsen, and her previous feature Faith Can Move Mountains premiered at Thessaloniki and won the Iris Award at Prix Europa. She has also produced the award-winning film True Love Never Dies with Mari Bakke Riise. Producer Bakke Riise was previously shortlisted for an Oscar at the 90th Academy Awards.
"It's incredibly huge that A New Kind of Wilderness has been selected for Sundance. It will give the film the best conditions and recognition to reach a large international audience. As a producer and director in a small self-owned production company, A5 Film, this is very exciting for us. We must be doing something right in Norway, with two Norwegian documentaries in Sundance," says Silje Evensmo Jacobsen and Mari Bakke Riise.
A New Kind of Wilderness has received 1.7 million kroner in development and production grants from the Norwegian Film Institute. Sales are handled by DR Sales.
Handling the Undead
The feature film Handling the Undead, directed by Thea Hvistendahl, is a magical realist love story about accepting what we cannot control. The film reflects on life, death, human relationships, and nature. Genrewise, it is somewhere between drama and art house horror. It is based on a novel and script by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who made his debut with the also-filmed horror novel Let the Right One In.
The film stars Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie, seen together also in Norwegian double Academy Award nominated feature film The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier). This will be Hvistendahl's feature film debut, although she has previously directed the hybrid film The Monkey and the Mouth. Handling the Undead has received 12.5 million kroner in development and production grants from NFI.
"I am really looking forward to the film finally meeting an audience. The goal has been to create a beautiful and exciting cinematic experience, a film that is both sad and full of love, about pain and acceptance and moving on after you have lost someone you love," says director Thea Hvistendahl.
Handling the Undead is produced by Kristin Emblem and Guri Neby for Einar Film. Sales are handled by Trust Nordisk.
In addition, the Indian-French-Norwegian co-production Girls Will be Girls will be screened in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. The Feature has received Sørfond-support, Hummelfilm is Norwegian Co-producer.
Four Norwegian Films at Slamdance
Practically across the street from Sundance in Park City, the indie festival Slamdance takes place. This year four Norwegian films are selected; the feature film The Bitcoin Car, the documentary film Punishment, and the short films A Home on Every Floor and Complications.
The Bitcoin Car
The musical comedy The Bitcoin Car is about the life of a morally challenged goat farmer in a Norwegian coastal village who is on a collision course with the plans of a young crypto investor who has started mining bitcoin on her parents' grave. When the animals start dying, she realizes that everyone is in danger.
The film is written, directed and produced by Trygve Luktvasslimo, who is making his feature film debut with this Lukt Studios production, in collaboration with Anze Persin.
Cinemaphotographer and director Øystein Mamen has gained unique access to Halden Prison for the documentary film Punishment. There, 250 men are serving long sentences for serious crimes: murder, major drug cases, serious violence. Once a year, a few of these are selected to do something unique: to live as monks. A section of the prison is closed and functions as a monastery for three weeks.
Punishment, like Ibelin, is produced by Ingvil Giske for Medieoperatørene.
The short film Complications by Ivar Aase won the Gold Chair for Best Short Film and the Hourglass for Best Script at the Short Film Festival. It is about student Lotte who works as a webcam dominatrix and has to step into a completely different role when one of her clients, an older man, suddenly feels very unwell.
A House on Every Floor
The short film A House on Every Floor by Signe Rosenlund-Hauglid is an art documentary based on the upbringing and a poem by artist and social commentator Hanna Asefaw. It is a visual coming-of-age story from a municipal housing complex in Grünerløkka in the late 90s, depicting memories, nostalgia, and reflections on a childhood, with Hanna's voice commenting.