New disaster film packs cinemas

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UPDATED: Oslo’s large Kino Victoria cinema was packed Sunday night as audiences continued to stream into the weekend’s premiere showings of an eerily realistic new Norwegian disaster film. Simply called The Wave (Bølgen), the film depicts a tsunami roaring through Norway’s popular and scenic Geiranger Fjord, and the questions it raises about the probability of such a disaster are very real indeed.

The new disaster film "The Wave" is an unusually realistic portrayal of how a pristine Norwegian fjord can be the site of a catastrophe. PHOTO: Norsk Film Institutt

The new disaster film “The Wave” is an unusually realistic portrayal of how a pristine Norwegian fjord can be the site of a catastrophe. PHOTO: Norsk Film Institutt

The film has won rave reviews, been sold to nearly 100 countries, secured a showing at the Toronto Film Festival and is shortlisted as Norway’s nominee for an Oscar. Nordisk Film Kino, which runs cinemas around the country, reported that more than 135,000 people had seen the film during the first weekend following its release. That’s a figure beaten only by the Norwegian films Kon-Tiki and Jul i Flåklypa, and it beat the hit wartime resistance film Max Manus.

The Wave is Scandinavia’s first disaster film, directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaug, and interest has been high not least because it’s based on deadly avalanche and flood disasters that have occurred in the past. The film’s ominous message is that geologists are quite sure such natural catastrophes can happen again, they just don’t know when.

The audience at Sunday night’s showing, complete with English subtitles, was relatively young and almost strangely quiet as they collectively followed the suspense leading up to a massive rockslide that sets off a tsunami that in turn destroys one of their own country’s top tourist destinations. Geiranger is very much a real place, listed among the UN’s World Heritage sites and attracting scores of cruiseships and thousands of visitors every year. After Uthaug’s film depicts one of the area’s scenic surrounding mountainsides crashing into the fjord below, Geiranger’s residents and tourists have just 10 minutes to escape the enormous and deadly wave that destroys everything below an elevation of 80 meters. Many don’t.

For a trailer and more on the film, click here (external link).

The film might well have been dreaded by Norway’s tourism industry for fear it will scare visitors away from visiting Geiranger or other scenic Norwegian fjords. The opposite now seems to be expected, with geologists fearing that even more tourists will be drawn to the steep mountainsides along the Geiranger- and adjacent fjords, particularly to Åknesremna, perched above one of the long fjords leading into Geiranger. It’s a major crevice in the mountain that’s been expanding for years and has long been known as especially at risk.

“We’re a bit worried there will be too much attention and that many will come up here to the mountainside,” Lars Harald Blikra, a department leader and geologist at NVE, the state waterways and energy agency, told state broadcaster NRK last week. “We want as few people as possible up here. There’s a lot of loose rock and many instruments.”

PHOTO: Olje- og energidepartementet

State geologists don’t want people up on the steep and unstable mountainsides in the Geiranger area, but government minister Tord Lien (right) joined a site evaluation earlier this month. PHOTO: Olje- og energidepartementet

Since January of this year, NVE has been in charge of the round-the-clock monitoring work that’s been continuous on the mountain at Åkneset for years. NVE’s operation at Stranda in the county of Møre og Romsdal and up on the mountains themselves monitors changes and sets risk levels, and also is responsible for warning emergency crews, county officials and communities in the danger zone. NVE crews are also in charge of monitoring other “high-risk” mountainsides at Hegguraksla in Norddal, Nordnesfjellet in Kåfjord and Mannen in Rauma. Mannen has been in the news recently when its instability prompted local evacuations.

The scenario presented in The Wave is so realistic (major rockslides and resulting floodwaves did wipe out communities and killed nearly 200 people in Tafjord and Bødal as late as 1905, 1934 and 1936) that it’s likely no coincidence that a government minister, Tord Lien, visited NVE’s national center for monitoring the unstable Åkneset just a week before the premiere. He seemed intent on reassuring Norwegians that state officials were on the job in ensuring safety: “NVE is doing important work with its monitoring of mountains in the country where there is high risk of slides,” Lien said. He claimed that merging the mountainside monitoring operations within NVE “made sure that competence in this area can be spread nationally.”

The film, however, raises questions about the competence of civil servants who also are reluctant to set off unnecessary alarms or “cry wolf” too many times. The geologists, however, emerge as the heroes and are perhaps now more likely than ever to command attention and respect, and investigate unusual occurrences themselves because instruments can get damaged.

Film critics in Norway have called the film an “impressive production” that makes good use of advanced Norwegian film technology and special effects. It turns the stunningly beautiful, pristine Geiranger Fjord into a death trap that can leave viewers, residents and prospective visitors fervently hoping that history won’t repeat itself. Berglund