Norway in focus for children’s films

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An international children’s film festival opened in the southern city of Kristiansand this week, close to the setting of a current Norwegian film that tells the story of a painful period for children in Norway’s history. The market for children’s films and TV productions, meanwhile, is itself far from painful today.

A film about child labour migration in the late 1800s -- "Yohan - barnevandrer" -- has attracted thousands of Norwegians to local cinemas. PHOTO: FilmWeb

The Kristiansand International Film Festival has attracted top talent from around the world, had 95 films on its program and was set to hand out four prizes during the weekend. Among those attending, and interviewed on national radio Friday morning, was Josh Selig, who played a key role in the legendary “Sesame Street” program and has won 10 Emmy Awards in the US.

He was full of praise for Norwegian children’s films and TV programs, telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that there was “so much local talent here.” Film festival boss Frank Mosvold said he thought the film festival can provide “an incredibly good boost” for Norwegian production of film and TV-series for children.

Child labour migrants captured on film
One recent success has been the film Yohan – barnevandrer, which tells the little-known story of how hard life was for Norwegian children from poor farms at the end of the 1800s. Many parents, unable to feed their large families, were forced to send their children as young as six years old to live and work on other, more prosperous farms during the summer season. The children had to walk, often barefoot, from the valley of Setesdal in southern Norway, for example, and over the mountains to coastal areas, where they worked hard under difficult conditions and often were abused.

The flocks of children dressed in rags, sleeping outdoors or in barns with the animals, is a chapter in Norwegian history that’s had little focus over the years. The film portrays the sharp contrast between their plight set against the spectacular scenery for which Norway is much better known.

It took director and script writer Grete Salomonsen 20 years to make the film, which features the American actor Kris Kristofferson playing the grown-up child hero of the film, Yohan, who eventually emigrated to a better life in the US.

In the course of her work, Salomonsen met one former child migrant, 100-year-old Anna Birkeland of Wisconsin, who also ultimately emigrated to America and had never told her own children how difficult her childhood in Norway had been. 

The film has won awards since its release before Easter, has attracted audiences of all ages and, reported newspaper Dagsavisen, the interest of 20th Century Fox. It’s been seen by around 90,000 Norwegians and is still playing in local cinemas.

TV series, too
Other recent Norwegian successes in the children’s entertainment industry include Pelle Politibil, which will take on the English name of “Ploddy the Police Car” when it’s exported to China and other international markets, and Knerten, a film series about a stick figure that’s the subject of popular children’s books by the late author Anne Cath Vestly.

Children’s films have attracted some of the biggest crowds in Norwegian cinemas over the past several months, which bodes well for an industry that can have high production costs. Strong interest in the home market, noted Selig, can make the films more attractive for export to other countries, with the revenues that can bring.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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