Young director still on a roll

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Norwegian film director Anne Sewitsky has had quite a winter, winning awards on two continents and enjoying box office success especially with a children’s film that won acclaim at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. Now, at a time when Norwegian film is very much in the news, she’s also won a VIP stipend from the Norwegian Film Institute.

Anne Sewitsky has won a lot of attention, prizes and box office receipts in the past few months. PHOTO: Filmweb

Sewitsky and three fellow directors – Arild Frölich, Eva Sørhaug and Ole Giæver – won the special funding of NOK 200,000 (about USD 37,000) in recognition of their professional talents and outstanding originality. For Sewitsky, the latest award caps a series of honors handed out from the Sundance Festival in Utah to the film festival in Berlin and back in New York as well.

“I’m incredibly glad to get this kind of support,” Sewitsky told the Film Institute.  “After a hectic year with production all the time, it’s very good to get some time to do some thorough research for my next project.”

Sewitsky, age 33, has had two of her latest award-winning films running in local cinemas since earlier this year: Sykt lykkelig (Happy, Happy), which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Jørgen+Anne=Sant (Totally True Love), the latter being a children’s film that proves it’s possible to fall in love when you’re just 10 years old. That film, based on a book by Norwegian author Vigdis Hjorth, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and has been among the biggest box office draws at home in Norway this year. After just its first weekend, more than 21,000 had purchased tickets to see it, a large number for a Norwegian film in a small country like Norway.

Happy, Happy, meanwhile, was also invited to be shown at the “New Directors, New Films” festival in New York, organized by the Museum of Modern Art and the Lincoln Center Film Society, and chosen along with two other Norwegian films (The Angel and The Liverpool Goalie) to be shown again at the Lincoln Center when the center’s film society features Norwegian films at a program in the Walter Reade Theater called “The Far Side of Paradise: New Films from Norway.”

Debate over support for women
Sewitsky’s success comes at a time when debate has raged in Norway over whether women are getting more support as film directors than men. One box-office bomb directed by Annette Sjursen, called Pax, received millions in public funding but miserable reviews and only attracted around 800 ticket buyers even though it was released in 58 cinemas around the. After playing to empty cinemas night after night, debate intensified over whether Sjursen won support because of unofficial quotas promoting women.

Rubbish, replied several other successful female directors including Sewitsky. “There are a lot of male directors who have come out with films that only get a ‘two’ (on a scale of one to six in Norway),” Sewitsky told newspaper Dagsavisen last month. She said it was wrong to mount such a debate at a time when a woman was receiving bad reviews for a film, and that she fully supported the search for female voices and attempts to attract women to the film industry.

Some of her male colleagues have won good reviews but poor box office returns, including fellow stipend winner Giæver, whose film Fjellet also played at the Berlin Film Festival but didn’t attract ticket buyers back home in Norway.

Now Hollywood reportedly has its eyes on Sewitsky and she told newspaper Aftenposten that she’s received some scripts to read from various producers. “A few agents have also contacted me with inquiries,” she said. The British magazine Screen International recommended that international producers with large budgets should also keep Sewitsky in mind.

So her fast pace is likely to continue. “I’ve been working so hard and in a bubble for the past year and and a half,” she told Aftenposten. “It’s fun when the response is so overwhelming.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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