A real-time feature film re-enactment of the massacre by a far-right terrorist in Norway has premiered at the Berlin film festival, where it drew praise from survivors as a painful but necessary examination of the dangers of extremism facing Europe.
Speaking at the world premiere of Utøya 22, a harrowing account of the killing spree carried out by Anders Behring Breivik on 22 July 2011, Ingrid Endredrud, 24, said: “This film is so important because it captures what rightwing extremism can lead to. This is hate in its purest form and as a society we have to stand together against it.”
“For me the reason for helping with this film is because it tells the story which for so many of us has been impossible to tell,” said Endredrud, who was 17 at the time of the attack and was one of several survivors to advise the film-makers.
“I’ve only been able to tell my experience with a great deal of distance and that’s where film can offer another way of preserving an important part of Norway’s history.”
The 90-minute film recounts events solely from the perspective of the young social democrats who were attending a summer camp on the island of Utøya in Tyrifjorden, when the attack took place. Seventy-two minutes are devoted entirely to the precise time it took Breivik to shoot dead 69 people and injure a further 200. The precise number of shots Breivik fired are replicated in the film, which was re-enacted on Utøya and filmed in a single take.
The Norwegian film director Erik Poppe said he had made careful use of loudspeakers to deflect the sound of the gunshots fired for the making of the film, so as not to traumatise the people on the mainland who still live with the shock of the 2011 attack.
“I did not want to make new wounds by letting the sound of the gunshots be heard on the mainland,” he said. “My overall aim by making the film was not to traumatise people, but to help the healing process,” he said after the screening, which was met with a stunned silence by its audience, many of whom left the cinema in tears. A team of psychologists were on hand before and after the filming had taken place, he added.
“We needed to have the psychologists around us as well as medical personnel, who monitored the actors, because it was hard to do this. We were hearing the sounds of the gunfire and following the kids who are fighting for their lives, and of course it affected everyone who was involved.”
Private screenings have been held around Norway to which survivors and families and friends of victims were invited. Poppe sought their approval before allowing the film to be released.
Known for his second world war blockbuster The King’s Choice, Poppe based his film on in-depth interviews with survivors and others connected with those who died.
The film depicts the young people’s attempts to escape the gunman, as well as showing how they took care of each other and struggled to work out how best to survive while trying to understand the type of attack they were under.
The film also touches on why it took so long for the Norwegian authorities to get any help to the island. It focuses on 18-year-old Kaja, played by Andrea Berntzen, and starts 12 minutes before the first gunshot, as the holidaymakers digest the news of Breivik’s bomb attack in Oslo about 90 minutes beforehand.
Two other reconstructions of the Utøya attack are in the pipeline. An upcoming Swedish feature, Reconstructing Utøya, follows five survivors who will talk about how they escaped the attack. A TV series is also due to be released in Scandinavia and internationally.