Two premieres were held at HOME in Manchester recently showcasing films about massacres. While many will be aware of the red-carpeted, paparazzied, celeb-filled media-fest that was the first premiere outside London of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, the second premiere screened that Monday evening was to a much smaller audience and to much less fanfare.

Utøya: 22 July is a Norwegian production about the harrowing events in 2011 when a far-right wing gunman killed 77 young political activists on the island of Utøya near Oslo. The mass shooting lasted just 72 minutes, and this film follows the experiences of one victim, Kaja, played with a terrifying and convincing skill by newcomer Andrea Bernzen. It’s a film that focuses entirely on the victims; the audience only catches two distant glimpses of the terrorist who is not named in the film (and I’m not going to do so here). It is a visceral and moving watch, following Kaja in one take as she attempts to survive the horrifying 72 minutes and search for her lost sister, Emilie (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne). This is an important film and one not to be overshadowed by the frenzy surrounding Leigh’s film.

And it should not be overshadowed by a third ‘massacre’ film released this month, Paul Greengrass’s 22 July. It has had a joint theatrical release as well as a Netflix showing (Netflix produced the film with a budget of $20 million). Greengrass’s account follows the massacre largely from the perpetrator’s perspective as well as the political. Originally entitled Norway, Greengrass retitled it 22 July forcing the smaller film to change its title to Utøya: 22 July, much to the filmmakers’ chagrin.

During an emotional and informative Q&A led by HOME’s visiting curator of film, Andy Willis, I asked director Erik Poppe about his response to Greengrass’s movie. Clearly annoyed by the other film, Poppe was open in his response but also gracious in his praise for Greengrass as a filmmaker.

Utøya: July 22 Dir Erik Poppe (Norway, 2018) Photo by Paradox 2What made the session so special was the presence of not only the director but also the lead actor, Andrea Bernzen, and two of the survivors, Lisa Marie Husby and Ole Martin Slyngstadli. All spoke with passion for the project they feel provided an ethical and powerful platform for a filmic account of the events of that day, a day that spoke for all the victims. It was a privilege and an honour to be in the same room.

At the end, Poppe urged all of us to spread the word about the film, not least because they don’t have the publicity resources of Netflix. So, watch Greengrass’s movie if you must, but please go and see this astounding film. 

By Robert Hamilton