October 5, 2022
Scandinavia Cannes Docs Showcase Touts Both New and Established Talent

Scandinavia is bringing talent old and new to the Cannes Film Market’s Cannes Docs sidebar this year, with a showcase of five feature length films-in-the-making pitched as part of the Scandinavian Showcase on Saturday.

“Children of the Lowest Heaven”

From Denmark, internationally acclaimed writer-director Birgitte Stærmose Mortensen (“Darling,” “Room 304”), who has been working on mini-series for HBO, Starz and Netflix for the past five years (“Industry” season 2, “The Spanish Princess,” “In From the Cold” and “The English Game”), presented “Children of the Lowest Heaven” (“Ønskeliv”), a hybrid doc set in Kosovo.

Inspired by her short “Out of Love” (2009), about a group of children living in poverty in post-war Pristina, it picks up where she left off with the characters, who are now young adults, still fighting to survive in one of Europe’s poorest nations.

It’s about the long-term effects of war, and what it means to live a life in poverty. Poverty is not a moment but a lifelong state of being: the fact is that if you live in that kind of poverty it’s nearly impossible to get out of it. I wanted to describe it not so much as a crisis to be solved but through that engages you to feel how that must be,” she told Variety.

Described as a collective performance piece somewhere between documentary, fiction and a stage play, the film features highly staged, dramatic scenes re-enacted by the protagonists or actors based on interviews with them about their daily life.

A co-production between Copenhagen-based Magic Hour Films (“Burma V.J.,” “Into Eternity”), Kabineti in Kosovo, Vilda Bomben in Sweden, and Oslo Pictures in Norway, “Children of the Lowest Heaven” is expected to be released early 2023.

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Children of the Lowest Heaven

“Leaving Jesus”

Leaving Jesus” is the latest doc by Ellen Fiske, whose debut feature “Scheme Birds” picked up both best documentary feature and best new documentary director awards at Tribeca in 2019.

It follows a group of Christian ex-fundamentalists as they gather at a retreat in San Francisco and try to free themselves from the communities they were born into.

“I grew up in a fundamentalist atheist family,” Fiske said, “and I always felt I lack religion and spirituality. I have had constant fear of death since the age of eight and an urge to find the deeper meaning of life.”

“The core for them is finding self-love and finding out who they are, because everything in their lives has been about their faith: they were supposed to be a channel in the service of God, and when they lose that all they have left is an empty shell,” said Fiske, who underlined that her film is not about “criticizing religion but about faith.”

“Leaving Jesus” is produced by Stockholm-based Momento Film (“Amparo,” “Transnistra”), and is expected to be released in 2023.

“Punishment”

“Punishment” (“Straf”) is the debut feature doc of Øystein Mamen, best known for his cinematography work on Dag Johan Haugerud’s Venice and Gothenburg hit “Beware of Children.”

The director gained exclusive access to a rehabilitation experiment initiated by protestant monks at Norway’s high security prison of Halden, where a handful of inmates go on a retreat for a three-week period each year in a ward that has been turned into a monastery.

An observational doc four years in the making, “Punishment” echoes the retreat’s structure, which is organized thematically along the lines of love, evil, forgiveness and hope.

Mamen told Variety that winning the trust of the prison and the monks was one thing, but earning the inmates’ trust was another: four of them, jailed for crimes ranging from organized crime to murder, agreed to let his camera follow their journey. “The experiment has been judged so successful by the prison that one of the wards has been turned into a permanent monastery, where inmates from other prisons can apply to come on a retreat,” he said.

Shot in black and white, “Punishment” is produced by Ingvil Giske’s Medieoperatørene, whose “The Eclipse” picked up the top DOX Award at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival earlier this year. It is expected to be completed by this fall.

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Punishment

“Mannvirki”

Another weird project by the producer of Cannes 2021’s wild and weird “Lamb,” Hrönn Kristinsdóttir, whose 2021 Un Certain Regard entry by Valdimar Jóhannsson, starring Noomi Rapace, picked up the Prize of Originality in the sidebar segment.

“Mannvirki,” which means “structure made by man” in Icelandic, is an experimental, abstract and poetic film that dances on a line between art piece and documentary, said Kristinsdóttir, who pitched the project in the absence of director Gústav Geir Bollason (“Carcasse”), who was held back in Iceland for an art exhibition.

Shot in and around an herring factory turned into an art gallery, the film is an observational doc without dialogue “about the great intentions of mankind, how they build structures but fail to maintain what they have created,” explained Kristinsdóttir, who hopes it will be finished in time for a June release.

“Clout Chasers – Like, Follow and Love Me!”

“Clout Chasers – Like, Follow and Love Me!” is the first feature length film by Anna-Maija Heinonen and Krista Moisio. Mixing observational and social media content produced by the main characters of the film, it is a raw, immersive coming-of-age tale about a new wave of influencers who seem to be lost in the game of fame.

It explores the Gen Z phenomenon of “clout chasing” which sees teens steal, use drugs, or fight, and post it online to get “clout” – or admiration and influence – on social media. The film follows the journey of 20-year-old Atte, who has garnered 40K followers by branding himself as a funny, laid-back guy who openly discusses drug abuse with his followers, but wakes up one day in a pre-trial detention center and starts to question his need to be admired and the cost of online stardom.

Produced by Oskar Forstén (“The Traffic Jam,” “The Hypnotist”), “Clout Chasers” is looking to fill its 25% funding gap and is aiming for a 2024 release.

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