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BERLINALE 2018 Competition

Erik Poppe • Director

“I was sceptical about whether it would be possible to transform this story into a film”


- BERLIN 2018: Norwegian filmmaker Erik Poppe discusses his emotive, harrowing U – July 22

Erik Poppe  • Director
(© Erik Burås)

U – July 22 [+see also:
film review
interview: Erik Poppe
film profile
Erik Poppe’s emotive, harrowing film about the massacre that took place on the island of Utøya, was shot in real time and in one take. We met up with him after the film’s screening in the main competition at the Berlinale to talk about the difficulties of making the movie and how his main concern was to be considerate to the survivors and their families.

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Cineuropa: Some have argued that it is too soon to make a film about this massacre on the island of Utøya.
Erik Poppe:
It's a well-known fact that this project has been discussed for a long time in the media in Norway, and people have been afraid – some almost terrified – about what this film would end up being. What has been happening is that as we got closer and closer to the final movie, people started to see the film and realised that it’s not trying to be a speculative movie. 

What happened at these screenings? 
We conducted three weeks of closed screenings before the Berlin premiere. We had about 20 screenings around the country for the relatives and for the survivors. The idea behind that was that I wanted them to be prepared for what might come. Throughout the whole process, we have been working closely with survivors, and they told me that the main fear of many who were on the island was that we would make a movie for entertainment purposes. When the film was ready, they said I shouldn’t be afraid to ask the survivors to come and see the result. And also, as part of the healing process for them to get through this, they could watch the film in an environment where we would have teams of psychological professionals present. 

Did you have any doubts about making this film?
Of course I did. I spent more than a year-and-a-half by myself, meeting survivors to try to get their stories. I met the head of the police investigation so that I could look through the material to sort of figure out whether it would be possible to transform this story into a film. I was sceptical about whether it would be possible at all.

Can you explain why you made a film that is almost an interpretative re-enactment of what happened, in one take and in real time?
The idea was to try to see if it would be possible to show the states of mind [of those on the island at the time] so that we could try to start to understand and experience this from another point of view than what we're used to seeing in films. I hoped that after all the speculation and stories around the shootings, we could bring the story and ownership of 22 July back to the victims by making a film focusing on the point of view of the young people who were out there on the island.

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