The Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund (Aug 17-26) offers international attendees a window on some of the hottest new projects from the region. Jorn Rossing Jensen reports

The Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund (August 17-26) takes place in a small coastal town, originally built around shipping and fishing, that has become a hub for the Nordic film industry. It is also a key destination for overseas players interested in the region’s films and talent.

Originally set up as a trade show for Norwegian exhibitors, Hau­gesund has expanded together with the growth of Norway as an ambitious producer of quality cinema. And with four major Norwegian films in its main programme, and a further three in its sidebars, the territory’s cinema is hitting new heights, says festival director Gunnar Johan Lovvik. “Norwegian cinema has never been so strong,” he observes.

Among the local titles screening are Morten Tyldum’s slick art-theft thriller Headhunters, which premiered at Locarno; Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st, which screened at Cannes; the world premiere of Jens Lien’s suburban punk drama Sons Of Norway; and Pushwagner, Even Benestad’s documentary about the Norwegian artist.

In addition to serving up the best in world cinema, including Cannes titles A Separation, The Tree Of Life, Drive and Poliss, Haugesund’s Nordic Focus sidebar and its New Nordic Films market (August 17-20) shine the spotlight on regional titles and attract a range of international sellers, buyers and programmers.

“The Nordic Focus will host the world premiere of Richard Hobert’s A One-Way To Antibes,” says programme director Hakon Skogrand of the must-see films. The tragi-comedy stars Swedish actor-singer Sven-Bertil Taube as a widower who discovers his children are planning to put him in a home so stages a spirited fight-back.

Haugesund also hosts Norway’s national film prizes, the Amanda Awards (August 20), and the Cinemagi showcase for children and young audiences (August 22-26). There will be a tribute to the late Norwegian actress Wenche Foss and — with local directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning in production on Kon-tiki, about explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 raft voyage — Haugesund will screen Heyerdahl’s own 1950 Oscar-winning documentary.

Haugesund’s main programme starts on August 21, coinciding with a national memorial day for the victims of the July 22 massacre. “As it happens, we are screening Sons Of Norway,” says Lovvik, “which is also the title of Norway’s first national anthem, and although we are launching a festival, the festivities will obviously be low-key.”

Nordic showcase

With 21 new movies from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in 2011 — many of which are yet to be released in their home territories — Haugesund’s New Nordic Films is one of two major regional markets, alongside the Nordic Film Market at Sweden’s Goteborg International Film Festival.

Running August 17-20 at Haugesund’s Edda Cinema Centre, the event will attract more than 300 visitors, with Canada’s Mongrel Media and the International Film Festival Rotterdam among the newcomers.

“Everybody has a better time than in Berlin and Cannes,” claims Michael Werner, sales manager of Sweden’s NonStop Sales. This year, NonStop will present Arne Lindtner Naess’ Magic Silver 2 — Scandinavia’s first live-action feature in 3D — as a work-in-progress.

“New Nordic Films is an excellent launch pad for new product,” says Rikke Ennis, CEO of TrustNordisk. “We showed Anne Sewitsky’s Happy, Happy as a work-in-progress in Haugesund in 2010, and we started pitching Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters here from a teaser poster. Both went on to sell widely.”

In addition to the 21 finished projects, the market programme includes 12 works-in-progress and the Nordic Co-Production and Film Financing Forum (August 18-20) which will focus on co-producing with the Baltic states, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

Norway and Sweden are both represented in the market by seven new titles. Most of the local contributions are also in the festival, except Pal Sletaune’s Babycall (sold by The Match Factory) and Ole Endresen’s Curling King.

Work-in-progress screenings will include Help, the directorial debut of Norwegian author Dag Johan Haugerud, and Truth And Consequence, starring Jesper Christensen, the latest title from veteran Swedish director Jan Troell.

“This year’s Nordic crop is really high quality, with a strong international potential,” says market director Gyda Velvin Myklebust.