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Haugesund ferstival in the Fjord country of Western Norway

by Alex Deleon
After two visits to Tromso (2002 and 2003) and two as well to the the Rouen Festival du Cinema Nordique in Northern France, I have been developing a taste for Nordic Cinema, so, based on these connections I applied for accreditation to the Haugesund ferstival in the Fjord country of Western Norway, which takes place in August, and was accepted -- probably because Signe Overgaard, a major figure of the Norwegian Film Institute knew me from these other Nordic festivals.
I flew over from Warsaw, which turned out to be a complicated three leg journey for such a relatively short trip. -- Warsaw to Stockholm -- layover in the airport there, then SAS from Stockholm to Oslo, then another short fllight from Oslo over the hump to the Fjord country on the coast, directly to Haugesund. I was rather surprised to find that a small city like Haugesund even had an airport, but then, most Norwegian cities seem to be connected by an internal Norwegian airline network. With all the waiting time at the airports on the way I was travelling all day and didn't get in to Haugesund until early evening as it was getting dark and a light rain was coming down.  There were people from the festival there to greet us at the small but crowded airport -- a bunch of other festival visitors coming in from England, the States, and other places.  Among thosE in the crowd milling around was a familiar face -- Isabelle Duault, head of the Rouen Nordic festival. She seemed to be very put out that she wasn't getting immediate Red Carpet treatment, as the various festival greeters tried to sort the somewhat chaotic situation out and get the right people to the hotels reserved for them. I was kind of surprised how crowded with visitors this relatively small fest was going to be, but Haugesund in summer is a popular holiday destination as well. In fact, to tell the truth, I myself was more interested in visiting the Fjord country than in the festival itself -- which I regarded as more of a curiosity as far as film festivals go, rather than an important new entry on my film festiva CV.
There were mini-vans and festival cars coming and going at the entrance to the airport as the rain started getting heavier.  By this time Isabelle was fuming that there wasn't a private limousine waiting for her or a gilded stage coach with white horses.  And she started expressing her anger to me -- "Don't they know who the hell I am? -- The idiots!  I'm the boss of a major Scandinavian Festival -- blast-blast --"   -- Finally she, I, and a couple of other people were packed into a car, to be dropped off at seperate hotels.  Whatever hotel they were putting Isabelle, even if it was one of the best in town, she was still pissed.   She was dropped off at one in the midde of town, but, like it wasn't quite the most expensive one, so she was still fuming when she got out of the car. I was dropped off last at an SAS hotel quiite a ways out of town, about a mile or so from the center.  This SAS hotel turned out to quite luxurious and they had early morning connections running in to the festival, so I had no complaints.  In fact, as things turned out -- since the festival was picking up the hotel tab anyway --  I just decided to sleep in, enjoy the luxury, and then walk into town in the afternoon.   Even the walk in along a country road beside a body of water (Haugesund is an island)  was quite pleasant.   Festival-Shmestival -- as long as you're comfortable and are Having a good time ...
In town I quickly found the press center where to pick up my accreditation badge and the film schedules and the very first event I attended, in the main theater, was a Critic Superstar "debate" -- or rather a double "master class" lecture -- featuring extremely stuffy full-of-himself Derek Malcolm  (hope I got that right) the top film reviewer for the Guardian or one of the other English broadsheets, and the main TIME Mgaazine reviewer (forgot the name for the moment) -- equally full-of-himself, only with an American accent. I settled down in an up front seat in the tiered auditorium so I could get a full view of these two ego-maniacs showering a not completely comprehending audience with their collective film erudition and famous names name-dropping.  As the audience started to thin out --  a lot of the Norskies apparently found their American and British colloquialisms hard to follow -- this turned into a practically private conversation between two well-paid old cronies of the film criticism business. I actually found it interesting as a study in public ego-mania, and there were even some choice anecdotes here and there, and a bit of in-group humor if you knew who and what the hell they were talking about. 
At the conclusion of this exercise in high level hot air, I filtered out and into another hall where an inscrutable Norwegian film was playing, on which I soon walked out of -- to see what else and whom else I could see around the festival.  I soon ran into Isabelle Dualt, still fuming a mile a minute, and she seemed to be angry at me when I told her that they had put me into a very nice hotel -- as if it were my fault that the hotel she had was not to her liking.  I soon decided it was best to avoid her and struck out on my own.  The festival lasted about five days and the only film I saw that actually grabbed me was a so-called Norwegian Children's film, about witches -- which turned out to be quite scary and quite good, with an unusual performance as the head witch by a very attractive woman who, I later found out, was not an actress at all, but one of Norway's leading ballet dancers!
I met the director after the screening and she introduced me to the star witch-ballet dancer.  Unfortunately, this gorgeous lady was about to return to Oslo, so an interview wiith her was postponed until a week or so later in Oslo.  The name of the actress and film will come to me later. In any case, the visit to Haugesund was well worth the trip, and ended up with a side trip by inter-Fjord ferry to Bergen, another beautiful waterside town and the home town of Edvard Grieg -- He of the famous piano concerto.
One of the interesting oddities of Haugesund is that the local people there regard it as the ancestral home of Marilyn Monroe (!) and the harbor near the festival theater is adorned with a life-size statue of Marilyn.Reason: well, it seems that Marilyn's biological father was named MORTENSEN -- and there was a Mortensen family here in town, of some prominance.  The locals are convinced that one of the Haugesen Mortensens who took off for the States in the early 1900s  was the culprit who actually sired Marilyn out of wedlock one night - or day -- in L.A.
Alex, recalling all this off the top of my head in Lublin, Poland, October 10, 2007.
The details of the films seen, etc. are buried somewhere in my e-mail files and will be filled in later.
PS: This all segued into an extended Oslo visit where I ran into an eleven film review of 70-Millimeter films at the Norwegian Film Institute. Since hardly any theaters anywhere are any longer equipped to show Seventy-MM films in the original format, this turned into one of my major film experiences of the year, and is reported in detail elsewhere. Among films seen were an original print of "Around The world in 80 Days" with a most Amusing David Niven, and a rare John Wayne film in which John plays an American Circus magnate touring Europe with his menagerie. Talk about "off-beat"!

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THE FESTIVALS BLOG by Alex Deleon. Watch for festival coverage from the circuit.

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