Aslaug Holm is a Norwegian filmmaker and has made a number of award-winning shorts and documentaries. In 2021 she co-directed ‘A-ha The Movie’, and directed ‘Generation Utoya’, a documentary about four women who survived the atrocious right-wing terror attack in Utøya Island.

Alex interviewed her to find out more about these two most recent documentaries that she has been working on and what is coming next.

Nordic Watchlist: We wanted to start with discussing Generation Utoya; how did the theme of this documentary come to you both and how did you approach your subjects to feature in it?

Aslaug Holm: 22 July 2011 is a day every Norwegian remembers. That day changed Norway from being one of the most peaceful places on earth to become another target for political terror and extremism.  On this dark, rainy Friday a far right-winger dressed like a policeman killed 77 people in Oslo and at tiny Utøya.

It was so surreal that such a dramatic terror-attack happened in Norway, and I still think we are processing the grief over the attack, ten years later.  We are two directors on this film, me and Sigve Endresen, and when he came to me with the idea in 2016, I had just completed a ten-year documentary project about my two sons: “Brothers”.  

For me it was important to reflect on the time that has passed, and what it has done with those who were affected and with us as a country and people. The story had to carry both past and future, and it had to be filled with hope. The terrorist attack is the darkest incident in Norway after World War II, and for us it was so touching to follow the young women who were attacked and tried to kill, but who today have confronted the fear and still fight on the barricades for the same values for which they were attacked.

One of the great things about making documentaries is that we can spend a lot of time getting to know the environment and the people we are going to film. Signe and I went to AUF`s summer camp on Utøya the year before we planned to film, without camera. There we got to know the youth organization and the island, and it was so important that we gained the trust of the young people, which allowed us to start working on the film.

NW: How essential was it to ensure that the right care was taken for the survivors when discussing such an emotionally charged subject?

AH: It was incredibly important! I got so much empathy for the young women, saw how brave they were and how much they fought their fears every day; the fear of being attached again. Therefore, the filming itself could not be an extra burden. They had to feel safe with us, and it was an advantage that we were a small film crew. Because I´m both a director and cinematographer, in the most vulnerable situations I can be alone with the characters in the shooting situation, for example, when Line is with the psychologist undergoing therapy.  

Generation Utoya

INA is the ambitious, new leader who faces the youth organization with a courage that inspires attention. At the same time, she is struggling to overcome the fear of new terrorist attacks. KAMZY, a refugee from Sri Lanka, is the youngest deputy major in Oslo ever. She is concerned about how young people get out of society and become radicalized. Why Anders, an ordinary, white Norwegian, young man became a terrorist. RENATE has been central to the struggle of rebuilding Utøya as a political workshop for democracy and freedom. LINE suffers from post-traumatic stress and is still undergoing therapy. She hasn`t yet been back on the island after 22 July, maybe she will during this film?

NW: What do you want audiences to be taking away from this film?

AH: The film investigates what has happened to the young people who survived, who remain political active and true to their values, now confronting by the same ideas from right-wing extremists and even from established politicians in Norway and other countries. The story reveals how tough it has been for a group of traumatized youth to bring an entire organization forward, while at the same time giving hope to a whole country.

I hope the audiences can be inspired by the young politicians, because I did. Even if 22 July is a really dark day, the light is shining through the film, due to the strong commitment the four, young women show. In the film we meet INA when she is elected as the new leader of AUF, and that`s a historical and moving moment. Ina was hit by four shots by the terrorist on Utøya, and that was as far as she survived, but today her engagement for a better world is even stronger than before the attack. And when we now see her on the podium, it`s almost like the shots have gone through her body and into the words. She is so strong and powerful when she speaks, and it`s impossible not to be touched.

KAMZY, a refugee from Sri Lanka, is the youngest deputy major in Oslo ever. She is concerned about how young people get out of society and become radicalized. Why Anders, an ordinary, white Norwegian, young man became a terrorist. RENATE has been central to the struggle of rebuilding Utøya as a political workshop for democracy and freedom. LINE suffers from post-traumatic stress and is still undergoing therapy. This is a generation politician that have experienced the darkest hour in life, but who have chosen to turn their eyes to the light and continue to fight for a better world. 

NW: How and when did aha:The Movie come about? When might we expect a UK Release?

AH: Thomas Robsahm came to me in 2016 and told me that he wanted to make a film about a-ha and wondered if I could join the team as a co-director and cinematographer. He had wanted to make this film for many years, and he loved the work I did on Cool & Crazy, a documentary about a male choir in north of Norway, so he wanted me on board. I had just finished Brothers, a ten-year film project about the childhood and upbringing of my two sons, so it was very inspiring to have the opportunity to start something completely new.

aha: The Movie is released later this year and has its premiere at Glasgow Film Festival this month

And I was very fond of a-ha and had strong memories of the band all the way back to the 80`s, so it was an incredibly nice project to be part of. I had also worked with Thomas earlier, and he is so creative and inspiring, so I really looked forward to start shooting.  And I`m fascinated by characters. In real life, a-ha are three strong individuals in a collective who have created great music, but at the same time, the creative power can be destructive, that interests me. And being close to those guys with camera is challenging – but also beautiful. Like a poetry. You learn something new every time.

The UK Release will be next year, I`m not quite sure the date, it depends on the pandemic, but in the US it is planned to launch in April 2022.

NW: What have you got planned next?

AH: My next film project is a portrait of a block in a district in Oslo. A billionaire has bought the homes of a group of residents who are fighting for a safe place to live. A classic story: David`s battle against Goliath.

NW: Finally, what have you watched, read, and listened to recently – any recommendations?

AH: I love Succession on HBO. It really is a fascinating, gripping series with a brilliant script! The characters are clear, but at the same time complex and the underlying theme is so strong and relevant. In a way you become a part of the family in the series and feel the complex emotions associated with the power struggle that arises in the absence of love. I will also recommend the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård. He is best known for his six autobiographical novels My Struggle but have also written unique novels such as Out of the World and A Time for Everything.  

Right now I`m listening a lot to David Bowie, and A-ha, of course!

Aha:The Movie premiered at Glasgow Film Festival and will be released later this year.

Interview by Alex Minnis