HOT DOCS FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! In 2011, the deadliest attack in Norway since World War II was carried out by one man. He was a right-wing extremist who murdered 77 of his fellow citizens and injured another 209 in two separate attacks. The survivors of the attack on a youth group at a summer camp are the focus of Sigve Endresen and Aslaug Holm’s Generation Utøya.
The tragedy has been the subject of several books, documentaries, and two simultaneously released narrative features. Utøya: July 22, from Norweigian filmmaker Erik Poppe, who worked closely with the survivors and filmed his vision in a single take over 72 minutes (the length of the attack). Director Paul Greengrass helmed a three-part epic, 22 July, for Netflix starring an all Norweigian cast.
Generation Utøya does not spend much time on the past horrors. Rather, it focuses more on the lasting effects the tragedy had on the survivors, catching up with the four young women a decade later while also documenting the current right-wing extremism that seems to be seeping into governments around the globe. The survivors, now in their 20s and 30s, give firsthand accounts of their escapes as the filmmakers share images of the idyllic island that served as their Workers Youth League camp.
“…focuses more on the lasting effects the tragedy had on the survivors...”
Those interviewed are Renate Tårnes, who recounts, with almost clinical observation, getting shot three times (including in the jaw) and now holds a leadership position in the league; Line Hoem, whose plans to be a dancer were sidelined by the event; Kamzy Gunaratnam ascended to Oslo’s Deputy Mayor and is vying for a place in Parliament; and Ina Libak, who remains politically active despite having someone “try to kill me for what I believe in and what I stand for.”
After they each recount their individual escapes (hiding in closets, bathrooms, swimming in the frigid waters off the island), Generation Utoya explores their lives since the attack. The camera follows Libak and Gunaratnam as they work to preserve not only the Workers Youth League. Tårnes states that she is not only concerned with those who politically disagree with her but with violent attacks that may ensue.
Hoem appears to be struggling more than the others. She’s battling PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and attempting to regain the mental strength that drew her to become an active political participant. She allows Endresen and Holm into a visit with her psychologist, where she speaks of the campers who did not survive.
The co-writers/directors are given intimate access to Norway’s Labor Party as well, as we follow the women navigating their more politically powerful roles. Because they chose to document their rise after the tragedy, Generation Utoya turns their devastating tale into something empowering. Most importantly, though, the movie introduces us to a group of women who take control of their narrative and get to the core of partisan anger in an attempt to understand and prevent it from occurring again.
Generation Utoya screened at the 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival.
"…turns their devastating tale into something empowering."