'Country' takes Tromso's Fipresci award, 'Tapas' nabs Aurora prize

TROMSO, Norway — Tromso, the Arctic’s most popular film festival, closed its 16th edition Jan. 22 with a record-breaking number of tickets sold: nearly 43,500 in a locale whose population barely tops 60,000. The university town played host to newly elected prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, subject of opening night film “The Rich Country,” which picked up the Fipresci award at the closing ceremony. Slice-of-life Spanish pic “Tapas” received the Aurora prize, worth about $11,200 and earmarked for a Norwegian distrib to subsidize local arthouse play.

Despite Tromso’s location well within the Arctic Circle, an unseasonable absence of snow and ice for most of the fest (Jan. 17-22) eased entry into cinemas, this year supplemented by a spanking new theater just minutes from the northernmost brewery in the world. True to its recent past, the fest was especially strong in East European fare, with Slovakian director Jan Cvitkovic’s absurdist comedy “Gravehopping” the most popular title in the program. Brooding Romanian drama “Ryna” was awarded the Don Quijote prize by the FICC jury.

U.S. titles unspooled included Craig Lucas’ “The Dying Gaul,” Campbell Scott’s “Off the Map” and Steve Buscemi’s “Lonesome Jim.”

A special section of Films from the North showcased both northern Canadian and Scandi shorts and docus, while regional features included the world premiere of hip Swedish comedy “Baba’s Cars.”

Special screenings included Sergei Eisenstein’s classic “Battleship Potemkin” accompanied on the washboard and other industrial implements by experimental musicians the Cleaning Women. The setting was Norway’s oldest cinema, the jewel-like Verdensteatret, built in 1916 and still in use — a rare survivor of a movie palace from the teens.

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