The 44th Norwegian Intl. Film Festival kicked off its main program Aug. 21 with the world premiere of a local film, Vibeke Idsøe’s “The Lion Woman” (“Løvekvinnen”), and it will close Aug. 25 with the launch of another domestic production, Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken’s “Cave.” On Aug. 22, Benjamin Ree will have the first Norwegian presentation of his documentary “Magnus” after it has toured five international festivals including Tribeca-New York, Munich and Moscow.

But not only the main competition has Norwegian entries: a total of 19 local films have been selected for this year’s showcase, with Peder Hamdahl Næss’ “Little Grey Fergie – Full Throttle” (“Gråsass gir gass”), the fifth film about Norway’s most famous tractor, a Ferguson TE20, in Cinemagi, the children’s festival, others in the documentary, short film, Next Nordic Generation and Norwegian National Film School sections. Three Haugesund films sneak-opened the festival: Karl Johan Paulsen’s documentary “Gold Is Running in the Streets – a City Built on Herring Bones,” Cato M. Ekrene’s short ”Run,” and André Løyning’s documentary “Cocks & Crosses.”

“There are several reasons for the strong Norwegian representation,” said festival and program director Tonje Hardersen, of the Norwegian International Film Festival. “First and foremost the opening films in 2015 and 2016 – Roar Uthaug’s ‘The Wave’  and ‘The Lion Woman’ – show that Norway can deliver productions that are not inferior to Hollywood grandeur, though on significantly smaller budgets. At the same time Norwegian cinema in 2016 is marked by a couple of young, aspiring filmmakers, who already deliver top level features – at this years festival we have two films by 27-year-old directors, Dahlsbakken’s ‘Cave’ and Ree’s ‘Magnus.’ ”

Hardersen notes that “kidpics are usually best-sellers in the Norwegian cinemas – last year they accounted for almost half of Norwegian admissions, and four titles exceeded a total of one million admissions. But most of them are adaptations, and the reviewers didn’t like them. So I look forward to the Aug. 23 festival debate about children’s cinema. Norwegian documentaries have in recent years reached still larger audiences, and we show them in several sections, including  Cinemagi: ‘Dancing Hearts’ from, Erlend E. Mo, Hanna Heilborn and Victor Kossakovsky.”

While Denmark’s LevelK is only starting international sales for “Cave” in Haugesund, both “The Lion Woman” and “Magnus” have been widely licensed internationally by Denmark’s TrustNordisk. Idsøe’s period drama has been acquired for 70 countries including China, France, Benelux, and Latin America; 46 have been contracted for Ree’s documentary including North America, UK/Ireland, Germany/Austria, France, Benelux, and Russia.

Based on Norwegian author Erik Fosnes Hansen’s novel, although with a new ending, “The Lion Woman” – which, with a $10 million budget, is Norway’s second-most expensive feature – is set between 1912-1937 and follows Eva, who is born with hair covering her whole body. Despite the many challenges she faces, she manages to overcome them. Starring Rolf Lassgård, Connie Nielsen, Burghart Klaussner and Kjersti Tveterås, it was produced by Norwegian veteran producer John M Jacobsen’s Oslo outfit, Filmkameratene.

In “Magnus,” Ree portrays Magnus Carlsen, who as a 13-year-old  introvert  schoolboy mostly interested in chess and bullied by his classmates, declared, “I hope to become the world chess champion.” In 2013, at 22, he did become the world chess champion. The documentary about his way to the title was produced by Sigurd Mikal Karoliussen, for Moskus Film.

“ ‘Cave’ is something different from my previous films, an intense action-thriller about a group of former military elites who set out to explore an uncharted abyss. We filmed everything on location in Norway, except for some underwater scenes in Mexico – I think people will be utterly surprised when they see the result,” said Norwegian director Dahlsbakken about his festival closing feature. Starring Heidi Toini, Mads Sjøgård Pettersen, Benjamin Helstad and Ingar Helge Gimle, it was produced by Dahlsbakken for Filmbros.

Pictured above: “Magnus”