GOTEBORG, Sweden — There’s an impending sense of doom in the current zeitgeist, particularly with feelings about climate change, that the Göteborg Film Festival taps into this year with Focus: Apocalypse. Fest artistic director Jonas Holmberg notes, “We are exploring how today’s filmmakers work with the existential, ethical and political aspects of this crisis. Perhaps more than any other art form, film has preoccupied itself with envisioning the apocalypse and post-apocalyptic situations, and perhaps it is precisely through such artistic imaginings that we can deal with civilization’s presently critical state.”
Comprising a thoughtfully-curated program of films, special events and seminars, the focus poses the question “What can humans do, alone or collectively, to save the earth?”
One answer comes via the Icelandic title “Woman At War,” directed by Benedikt Erlingsson, which takes on pressing environmental concerns with humor and aplomb. The eponymous woman is a much beloved, middle-aged Reykjavik choir conductor, who has a secret life as an eco-warrior, fighting to save the Icelandic countryside from industrial pollution one noxious electrical pylon at a time.
Other more practical ideas are being offered nearly every day at the Festival Arena where live presenters include helmer Erlingsson, directors Hugo Lilja and Pella Kågerman, Bishop Susanne Rappman and biologist and author Stefan Edman, in a discussion about the existential, philosophical and emotional side of the threat of apocalypse and Emma Öhrwall, an expert on the field of collaborative economy, on choosing dystopia or utopia. Also included, American author Roy Scranton discussing his book “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization” with climate podcaster Ragnhild Larsson; Göteborg city planner Henrik Kant revealing how a major city tackles climate change; and gestalt therapist Ann Eberstein offering a therapy session on climate anxiety.
In addition, philosopher Peter Szendy, the author of Apocalypse-Cinema, Carolina Hellsgård, helmer of zombie film “Endzeit – Ever After” and ethics professor Susanne Wigorts Yngvesson discuss the apocalypse and pop culture, and Ronny Fritsche holds forth on producing a film using sustainable methods behind the camera.
Meanwhile, the film selection allows viewers to choose from fictional natural disasters such as “Quake” from John Andreas Andersen or documentaries such as Victor Kossakovsky’s “Aquarela” or Tom Burke’s “Losing Alaska,“ that make climate change less of an abstraction. They can find post-apocalyptic worlds with very few inhabitants as in Ulrich Köhler’s “In My Room” or ones filled with zombies as in Hellsgård’s “Endzeit – Ever After” or Antonio Tublén’s “Zoo.”
Meanwhile, Bruno Dumont’s mini-series “Coincoin And The Extra-Humans” imagines an invasion from space while Lilja and Kågerman portray the trials and tribulations of humans fleeing the earth for distant planets in “Aniara.”
Finally, the fest has turned a screening of Lars von Trier’s 2011 “Melancholia” into exciting event cinema. Lucky attendees were whisked by bus to Tjoloholm Castle, south of Göteborg, where the shooting took place. On the way, they received lectures about the castle’s history and the work of von Trier. Before the screening, they were guided through the castle by one of the film’s assistant directors. They even got food. The event, priced at under $40, sold out within an hour. Holmberg says, “It’s important for a festival to create special events that can only be experienced during the festival.”