“The Man Who Sold His Skin” and “Coda” stood out among films which picked up awards at the closing ceremony of the 49th Norwegian International Film Festival Haugesund.

For the festival’s grand reopening to the international market, after a restricted 2020 edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance surpassed pre-pandemic levels with an all-time-high number of industry accreditations for the event which ran Aug. 21-27.

The strong selection of films at this year’s on-site festival and in the virtual confab New Nordic Films was undoubtedly one reason for this strong attendance, as major films shone at the closing ceremony where six awards were doled out.

“The Man Who Sold His Skin,” the Oscar-nominated film from Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, won the ecumenical film prize and the Andreas Award, a collaboration between The Norwegian Film Festival, Film&Kino and the newspaper Vårt Land. The film is a satire of high-art circles and a critique of the world’s indifference towards the refugee crisis. It stars Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw and Monica Bellucci.

Mahayni previously won best actor in the Horizons section at the 77th Venice International Film Festival, where the film premiered last year. The Haugesund jury called it “an important and riveting film [that] adresses a contemporary theme in an original and thought-provoking way.”

“Coda,” directed by Sian Heder, writer of the first three seasons of the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” picked up the Ray of Sunshine award given to the film that excites and spreads the most joy as determined by a jury appointed by the Norwegian Cinema Managers’ Association. The prize adds to a successful festival circuit season for Heder who previously picked up four major prizes at Sundance, including best director, the Audience Award, a Grand Jury Prize and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award.

Heder’s film is inspired by the French film “La Famille Bélier” and places young lead actress Emilia Jones in a tough spot in which she has to choose between pursuing a music career and taking care of her dependent family. The jury praised Jones’ performance and her singing voice, saying: “this is one classic joy spreader with a big heart and where you leave the cinema with a huge smile.”

The Audience Award went to Norwegian film “Young and Afraid” (Nattebarn), the debut of promising filmmakers Petter Aaberg and Sverre Kvamme who made a film that turns on young people fighting their demons. In the film, mental health is confronted openly and through an evidently collaborative process between the actors and directors. The jury said it was: “a contemporary movie which pulls your heartstrings – and gave the jury a real punch to the gut.”

Lazy loaded image
Petter Aaberg receiving the Audience Award for “Young and Afraid” Credit: Grethe Nygaard

The Critics’ Award, awarded by a jury consisting of members of the Norwegian Association of Critics, was presented to “Swan Song” by Todd Stephens. The film, which premiered at SXSW, follows iconic veteran German actor Udo Kier (“Blood for Dracula,” “Melancholia”), a flamboyant Ohio hairdresser who escapes his nursing home to style his former client for her funeral. The film follows Stephens’ tradition of making films in small Ohio towns, his home state, many of which usually center on the LGBTQ+ community, such as “Edge of Seventeen.”

The jury said of the film: “is very much free of prejudice… engaging, funny and moving, and tells a story of belonging to a community.” They also praised Kier, saying his was, “a truly iconic performance.”

The final two awards, the Next Nordic Generation Award and Best Project award, went to “Mad from the Sun” and “Acts of Love” respectively.

The Next Nordic Generation Award is adjudicated to the best graduation film from the Nordic film schools, with NOK 10,000 ($1,131) given to the production team. The winner, Anna Äärelä from Aalto ELO Film School in Finland, made a film the jury called “beautifully warn, euphoric and gripping” about a tense love affair that goes back and forth in time.

“Acts of Love” was chosen as the Best Project from the Nordic Co-production Market and will participate at the Producers Network in Cannes as a result of the prize. The film will be directed by Danish filmmaker Jeppe Rønde, who won Denmark’s main film prize, the Robert Award, on two previous occasions. With his latest project, he aims to shoot a film about a woman who lives in a religious community in Denmark and enters a therapeutic ritual to heal her trauma.

Lazy loaded image
Coda CODA/Courtesy of Sundance Institute