In between an Adventist Church and a parish church belonging to the Church of Norway in the coastal town of Haugesund lies the Haugesund Public Library which proved the setting for the first major panel discussion at this year’s Haugesund Festival, which turned on Feminism and Religion. In this Christian-dominated environment, the conversation turned in part on a doc-feature, “Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam,” which screens at the festival.
The conversation was organized by the Norwegian Intl. Film Festival-Haugesund in collaboration with The Church Council and The Church of Norway. For context, recent studies report that the majority of Norwegians do not believe in God, but that most non-religious Norwegians – an estimated 70% – are still members of the Church of Norway, though only 2% of them regularly go to church.
Tonje Hardersen, the film festival’s program manager, told Variety that The Church of Norway has been regularly collaborating with the festival in organizing joint events and discussions. Previous panels coordinated at Haugesund have usually centered on Christianity. This was the first event to tackle inter-religious topics, with prominent guests from the Muslim community.
“Many priests are trying to create a network and figure out how to use film in religious education,” Hardersen said.
It was her idea that a panel should turn on “Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam,” which Hardersen said the priests “loved.” The film, directed by the Turkish-Norwegian author and filmmaker Nefise Özkal Lorentzen and produced by Jørgen Lorentzen, is a portrait of Seyran Ates, one of the first female imams in Europe.
Ates, a lawyer and human rights activist, is battling for the modernization of Islam. She preaches ideas of inclusivity and diversity in her community, ideas that has seen her become an exile from Turkey, her native home and the object of a fatwa and require permanent police protection. Ates opened her own mosque in Berlin, where she is based, and advocated it as a space without gender separation and with an open door for the LGBTQ community.
The talk around the film also took ideas about the coexistence of religions, inclusivity, feminism, and modern misconceptions of Islam.
Beyond Ates, other panelists, all chosen by The Church of Norway, included Anne Hege Grung, a professor at the theological faculty of the University of Oslo, Mehda Zolfaqari, one of the only professional narrators of the Quran, and Odd Kristian Reme, a theologist and priest who was also active in the Norway’s Labour party, and who led the talk.
As the first event at the Haugesund Festival to confront inter-religious issues and to imagine how different religions can learn from each other and all promote more tolerance in the future, this was a pivotal event at Haugusund in rethinking how religion can learn from cinema, and vice-versa.
“I think that you can see that all our cultural heritage is from Christianity,” Hardersen told Variety. “It goes back and you can see so many symbols, and I always find all these talks so fascinating, and we see so many films being inspired by Christian or Islamic religions.”
“I always feel that having a film festival is about bringing people together, and if you could do that also with different religious beliefs, it’s fantastic,” Hardersen said. “Even non-religious people have so much to learn from reading these stories.”