Programming The Critical Room

Per Eirik Gilsvik is the program manager for The Critical Room, one of Films from the South’s permanent program sections. The Critical Room consist of films and documentaries that raises important contemporary issues. The films are always followed by interesting discussions with filmmakers and relevant experts. We sat down with Per Eirik Gilsvik to discuss his job.

Av 1. nov 2017

This is a very wide-ranging and open program where «everything» can be important. How is your process in selecting the films?

To select the films, I first and foremost watch a lot of films. Then it’s a matter of finding the films that deal with themes we can discuss and have conversations about after the screening. Sometimes films I would like to include in the program are disregarded because someone has already shown it or it is going to be shown in cinemas. An important element in the selection process is to choose films that rarely gets publicity in the media. Take for instance An Insignificant Man about Indian politics. India decidedly has the world’s largest and most populated democracy. But I’m guessing very few know the name of the head of state in India. And the political coverage in the Norwegian media about Indian politics is very limited. It is a combination based on working thematically as well as having a good film.

What is the most important criteria? The theme or a good film?

We are running a film festival so at the end of the day the main criteria will be to screen a good film. The reason for excluding films may be for instance caused by guests, such as the director, who can’t make it. This year, we get visits from the directors on all the films in the section except from An Insignificant Man where the director declined at the last minute.

Are you more concerned with an exciting theme that no one has heard about instead of a theme that is very popular?

It is difficult to say. It has to do with the availability of guests and it has to do with bringing up subjects that are relevant and happening now. For example, “land grabbing” in Ethiopia is something that’s hardly reported in western media, but it’s still happening right now. In other words, it’s a topic very few people know anything about, and it’s important and relevant. I think it’s important to constantly search for forgotten topics that should be more present in the media. The same thing goes with sexualized violence. Even though the documentary The Apology is about three old women who experienced atrocities committed by the Japanese during the Second World War, it’s just as much a film about what sexualized violence does to human beings. And that is a topic that is still very relevant today.

Is it important for you not to step on anyone’s toes, or do you consciously look for something that provokes or challenges?

I would like to provoke and challenge a bit. At the same time, I don’t want to provoke just to provoke. I have tried previously to set up more polarized debates and it is not always as insightful or useful. Most of our events are intended as discussions around the themes rather than a conflicted debate.

It is common for The Critical Room to also contain feature films. This time it is only documentaries. Why?

It is mostly for practical reasons. What often happens is that a documentary presents issues more hands on and more concretely than a plot-driven fiction film often does. I think it has been good trying to include feature films in the program, but this year I didn’t really find any movies that I found suitable, while I found that these five films here worked out great.

Lastly, can you tell something about the movies in The Critical Room?

Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas is directed by Joakim Demmer and is about “land grabbing” in Ethiopia. The term “land grabbing” means that foreign nations and multinational companies buy areas of land for a low cost. Those living and working on these pieces of land are rarely compensated and end up as refugees in their own countries.

- It is a very exciting and interesting documentary about a phenomenon that is much bigger than most people think. Ethiopia is sometimes in the searchlight in Norway and in many other western countries due to agricultural development and investments in agriculture. Many of these processes are presented as being positive developments, but for whom? That is the question we are going to ask in the discussion after the movie.

An Insignificant Man is about an Indian politician, Arwind Kejriwal. He worked for a long time as a tax inspector, but decided to enter politics in an attempt to change an India troubled by corruption and disqualified politicians. He started the political party “Common Man’s Party” which already in its first election dominated the local election in India’s capital, New Delhi.

- It is a documentary that follows the depiction of Kejriwal as a politician, as a person, and the movement he created. A very exciting project that until recently was illegal to screen in India. Following the film, we will have a discussion about populism and politics in India.

Last Men in Aleppo is about the war in Syria. It evolves around three people working for the humanitarian organization “The White Helmets”, but also looks more broadly on the civilians living in Syria.

- The war there has lasted several years now and by now most people are becoming immune to the horrible images from the war. This is a film that is not first and foremost about war, but about human beings in war trying to maintain a certain form of dignity in their everyday lives and trying to make ends meet. It’s an incredibly powerful film that demands to be seen. We have Feras Fayyad, the Syrian director who has won several awards for the film, joining the conversation. Together we will discuss the war in Syria, the trustworthiness of the information we get about Syria and truth in times of war.

When The Guns Go Silent is directed by an award-winning journalist, Natalia Orozco. It depicts the peace process between the government and the fighting guerrilla troops in Colombia to end the decade-long civil war in the country. An agreement was signed in 2016 and there is currently a declared peace.

- Orozco has been following the process very closely for five years and gained unique access to the key players on both sides. In many ways, it truly feels like the first comprehensive and objective documentary about the peace process in Colombia without blaming anyone in particular. During the discussion we’ll examine the peace talks and talk about what's next for Colombia. Can there be peace and security in Colombia? Or is there reason to fear that the deal will eventually fall apart?

The Apology is directed by Tiffany Hsiung and tells the story of three old ladies who were so-called«comfort women» during the Second World War. The expression "comfort women" is used to describe hundreds of thousands of women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese in terrible brothels called «comfort stations». The documentary is set mostly in the present time with the three elderly ladies fighting to put pressure on the Japanese authorities to acknowledge the incident and publicly apologize.

- What we are going to discuss is sexual violence in war, which is used actively as a weapon even today. This is a film that deals with something that occurred during the Second World War, while highlighting that this is a contemporary issue.