Norway, like Sweden and Denmark, is renowned for producing high-quality films for children and young people. Common main themes involve the problems of growing up and coming of age.
Before 1921 Norwegian children were permitted to view all films. The notion of films for children did not exist, and films were generally shown without restriction. Around 1910 people began to worry about the ability of motion pictures to influence audiences, and the first legislation relating to cinema operations was adopted in 1913. From 1913 to 1921 the legislation did not establish age limits, so films were either open to all or prohibited. As a result, many films were prohibited despite their inherent suitability for adult audiences. In 1921 an age limit of 16 years was introduced, and in 1954 this was further broken down into age limits of 7, 12 and 16.
The feature film Ti gutter og en gjente (“Ten Boys and a Girl”, 1944) by theatre artist Alexej Zaitzow is considered the first genuine Norwegian children’s film, though a number of earlier works also held special appeal for children. Zaitzow’s film, with children cast in the main roles, revolves around friendship; it is remembered today as a bright spot amidst the Norwegian WWII productions, when non-political farces dominated the screen.
Between 1944 and 1980, Norwegian filmmakers made 26 movies for children. The period 1955-1965 was most significant, as new loan guarantees and a financial support mechanism tied to ticket sales stimulated production. Toya (Eric Heed, 1956) and its sequels gave Norway its first continuing series of works for children. In 1959, after a decade of making short-format puppet films, Ivo Caprino released Ugler i mosen (“Mischief is Brewing”), a conventional feature film that captured the hearts of young and old alike. From 1982 to 1988 filmmaking for children was dormant in Norway, with no production of children’s feature films taking place. In 1981, however, Norwegian filmmakers produced a number of childhood portraits inspired by a European movement emphasizing memory and feelings. Among these were Laila Mikkelsen’s Liten Ida (Little Ida, 1981), Lasse Glomm’s Zeppelin (1981) and Vibeke Løkkeberg’s Løperjenten (The Errand Girl, 1981). Such films stood in contrast to the action-filled American children’s movies then dominating the market, and critics debated the degree to which the Norwegian productions could actually be classified as children’s films.
The general decline of Norwegian film in the 1980s had an impact on children’s films as well, but as the 1990s opened the industry rallied. An important force was Berit Nesheim, who delivered three portraits of young girls on the threshold of the adult world: Frida – med hjertet i hånden (Frida – Straight from the Heart, 1991), Høyere enn himmelen (Beyond the Sky, 1993) and Søndagsengler (The Other Side of Sunday, 1996). The Other Side of Sunday was nominated for an Oscar in the category of best foreign film. Torunn Lian’s darker Bare skyer beveger stjernene (Only Clouds Move the Stars, 1998) won several international awards. At the same time, Norwegian filmmakers increased their output of animated and short films.
Starting in 2000 Norwegian production of children’s films became more commercialized. The number of films made for children has risen markedly. The establishment of the Norwegian Film Fund and the introduction of new funding schemes are part of a shift toward the family segment as a target group. Between 2000 and 2006, 17 children’s films have been produced, several of which are based on known literary narratives or other stories from the media. Marketing of Norwegian films for children has also become more professional. Director Torun Lian’s Ikke naken (The Colour of Milk, 2004) and Elsa Kvamme’s Fia og klovnene (2003) received excellent reviews and won a variety of prizes at renowned foreign film festivals. However, more recently there are signs that Norwegian film production for children is becoming more homogeneous, adapted to market thinking, at the expense of the development of good, artistic children’s films with children as a specific target group.
In 1951 journalist and film critic Elsa Brita Marcussen founded both Norsk Filmsamfunn, an early film society, and a special magazine on film. Marcussen fought hard for quality children’s fare and travelled from school to school showing films and talking about them. In 1960 the public authorities focused new attention on children’s film. The state appointed a commission on children’s films, and in 1970 a subcommittee was created to deal with issues such as import subsidies, dubbing and cataloguing. In 1975 the first plans to create a permanent ministerial position to deal with children’s film issues emerged, but the first designated consultant for children’s films did not become a reality until 1987. That same year, policymakers decided to give priority to films for young people when evaluating applications for production support. Another important development came in 1988, when the state grant based on ticket proceeds was raised from 55% to 100% for children’s films. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs set a target for Norwegian filmmakers to produce a minimum of five children’s films in the 1990-1995 period, thus establishing the underlying priorities for state production funding. In 1992 the Norwegian Federation of Film Societies received funding to employ a permanent children’s film consultant. Today there are some 70 children’s film societies in Norway, with 9,000 members.
The Norwegian Film Institute gives high priority to making films available to children and young people. Efforts are designed to provide memorable film experiences while imparting knowledge and promoting film as art. The institute works continuously to distribute high-quality children’s films to schools, libraries and other institutions as well as the private market.
The film institute’s Amandus Festival is a popular event in Lillehammer to which young people can submit their own works in competition for the coveted Amandus Prize. The festival was launched in 1987, with submissions in 2006 exceeding 300. The festival is now established as an independent foundation.
The Norwegian Film Institute has also developed Internet-based arenas for young people, starting with www.mzoon.no, a media workshop for youngsters between 13 and 19 years of age. This site allowed young people to learn to produce film and music as well as write articles and reviews. Although this website is no longer active, a Nordic project to develop a similar website, www.dvoted.net is underway, and will be launched in 2006.
In 2001 a national programme called the Cultural Backpack was introduced to provide primary-level schoolchildren with exposure to the professional cultural sphere. The Norwegian Film Institute is responsible for the programme’s various film-related activities, and allocates NOK 3 million annually to facilitate the presentation of film art in schools throughout Norway.