Greengrass confronts the alt-right in 22 July
Drama recreates 2011 mass killing in Norway by far-right terrorist
TORONTO — With handheld cameras in tow, Paul Greengrass has headed straight into real-life horrors to make visceral, immersive fiction films: a 1972 massacre in North Ireland (Bloody Sunday), the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (United 93) and the Somali hijacking of a cargo ship (Captain Phillips).
His latest, 22 July, recreates the 2011 attacks in Oslo and at the Norwegian summer camp Utoya, where 77 people were killed and 110 were injured by far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. While Greengrass opens 22 July with the bombing and shooting, the movie is really about the attack’s aftermath. Breivik’s trial — and the intolerant, anti-multiculturalism ideology he espouses — tests Norway’s democracy.
“It’s about how Norway fought for their democracy in the shadow of a right-wing insurgency,” Greengrass said. “It’s a film about Norway then, but it’s actually about us today or tomorrow.
22 July, which debuted this week on Netflix and in select theatres, is for the 63-year-old British filmmaker about a growing, global battle, in microcosm. In an interview, Greengrass spoke about 22 July and the future of democracy.
“We’re being tested,” he said. “Democracy doesn’t just happen. It has to be won on the level of ideas. It has to be fought for.” AP: Do you consider United 93 and 22 July linked in any way?
Greengrass: They’re tough making these films. 22 July and United 93, in my mind I saw them as different films, but related. I’m not saying: ‘Poor me.’ You try to do the absolute best you can by those people, by your craft, to make the best, most responsible, most serious film you can make once you’ve said to yourself and answered the question: Is this a necessary film to make? I’ve tried my best to be dispassionate and compassionate. Whether it’s 93 or this, it’s an isolated moment and if you look at it in its granular detail, it’s like looking at it through a microscope. You see the world writ large, the DNA of where we are today.
AP: What initially led you to making a film about the Norwegian attacks?
Greengrass: I had wanted to make a film about the migration crisis. I looked at the runs by which they come in through Europe: through Greece and Lesbos, from Syria and the North African ones. I spent quite a bit of time with the boats and the rest of it, trying to figure out a movie with that as a backdrop. But the more I did it, it became overwhelmed by the bigger story, which was Brexit in my country — and the rhetoric of Brexit — and Trump, obviously. It became obvious to me that the film was not about the migrant experience. The story was about what was happening to the politics in the West. We were witnessing a huge counter-reaction to globalization.
AP: So you turned to Breivik as a symbol of this shift.
Greengrass: What he thought he was doing was striking a blow and raising the standard of rebellion and that people would follow him. It was very much the same idea as the hijackers on 9-11. I came in the office one day and read his testimony in court — some of which is in the film. It was absolutely chilling. I remember it so vividly sitting there thinking: These opinions, when he uttered them in the court, would have been considered them outrageous. But they’re now mainstream. There is nothing about his worldview or his arguments or his rhetoric that a mainstream populist right-wing politician does not espouse. That’s when I thought: I need to make this film.
Paul Greengrass with 22 July at the Toronto International Film Festival.