Green­grass con­fronts the alt-right in 22 July

Drama recre­ates 2011 mass killing in Nor­way by far-right ter­ror­ist

Times Colonist - - Arts - JAKE COYLE

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.

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