On July 22 last year a car bomb exploded in the middle of the Norwegian capital Oslo killing eight people. It was a staggering, unprecedented moment in the history of a country widely regarded as one of the world’s safest and most peaceful.
As the clean-up and rescue operation swung into action and a bemused population began hunting for answers, the man responsible for the attack was heading west dressed as a police officer. He tricked his way on to Utoya, a holiday island for teenagers, and proceeded to shoot 69 of them dead as they tried to flee or hide.
The trial of Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right activist who wrote a detailed 1,500-page manifest outlining his extreme views prior to the killing spree, is continuing. Breivik has admitted responsibility but denies any suggestion that he is insane.
The conclusion of the trial and the result of an independent inquiry into the actions of the police, intelligence services, government and emergency services before, during and after the event are both likely to come within weeks of the anniversary of the attack. Broadcasters around the world will be looking for related factual content around July 22.
Norwegian broadcaster TV2 and The Documentary Factory have previously produced Terror Island, a one-off hour-long doc that focused on the victims and their families and avoided mentioning Breivik by name. The idea that he should be allowed to use a trial to give a public airing to his ideology remains a controversial point.
Terror Island has been sold to a slew of broadcasters around the world, most recently Documentary Channel in the US; CBC in Canada; RTL2 in Germany; SBS in Australia; and Planete Cable and Planete Thalassa in France.
It is distributed by Nordic World, a sales alliance formed in 2005 to represent Scandinavian content abroad. CEO Espen Huseby is now busy with a new slate of programmes aimed at satisfying global demand for material on this most disturbing of cases.
Chief among the new titles are two further instalments from TV2 and Documentary Factory – Terror Island: The Verdict and Terror Island: Back to the Island – making up a Terror Island trilogy. Huseby confirms both docs would once more stick to the principle of not naming or featuring Breivik.
Two Days That Shook The World
“Terror Island: The Verdict will be released by the end of the trial at the end of July,” he says. “Clients who have already pre-bought that one will be ready to air it on their channels on the one-year mark. This follows the same people from the first Terror Island documentary throughout the whole trial.”
This doc features footage of thousands of Norwegians rallying around in town squares across the country to sing Children of The Rainbow by Lillebjoern Nilsen. At his trial, Breivik condemned the song for brain-washing people, sparking a Facebook campaign that, within two days, attracted 40,000 people to the centre of Oslo to sing.
“The third part of the trilogy, Back to the Island, follows the same people actually travelling back to the island where things happened almost a year ago and their reactions on going back there and confronting the hell again,” says Huseby.
Also new to the Nordic World slate is Two Days That Shook the World, from Norwegian broadcaster NRK. This provides a minute-by-minute account of July 22 and 23, and then follows the fall-out since then. Another NRK doc, The Fathers, focuses on in-depth interviews with Breivik’s father and stepfather. When Terror Hit Norway, again from NRK, gives an overview of the whole story.
But the one that stands out on the slate is Words that Kill, which is sure to spark controversy and debate the world over. Huseby is guarded about the project, filming on which is continuing, and won’t reveal which production companies are working on it. The filmmakers are currently tracking down the groups around the world that Breivik sent his manifesto to before embarking on his rampage.
Huseby says: “This is talking about some of the addresses the police found around the world. They are following those leads in the documentary and there is more to come from this. It’s a huge project; a lot of it is secret at the moment. It’s under wraps a little bit.”
One thing Norwegian producers and channels have to be wary of is the risk of over-exposure. Huseby says items about the case have appeared in almost every TV news bulletin, newspaper and radio broadcast since it happened. “Among the average Norwegians, more and more people are getting an overdose of all this,” he says.
“People are also now getting tired that this guy is getting too much attention. That’s why Terror Island is the one with the most focus because that director didn’t mention the attacker by name, picture or anything at all. The whole purpose of that was that the guy doesn’t need any more focus at all. It’s more a challenge than a problem for the filmmakers. There will be some surprises in the upcoming documentaries.”
Away from factual, Nordic World has started to push local formats to international broadcasters and recently took The Ultimate Entertainer to MipTV. Its slate also boasts dramas, with the boom in Scandinavian scripted content around the world offering opportunities. Huseby does not believe there is money to be made from a move into feature films, however, given the number of distributors already shopping Scandi content.
Huseby says the way broadcasters and prodcos have covered the Breivik case has boosted the reputation of the region’s factual content. “The Nordic footprint in the documentary genre is something the rest of the world is looking into. There are traditions over here for making good documentaries,” he says.
“All the documentary producers in the Nordic region are getting more and more international. They’re making docs that have issues that are more internationally viable.
“Indies are juggling work because they could get an order from a channel in Norway to make a documentary and they have to take care of delivering something for the channel. But if they can make an international version too they would do that.”
Broadcasters will no doubt be keen to explore the possibilities further as the anniversary approaches and the court case draws to a close.