Berlin: Terror Survivors Tell Their Stories in 'Reconstructing Utoya' (Exclusive Trailer)

Courtesy of Berlinale
'Reconstructing Utoya'

The film, part documentary, part cinematic therapy session, follows four survivors of the July 22, 2011 terrorist attack in Norway as they reconstruct their experiences using theater actors.

Jenny Andersen feels she's almost done talking about Utoya.

The 26-year-old was 17 when she survived the most deadly terror attack in recent Norwegian history — when a right-wing fanatic gunned down 69 people at a Labour Party summer camp on the island of Utoya.

Jenny was there. But she managed, miraculously, to swim through freezing water to escape.

Now, nearly a decade later, she is at the Berlin International Film Festival to present the documentary Reconstructing Utoya, in which she, along with three other survivors, recreate their stories from that day, using actors on a black theater stage.

“Afterwards I was given the option of doing therapy, of speaking to psychologists, I was given a lot of options but when I would sit down with someone, somehow I couldn't talk about it. My voice would stop,” she said.

After years trying to forget, to “push down” the memories of that day, Jenny said she only began to talk about what happened to her after she met with director Carl Javer and producer Fredrik Lange through a Utoya survivors support group. She agreed to take part in their documentary, telling her story as a form of cinematic therapy, both for herself and for her traumatized nation.

The stories of the killings on Utoya on July 22, 2011, have already been told, twice, on film. Erik Poppe turned the incident into his real-time horror movie Utoya — July 22, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival last year and Paul Greengrass did an English-language take on the Norwegian massacre with Netflix drama 22 July.

Poppe's film focuses on the violence on that day, and on the sufferings of the victims (the killer, deliberately, is never shown). Greengrass takes a more conventional approach but emphasizes the aftermath of the attacks, and how Norway's legal and political system dealt with the horror, deciding not to seek violent retribution but to uphold the liberal principles of its democracy.

But only Reconstructing Utoya puts the actual survivors of the attacks at the center of the story.

“They need to reclaim this story, which has been told again and again by other people and with another focus,” says Javer. “It is a bit like the films on the Holocaust, which initially focused on the Nazis, on the perpetrators and only slowly did the survivors take authorship of the story and their history.”

It's fitting then, that Reconstructing Utoya has its international premiere in Berlin on Wednesday, where memories of the Shoah remain carved into the very architecture of the German capital, and not just in the stones of the Holocaust memorial standing a few meters from the Brandenburg Gate.

On Wednesday night in Berlin, Jenny will again talk about her memories of July 22. And then, she says, she'll put them away for a while. “I don't think I need to anymore, at least not so much. I'm sort of done with that.”

Instead, Jenny is getting on with her life. She's currently working on her own documentary —a short film about young people and how they use nature to deal with trauma.

It's something she has some experience with. When things “get too much” Jenny says, she takes her longboard and goes out skating, on the endless, almost empty roads that run through Norway's vast Northern woods. “It's the best,” Jenny says, smiling. “It's like flying.”

You can watch the exclusive, international trailer of Reconstructing Utoya below.