TRUMPETING TROMSO: A Two-Festival, One-Couple Town


Back in 1999 at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, an American woman who programmed film festivals in Norway, Martha Otte, met a man who distributed films in Germany, Hermann Greuel. In a cinematic twist of fate, the two fell in love (meeting up at festivals around the world), Hermann moved to Norway, married each other, and started two independent film festivals in the small town of Tromso, far up north in the Arctic Circle. It was, and remains after a decade, a true marriage of movies and amour.

And the twists don’t stop there. Since 2003, Hermann has produced and directed the Nordic Youth Film Festival (NUFF). In 2004, Martha was appointed Festival director of the Tromso International Film Festival (TIFF). Martha’s TIFF takes place in the dark months of winter, while Hermann’s NUFF unspools during the summer, during the time of the midnight sun.

Who would have thought that two people from two different countries would direct two different festivals (one for adults, one for youth) at two opposite times of the year (one during the season of all-night days in January, and another during the season of all-day nights in June) – and both in the same town?

It seems that opposites indeed attract in the most unexpected and successful ways when it comes to film festivals in Norway.

Founded in 1991, winter-born TIFF plays host to a gamut of international film festival favorites when there’s only a sliver of sunlight in Tromso. It also offers the popular “Films from the North” program, presenting movies with a strong connection — either by subject matter, filming location or director origin — to the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Canada. Tromso’s TIFF also takes advantage of the intensely dark polar night by featuring outdoor screenings, and boasts an additional outdoor facility on Tromso’s market place in the city center.

Audience attendance has consistently grown in the festival’s 18 years, with 52,000 attendees this year, making it Norway’s largest film festival.

Five months after TIFF closes, Greuel’s Nordic Youth Film Festival unfolds in June. It’s the perfect time for Tromso to trumpet its unique filmmaking program, inviting young filmmakers from around the world to joining together to make a short films in the city.

The idea came to Greuel when he founded the festival in 2003. He added a week-long workshop to the regular festival, during which aspiring filmmakers produce a short film with the help and supervision of an international film professional. (Full disclosure: author Tanja Meding lead one such workshop in 2008). Learning about new cultures and lifestyles while working on the film has become a key part of the NUFF experience; young film students and filmmakers who’ve attended have hailed from as far away as Senegal, Haiti, Uganda, Kenya, Estonia, Latvia, Russian, South African and Gaza.

In short, both Tromso’s feativals, like their founders, represent the best of cinema without borders.

* The next NUFF workshop and festival takes place June 6-14, 2009. For more information, visit

* The 20th anniversary of TIFF takes place January 18-23, 2010. For more information, visit


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James Ulmer/Tanja Meding

James Ulmer and Tanja Meding, together have written several articles for CWB

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