Ingun A. Mæhlum

Tromsø International Film Festival brings light to the polar night

What do you do during the twilight months in Tromsø? Seek out the dark of the cinema of course! Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the country’s leading film festivals, is an annual ritual for thousands of Tromsø residents and visitors.

When the twilight period has lasted almost two months, in what used to be Tromsø’s dreariest month, the cinemas fill up and the streets and cafés teem with local film lovers and visitors. Around 80 films and sales of 60,000 cinema tickets make Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF) the cultural event in the north’s twilight months. TIFF is also the film festival with the highest ticket sales in Norway. The city hums with activity: everywhere is full, while the atmosphere is both high-spirited and high-brow.

You’ll see films you won’t see at cinemas elsewhere

Tromsø International Film Festival shows films that Norwegian audiences don’t normally get the chance to see at the cinema. Languages we don’t normally hear, everyday lives and issues that seem remote from our own, innovative cinematic approaches; these cinematic impressions challenge and enrich their audiences with artistically ambitious films from around the world. The festival also shows fictional films, short films and documentaries from the north.

Locals make up a big part of the audience

The films at Tromsø International Film Festival are shown more times than at most similar film festivals. This is an established tradition, born out of Tromsø audiences’ desire to discuss the films with each other. The most popular films can even be given an extra screening. Locals make up most of the audiences and think nothing of taking a few days off work. Many people travel from across Norway to watch as many films as possible and take in the festival atmosphere. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Norwegian, because all the films are subtitled in English. The atmosphere is therefore very accessible to a broad audience of film lovers. The event is not, however, a film industry gathering and there is very little glamour on show. Many film-makers attend the festival, giving the public a chance to get to know them better in both formal and informal surroundings.

A Festival atmosphere descends on Tromsø

The festival takes place at the end of the twilight months, also known as the Polar Night, when it is still twilight most of the day. However, the cafés which surround Storgata extend their opening hours and many a passionate discussion about the latest film take place by candlelight, often with people at other tables and strangers. Many people set their alarm for six o’clock to take in the first film of the day and carry on watching and discussing films right through to the midnight screening.

Local films make a strong showing

“Films from the north” is a series of short films and documentaries covering the northern regions, including both the Cap of the North and the circumpolar regions. Twelve films compete in the competition for the Tromsøpalmen Award. The films shown in the large outdoor cinema at Stortoget are also shorts. Children from the city’s schools and nurseries come here to watch short films during the day, while in the evening shorts for adults are shown.

TIFF inspired a silent film festival in September

Tromsø is home to a little gem from the film world: Verdensteatret. Norway’s oldest cinema in continuous use, it dates from 1916. There are only a handful of such cinemas left in the world today. This inspired a silent film festival, the Silent Film Days in Tromsø, which takes place during the first weekend of September. Audiences can enjoy silent films from the 1920s, either with original scores from preserved sheet music or with innovative modern musical interpretations, which provide an interesting contrast with the old films. The old cinema building must be thrilled to see these old classics return.

There is more to Tromsø than films alone in January

Hotel capacity in Tromsø has been substantially increased and it is now much easier to find a room. Film watching can easily be combined with other activities, such as a Northern Lights safari, dog sledding, snowmobile trips and eating mølje (a local dish consisting of fresh cod, liver and roe) in the city’s restaurants. Tromsø is an inviting Arctic winter city with both new and old architecture that combines in harmonious yet contrasting ways.

How to get to the Tromsø International Film Festival

TIFF, as the festival is called colloquially, runs in the 3rd week of January

Tromsø is popular in winter, but there is also a good hotel capacity. What can we say? Book well in advance.

In the various theatres there is a good capacity, and the films are usually screened several times. This means that you mostly get to see what you really want to see. However, there is always this film that everybody wants to see…

Go to the TIFF homepage for updated info

We have plenty of articles, but Visit Tromsø has all the updated information.