Laila Mikkelsen (NO)

Film director and producer. Born 1940. A feature film director and producer, along with occupying various positions within the Norwegian film industry.

Laila Mikkelsen quickly became famous for her individual style as a filmmaker, and for her critical attitude towards the classic American dramaturgy so rife in Norwegian film in the 1980s. As a director, she made her breakthrough with the feature Little Ida/Liten Ida from 1981. It remains a masterpiece of Norwegian film history – particularly seen from an international point of view, interestingly.

Laila Mikkelsen grew up in Oslo, and during her university years, she was active in the Oslo Film Club. She was a teacher for a few years before focusing on a career in film. In 1968, Mikkelsen was employed as a script supervisor at Norsk Film AS, and shortly thereafter, she began directing short films. Mikkelsen was one of the young filmmakers that Norsk Film AS, under Erik Borge’s leadership, associated itself with during this period, breathing new life into the Norwegian film industry.

Her early film productions were partly commissioned films and partly output from her training at Norsk Film. Her political short film Ukeslutt (1974) was one of the first films from the Education department of Norsk Film. Her feature film debut Harvest/Oss (1976) was the first feature produced by that department. Harvest features in Norway’s film history as a political antifilm, and there was also some debate surrounding the film’s explicit political form and content. With the subtitle “It could have been us”, the film depicts a dystopian Norway marked by environmental pollution and a lack of resources. Cross-cutting is used to set the lives of individuals against political decision-making patterns and global class and colonialization perspectives.

Mikkelsen wrote the screenplay for Little Ida (1981) with author Marit Paulsen, and the film was a co-production between the Swedish Film Institute and Norsk Film AS. The film offered new perspectives on the Norwegian occupation during World War II, seen through the eyes of the young Ida. Ida’s serious and vulnerable attempts at understanding the unjust world of grown-ups thematize the fate of the “tyskertøs,” who were Norwegian women romantically involved with German soldiers, and their offspring. Liten Ida received a mixed reception in Norway, but garnered critical acclaim in Sweden where the three female leads won a Guldbagge Award. The film also enjoyed relatively wide international distribution. Alongside Anja Breien with Forfølgelsen/The Witch Hunt (1981) and Vibeke Løkkeberg with Kamilla/Løperjenten (1981), Laila Mikkelsen was regarded as the face of Norwegian film.

All of Mikkelsen’s feature films are literary adaptations, and the scripts were written alongside the author. In addition to Marit Paulsen, Mikkelsen wrote the screenplay for Harvest with Knut Faldbakken based on his two Uår novels (1974, 1976). Children of God’s Earth/Søsken på guds jord (1983) was co-written with Arvid Hanssen based on his 1981 novel of the same name. Snart 17 (1984) was written with author Karin Sveen. Little Ida, Children of God’s Earth and Snart 17 are often referred to as a trilogy, and they helped revive children’s films in Norway. Thematically the films centre on childhood, social exclusion, shame and guilt, while also looking at matters regarding class and social environment.

Politics and community involvement are recurring subjects in several of Mikkelsen’s films, but without being dogmatic. In the informative, sober documentaries Mikkelsen has directed, including OBOS og byen (1971) and Folkets fredspris (1977), she allows for different opinions and a critical ambiguity pervades.

Mikkelsen’s career has not been limited to her own films. She has also worked in Norwegian film production and distribution. She has been on the Norwegian film selection board, and was active in film-policy debates on the Norwegian film industry and education. In 1980–1982, Mikkelsen was on the committee to formulate a new cinema law, where she worked to create conditions aiming to put more cinema receipts back into Norwegian film production. She was a board member of Norway’s Audio and Visual Fund 1996–2004.

Ingrid Synneva Holtar
(Translated by Matt Bibby)

Basic info

Main profession: Director
Born: 1940
Active: 1969-2004

Filmography

Regi:
På vise vilkår (1998)
Pillen (1996)
Skolebilder (1990)
Testen din er positiv (1989)
HIV-test – Bare en blodprøve (1989)
Utfordringen –AIDS handler også om følelser (1987)
Snart 17 (1984)
Søsken på Guds jord (1983)
Liten Ida (1981)
Bildene omkring oss (1978)
Seljord – nå (1977)
Folkets fredspris (1977)
Oss (1976)
Forsøksgymnaset (1974)
Ukeslutt (1974)
Kloster (1972)
Obos og byen I (1971)
Obos og byen II (1971)
Et spann av tid (1971)
Arve 16 ½ (1969)

Manus:
Snart 17 (1984; sammen med Karin Sveen og Carl Johan Seth)
Søsken på Guds jord (1983)
Liten Ida (1981; sammen med Marit Paulsen)
Oss (1976; sammen med Knut Faldbakken)
Ukeslutt (1974)
Et spann av tid (1971)
Obos og byen I (1971)
Obos og byen II (1971)
Arve 16 ½ (1969?)

Produsent:
Å se en båt med seil (2000)
Kineseren (1998)
Herremannsbruden (1992)
Begynnelsen på en historie (1988)
Hard asfalt (1986)
X (1986)
Ja, vi elsker (1983)
Nedtur (1980)
Kvinnene (1979)

Produksjonsleder:
Arven (1979)
17 mai – en film om ritualer (1969)

Script:
Ungen (1974)
Anton (1973)
Rødblått paradis (1971)
Bjurra (1970)
En dag i Ivan Denisovitsj’ liv (1970)
Psychedelica blues (1969)

Read more about the films at Svensk Filmdatabas (SE)

Awards

Amanda for beste norske kinofilm 1987 for X
Førstepris ved Filmfestivalen i Karlovy Vary 1978 for Oss
Laceno d’oro for beste utenlandske film ved Laceno neorealisme-festival 1977 for Oss

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