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									Personal biography
I grew up in the town of Askim sixty kilometers outside of Oslo descending
from a peasant family on my father’s side and an urban family on my
mother’s. My great grandfather on my father’s side ran a coach station, had
fifteen children and had to sell the family farm in 1905 after he took on more
than he could swallow. He later established a saw mill in the city of Drammen
fifty kilometers south of Oslo which went bankrupt.
The major Norwegian rubber manufacturer Viking Gummi later bought the
farm, restored all the houses and built its tire and boot factory on the
premises. It was here my great aunts and uncles had their childhood
memories, and where my grandfather and great grandfather played their cello
and violin having outdoor concerts on every Sunday.
In 1955 my father took over the grocery store my grandmother and great aunt
ran in the center of Askim which during its first ten years of running was a very
good business. I got to pick up and learn how to handle cheese that was
stored in the cellar at a certain temperature. I learned that the longer the
cheese was stored the better, giving out taste tests of wonderfully well-aged
cheese to our costumers. I acquired the insight on how the greatest coffee
beans came from Colombia and Italy delivered in burlap sacks and grinded to
each customer’s needs. Granny Smith apples, clementines and the best
grapes were all seasonal and, arrived just in time for Christmas when the fruit
window display always looked its best.
Everyday after school I dropped in to give a helping hand and got a muffin
from the Baker Ødemark. I expedited costumers and helped my father drive
goods out to the farms around the district. It might be here where the first
seeds of my strong urge for story telling and characterizations got sown. Or,
maybe it was my aunt Gunvor’s and uncle Erling’s coffee parties where fifteen
of my other great aunts and uncles used to sit and chat. From the age four I
got to sit with them and drink coffee out of my own children’s cup and listen to
all their exuberating stories.
Life became immediately different when my father’s grocery store got forced
to its knees with the introduction of supermarkets in the seventies. A strong
upheaval and sense of defeat started to nurture his conscience when at the
same time my mother became a student and realized her childhood dream of
becoming a nurse after bringing four children into this world. We lost our safe
ground and my father started working at the Borgasyssel Museum in the city
of Sarpsborg since he always had a fascination with ancient history. It was
only for a short while that he found the work inspiring but, life was out of tune,
anxiety had found its root and when grand mother died he was searching for a
new trade.
That trade became a gas station near the highway leased from Fina Oil
Company and once again I had to step in and save the day when he used to
get drunk. As a young teenager I ran the gas station and changed the oil on
cars while he was sleeping it off in the back room. Then I loc ked him up for
the night after a failed attempt to wake him up, placed the day’s profit in a
white paper bag and biked home along the highway in the dark. My mother
was working nightshift at the hospital while my siblings were sound asleep at
There was a lot of responsibility at home such as cooking and cleaning. While
my friends the same age were hanging out having their sexual debuts, I was
at home everyday after school and did what most parents do today, taking
care of the household with my oldest sister and helping out at the gas station
on the weekends. To afford my first “inter rail” trip I took a job at the Glava
insulation factory in Askim and worked into the night packing thermal
insulation units in bundles. I used to sit on mattresses amongst hardcore left
wingers in the coffee break room listening to them talk about all the injustices
in the world. I also experienced dramatic nights with production halt and
dangerous situations that made strong visual impressions on me. When the
conveyor belt on the assembly line started suddenly to continuously spew out
and transport enormous amounts of hot heated insulation material into the
production hall it all would collapse and create a full panic. Alarm clocks were
going off all over the place while people were running quickly through the
enormous factory halls tearing away meters of burning hot insulation material
with their bear hands to prevent a fire.
I think these images in combination with my breakdown I had at the age of
eleven is the source for my need for visual expression. As children we usually
tagged along my grand mother to the home mission house where she was a
social worker. My older sister and I dressed up in our mother’s sixties clothes
and performed playing the flute and singing Edelweiss from Sound of Music to
once again please the elderly at the home. During this period when everything
became disrupted at home and one of my friends lost her mother, I suddenly
started to fear death seeing the image of my parents hanging from the
crosses in the assembly hall and made me go into a deep depression for the
next several months.
I used to go to the movies at the movie theater in Askim that had a capacity of
seven hundred people. It was here the boys used to tickle the girls down their
spines during the showings and it was mostly the Tarzan and Lassie movies
that we got to watch alone. It was here I got inspiration for my love life. If the
man slung himself from tree to tree calling my name out loud it was love and
he had stolen my heart. It’s through this that I have had numerous turbulent
love affairs that would be typical of children from an emotionally dyslectic
parent relationship in which we simply lacked the other references. My father
became a drunkard from time to time and thanks to my mother, who was well-
trained in building a façade from her turbulent childhood, we smoothly
covered up the actual situation at home. She told us to never tell anyone
about what was going within the walls of our home and made sure that my
father never appeared as an alcoholic. On the contrary, my father was always
well dressed, cheerful and always paid his bills. I now got the growing urge to
leave this arena and to stop serving under my mother’s desperately fabricated
happy family drama.
In 1979 I got into the Gol’s County College as a drama major and this is
where I wrote my first stories. I later went to Australia for six months where I
start to seriously get into photography and later move to New York in 1982
where I got into the photo school at the International Center of Photography.
The money to pay for school I had earned while being mailman in Oslo for two
It is now that my work is starting to take off. I now meet my biggest
inspirations and have Robert Frank, Jack Sal and Susan Maseila as teachers
while David Hockney is running workshops in the week-ends. I personally got
to meet Ray Mansarek of the Doors and Philip Glass the composer. Friends
of mine who were behind the music magazine Rock bill gave me the
assignment to photograph them for an article about the opera The
Photographer they had made together. I see this performance and this
actuates the need to use live pictures, music and rhythm and where still
photos do not satisfy alone anymore. I begin to experiment with the super
eight and make my first film Luciana’s morning in 1983. It is then I made film
making part of my photo studies which was encouraged by my life’s most
significant teacher, Eileen Berger, the woman who trained me in visual
storytelling and got us to go to the bottom of our influences as our source for
all storytelling.
She forbids us to take photo documentation of street bums and children. She
saw this as stealing images and not as creating a genuine expression.
Eileen Berger got so moved by Luciana’s morning that she decided to give me
a chance to face the audience and invites ten businessmen from Wall Street. I
am a bundle of nerves while operating the projector and the separate sound
track during the showing that lasted for almost five minutes. When the lights
came on, they all sat around with tears in their eyes thanking me for
reminding them throughout the film about friendship and its importance,
something they suppress each day at Wall Street.
They talked to me as a filmmaker and took my expression seriously which laid
the foundation for me to continue and wanting to share my experiences and
moods with an audience on more occasions.
With what my father inherited and shared between us children in 1984, I made
my first low budget 16mm production called Noras hemmlighet (Nora’s
Secret). It is an eleven minute long film based on a strong childhood memory
about a woman who drowns herself seen from two children’s perspective.
After this film was finished in 1985, I felt the need for more technical
competency and majored in theater arts in record time back home in Norway.
At the time this was the minimum requirement to get into the cinema studies
at the New York University where I wanted to apply and study for the next four
years. The International Center of Photography was at the time actually part
of the master program at NYU and I had participated at a writing course
Eileen Berger taught, despite my lack of qualifications. In “visual storytelling”
we got drilled in writing visually transmittable texts. The quality level of the
teaching and the attending students were high and gave me great sense of
satisfaction. My transcripts from Norway arrived too late, so instead I applied
and got into (after numerous enrollment tests) the Drama Institute in
Stockholm as a film director major which started in January 1996.
The break up with New York was painful arriving in the conservative and
orderly city of Stockholm after living four years in New York’s cultural diversity
and indescribable energy flow. I was used to be working at all hours where I
spent the day at school, the afternoon at work and my nights in the darkroom.
I had now crash landed in the middle of Swedish coffee, cream cake and
cookies and ended up crying for three weeks wanting to return to New York. I
soon got acclimatized in a way and started to make film. I had Ingmar
Bergman, Bo Widerberg, Agneta Fagerstrøm, Mai Zetterling and Roy
Andersson as guest teachers, just to mention a few, and soon discovered that
the twenty our hour day could be made the most of at these enormous
facilities at the school. We had our own film studio where we could
experiment and develop ourselves on our own after taking requirement
courses in instruction with professional actors, in lighting design with people
such as Sven Nyquist and set design with Ann Asp. During the writing
courses I seriously deepened myself into writing screen plays while
continuously trying out the dialog with the actors that would give the lines a
new light. We did everything on the film, everything from learning how to
expose and develop using the darkroom in the cellar. Besides, I made sure to
receive some great job offers from the industry like working as an editing
assistant that was normally offered to the director students at the school. I sat
in on two feature length movies with the Danish editor Janus Billeskov Jansen
who edited Max Von Sydows Danish movie Katinka and Leif Magnusson’s
Ung Flukt which was a constructive experience while I was preparing my final
examination film.
In 1989, I won the main award at the school film festival in Munich with my
final examination film Huset (The house), a forty minute long fictional film shot
with a 35 mm camera. Shortly after I started my own company called Dis film
in Norway and wrote the screen play for Iron Horse. Since this was my feature
film debut it was difficult to get it on screen. I was in contact with producers
and the Norwegian Film Institute at the time and received a development
grant of 17 thousand dollars that Egil Ødegård at Nordisk film produksjon A/S
and Dis film administrated. When my application was rejected I chose to put
away Iron Horse until I could knock down doors with more experience and not
having to compromise the story to satisfy producers who for example believed
the main actor role should be twenty instead of thirty years old and have a sex
appeal so the audience would be more interested. All in all I have experienced
producers that are interested in everything besides what Kalle Bohman, Roy
Andersson’s earlier producer, had taught us about the director moulding the
producer who in return will lay down everything for the director and not vice
I went ahead with Skjønnheten eller udyret (The Beauty or the Beast) and got
with me the Polish cinematographer Piotr Mokrosinski who later became my
live-in partner and the father to Lovisa Emilia who is eight years old today.
Scab Cam arranged to loan Piotr their Panavision camera almost for free and
Kodak supplied the raw film. Lisbeth Gabrielsson (who was the short film
consultant at the Swedish Film Institute) covered all our laboratory expenses
after she saw the final cut and Helen Berlin, who has edited everything I have
done so far to this day, did the editing job for free assisted by Nicole Beck.
Everything was a low budget or what I prefer to relate to as a “no budget film”
and the only expense was to be food. The Swedish Swelab went in with a
production loan for every film since and was extremely tolerant also because
they saw it as an investment when Piotr Mokrosinski, one of the most
promising commercial cinematographer in Sweden, was in charge of
cinematography. The Beauty or the Beast was finished in 1992 and became a
festival favorite traveling around to many different countries.
To pay for rent and living expenses I worked every weekend as often as I
could at the fresh food counter at ICA super market chain filleting fish and
expediting cheese to the cultural elite and to the group of other day to day
heroes. The joy in this was to learn and observe human behavior and to
receive hundred percent weekend wage (which was a reasonable pay that
gave me the possibility to live without a student loan). It is here my animation
screen play called Marinated Sunday came about, a film I hope to get up and
going in the next year. It is a brutal and a black humored view on the world
seen from the perspective of the chicken grill stand.
I got all my short film ideas rejected in Norway and the only time I was
considered a Norwegian was when I won awards. Meanwhile I got the offer to
direct a television feature Høstens første bilde (First Image of Autumn) written
by Vibeke Idsøe and produced by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. It
was a film about eating disorders with Dag Alveberg and Karen Bamborough
as project managers. Bjørn Lien the master of the handheld camera was in
charge of the cinematography and gave me the taste for handheld camera
story telling.
In 1992 I got a short film grant for the short story film At Ease and rewrote it
into a long feature film that premiered in February of 1995 distributed by
Sandrew Metronome. It was maybe the movie that decade (or ever?) that got
the most mixed reviews. Dagsavisen called it regurgitation and urged the
movie goers to forget this one quickly while other Norwegian newspapers like
Dagbladet, Bergens Tidende and Aftenposten found it very interesting as a
debut feature.
During this period I made my three and only award winning commercials
which were called 177 for the Norwegian public transportation information
service, Alene i Påsken (Lonely Easter) for the Red Cross and Sjelen (The
Soul) for the Norwegian carton recycling company Returkartong. 177 was
awarded the Silver Cleo in New and Eurobest Gold in Cannes as well as the
one for the Red Cross. The one for Returkartong was popular but got
censored by a retired CEO for Norway’s major dairy producer Tine, who felt
he could not accept these films as commercials. I fortunately got paid for the
two films where I also was the assistant director.
In 1995 Mari Boine asked me to do her music video for the song Bli med meg
til det hellige fjell (Come with me to the Sacred Mountain). I got to know Mari
Boine in 1992 when she said yes to be the voice of “the forest” in Skjønnheten
eller udyret (The Beauty or The Beast).
I wrote the script based upon archived history about the colonizing and
Christianizing through coercion of the Laplanders in Norway which I got out
from the National Archives, stories of the past the Norwegian government
denied ever were true. These stories swirled around in my head the whole
time during the 900 kilometer trip with Mari while her song was playing on the
car stereo going through the Tysfjord where we made the outline for the
video. I was lying on top of the hood of the car filming with my silent 35mm
Arri Camera while Mari was driving at a very slow pace so we could get the
fantastic mountain images on film. It was then on the plane back to Oslo when
the idea of how the video eventually would turn out came to mind.
We got a grant from the Fond for Lyd og Bilde and the video got completed on
a miraculously low budget. The film was picked out for the Forum at the Berlin
Film Festival and when it eventually premiered in Norway at the Tysfjord local
movie theater, the newspaper headline of Dagbladet (who were at the
premiere of what was already a controversial film) read “Norwegian FILM
SHOCK”. I have never gotten front page coverage including a two page
center fold article in Dagbladet that included the picture of two Laplanders
hanging from a cross while a priest is skating on the ice around them. It is an
intense picture showing the church’s coldness in Christianizing and coercing a
primitive people as well as Norway’s arrogant colonization of Laplandic
grazing-land. I was not aware until later that the location where I shot the
controversial scene on the ice between Maiken and Blåtind was a conflict
area between the Norwegian Military and the reindeer husbandry Laplander
Anders Oskald. It was at this location the military wanted to use as a shooting
and practicing range. I was neither aware that Anders Oskald himself was one
of the extras I had chosen to hang from one of the crosses in the film. Soon
the whole press was on this story and it was all over the radio, the debate
programs and on every morning show. Mari and I chose to put a lid on the
whole debate that was going on in the media and let the film belong to the
Lapplandic people for getting even in a way.
This was the first time the Norwegian press published facts and chronologies
on the same page as these feature stories listing what had been done to the
Laplanders during the colonization period. In the wake of this, the
controversial “head scull case” came up and the Oskald family got back their
forefathers’ head sculls from a museum in Denmark, where they at the time
had ended up after The Kautokeino Rebellion in 1852. The two Oskald
brothers were punished for not letting themselves Christianize as well as for
drinking and whoring. Their heads were decapitated and sent off to Denmark
as research material. Now the descendants could give them a dignified burial.
We went out on tour throughout Norway’s northern county of Finnmark
accompanied by Swedish television’s cultural channel Cobra to show the film
and where we got to talk to many people who now dared to speak up about
these historical events that used to be forbidden to talk about.
The priest from Karasjok who went on live news hour radio crying, saying the
film was deeply blasphemous and claimed that Mari Boine must have been
possessed by an evil force which in this instance was me. He declined the
invitation to meet us face to face under a showing in Karasjok and sending a
colleague instead to take his place claiming he had lost his voice.
In 1996, Norwegian Film A/S under the leadership of Tom Revlov invited five
Norwegian directors including myself to a feature film project called Pust på
meg (Breath on me). Five short films from five different screen play writers
were sown together into a full feature length film that was made completely
independent of each other.
I accepted the invitation and made the episode called Svev (Flight) in close
cooperation with the writer Arne Berggren. The episode got great reviews as
opposed to the entirety of the film which received less of a welcoming. I
cooperated with the Finnish cinematographer Robert Nordstrøm which was a
productive relationship and whom I later chose to be the cinematographer for
the Dogme-film Cabin Fever. I had been attracted to the handheld format
since the television feature but, for Svev I went in the opposite direction by
using steady cameras and cranes. I had a budget that allowed me to take off
around the room and could make the water flow over. Bjørn Sundquist played
a composer who was head over heals for the harpist Stina Ekblad who again
had a superficial relationship to the conductor Krister Henriksson. A classical
three way drama in an unusually suffocated setting and the most costly
production that I have worked on to date with the exception of my
commercials. It was during this period Lovisa was born in March of 1997.
Lovisa Emilia became the turning point in my life. By becoming a mother it
brought back memories from my own childhood and the need to create a
children’s environment for her so different from the one I experienced. I
wanted Lovisa to “have” parents and not for her to take care of them. It is now
that I am starting to clean out my closet and take out the screen play I wrote in
1995 for the film Cabin Fever. This is a summary of forty years of “Christmas
hell” told in one night. I had once put it away but now I felt it was immensely
relevant and it was necessary to live up to the role being a mother.
Everything was clear to me now and I wanted to illustrate this by painting my
emotional dyslectic parents all over the screen with a large painting brush the
life we had as children and forever put an end to every child’s “Christmas
The film got support from Harry Guttormsen and The Norwegian Film Institute.
This was at the same time the financial support scheme f or feature film
production was restructured and the new Norwegian Film Fund wanted to
support more films with lower budgets instead of less films and larger
productions. The idea was to get more of diversity and increase in the
production of films in Norway.
The dogme-film was shot during Easter of 1999 and premiered in November
of 2000. It received two Amanda awards and was voted the movie of the year
in the cultural magazine Natt og Dag. I now started to feel that I stood much
more firm in my creative foundation with the close cooperation with my old
classmate from the Drama Institute in Stockholm, the producer Malte Fossel
whom I worked with on my first documentary film Vidar, skogens mann (Vidar,
man of the woods) in 1987. He became my collaborator I had been searching
for a long time who set up my productions with great humbleness. He was
sensitive, supportive my ideas and understood that I worked best when I did it
in the manor I wanted it. It was then my films became peculiar and
interesting. Freedom from Fear A/S was the company I had from the New
York period and now became something we now shared together. Cabin
Fever was besides the first and until now, the only Norwegian dogme-film
certified from Zentropa. It gained world wide recognition and was shown as a
case study at the Toronto Film festival in 2001. This was because it had been
made under very extreme circumstances and it competed in the main
program at the Czech Karlovy Vary Festival in 2001 with such films as Amélie
de Montmartre.
I now went on to the world of Chlorox, ammonia and coffee with all its
fundamental foundations of the characteristics of the Christian universe where
I allow a pregnant Maria rob Jesus to get a hold of all the things within the
intangible heavens down to Earth. I used a long time on this script which had
its premier during the summer of 2005. It received good reviews and was
awarded the main price at the international film festival in Mannheim
Heidelberg in 2005 and is chosen to participate at the prestigious New
Films/New Directors festival at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in
March 2005.
While working on the Chlorox script, I worked part time as Director for the film
department at Nordland Art and Film school which is a preparatory study for
attending major film schools. The school is located in Lofoten in northern
Norway and was an inspiration during the writing period. I met students who
were like me in the early eighties in New York and got to contribute by
awakening and supporting the development of this creative force which they
all carried in them.
I am today developing my command Decalogue as well as being a proud
single mother to a clarinet playing eight year old, who is also a horse trainer
and a jockey.
I figure I will start with the command Decalogue which is some sort of a
continuation of the characters from Chlorox, ammonia and coffee in an
overture towards a universe where I want to deepen myself in one of them
and give each of the characters a command that will put the Ten
Commandments to the test. My first characters to the test are the midwife Iris
and the daughter Elin in the two upcoming films, “Thou shalt covet anything
that belongs to thy neighbour” and “Thou shalt not love thy neighbour more
than thyself”.
I am finally planning to take on the “Iron Horse”, something I am looking
forward to after this journey I have been on since then.

Mona J. Hoel
Beograd, February 27th 2005

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