“A filmmaker always has responsibilities—especially with a film like this,” says 22 July writer and director Paul Greengrass. “There is the fundamental responsibility you have to tell the truth about the events you portray.
“Of course, in distilling complex events and many characters and their experiences into two hours of film, you have to edit, select and distill your material. And imagine moments and dialogue to bring the audience inside the drama. But it has to be done in service of an underlying truth, not to serve some private agenda. And I believe audiences know and can feel when that is being done. They can recognize an honest film. And a dishonest one.”
With 22 July, Greengrass relates the true story of the aftermath of Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack. On July 22, 2011, 77 people were killed when a far-right extremist detonated a car bomb in Oslo before carrying out a mass shooting at a leadership camp for teens.
“In stories that involve violence—as this one does—you have responsibilities to make your film truthful, but also to make it with a sense of restraint and decency,” the director continues. “That’s a hard balancing act, but necessary I believe.
“But most of all, there’s a basic responsibility to make a film like this in consultation with those directly affected. In this case, that meant meeting with those individuals depicted in the film, and with the 22 July Family Support Group, which represents families across Norway, and consulting with them and listening to their views.
“The way the people of Norway responded after the attacks, which is what our film is really about—the way politicians, lawyers and most importantly those families caught up in the violence responded—can inspire all of us with their dignity and their tenacious commitment to democracy.
“We had many discussions, both individually and in groups, in which I explained the film I wanted to make and why, and my sense that the story of Norway’s response to the attacks of 22 July was one with resonance far beyond her borders, especially today with the dynamic growth of the extreme right across Europe.
“That is not to say that every family, and every person in Norway approves of this film. Some may feel it is too soon. Others not. In the end the film must speak for itself, and be judged accordingly. For me, i hope it is seen as one among a broad number of projects— journalism, book, documentary, television and film—which respectfully seek to explore the meaning of these events as part of a necessary process of coming to terms with them.
“Will this film cause offense and pain to those affected by the tragedy, is it too early to explore these events, will this film glorify the perpetrator of the attacks, Anders Breivik? Will the film—by depicting him making a Nazi salute—become a rallying call for others who think like him? These are the kinds of risks you have to consider.
“And they have to be balanced together with your sense of what cinema can achieve—in promoting collective acts of understanding, in telling stories that illustrate the way the world is, whether by way of warning or inspiration.
“So, for me, through consulting with people like [shooting survivor] Viljar Hanssen, and the Family Support Group, it was clear that many of those affected felt a deep sense of the importance of telling this story, to warn against the continuing and dynamic rise of the violent far right. That far from being too early, their fears were more connected to the importance of these events not being understood, or worst still being forgotten.
“The considerations of responsibility and risk were felt deeply by all those involved in making the film, and at each stage, including obviously during the editing process. Billy Goldenberg is one of the greatest editors in the world, and thanks to his skill and judgement I think we were able to synthesize the material in a way that was respectful, truthful and compassionate.
“Every film is a challenge, but I would say the principal issue here was how to tell this story with restraint, and dignity. And how also to tell it so that it had the capacity to inspire an audience with the best side of humanity seen in adversity, rather than merely acquaint them with the worst that mankind can do.”
“Paul shoots in a very verité sort of style — very documentary — you feel like you’re in the room,” 22 July editor William Goldenberg explains to Steve Hullfish. “Very rarely do you get scenes with a match and two over-the-shoulder medium shots. With his stuff, every take is different than every other take and his cameramen are always finding great shots, great angles.
“When you see it, this film is so knit together in a very concise way. There were so many different ways to go and it didn’t really come together in the edit until everything was shot because it was one of those things where we had to just pick and choose our moments and a lot of stuff got cut down and cut out, so it gave us a lot of opportunities to go a lot of different ways.” To read the full interview, click here.
“When they work, I think these kinds of movies can get to the heart of what’s happening and where we’re headed, the DNA of our times, if you like,” Greengrass says.
“But of course, the balance sheet of risk can never truly be assessed until after the film is finished and released. As a filmmaker you can only try your best to tell the story as respectfully as you can, and with a good heart. And hope that it is received in the spirit you made it
“I think it is important that cinema also remains connected to the real world, tries to address it unflinchingly. I think it’s part of cinema’s mission.”
“In the end your film must speak for itself,” Greengrass concludes, “and be judged accordingly.”