Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
They’re cool because they live extremely close to the North Pole and they must be crazy because they stand in raging blizzards singing their hearts out for the director of this film. Bad weather is no match for the surging harmonies of the Berlevåg Male Choir. This charming musical documentary makes the point repeatedly and potently in amazing staged performances and in interviews with the singers, straight-talkers to a man.
A tiny fishing port on the Barents Sea, Berlevåg (population 1200) has been ‘world famous’ once before, as the remote setting Isak Dinesen chose for Babette’s Feast. Fishery closures now mean that a declining population is also an aging one, for whom regular choir rehearsals and occasional public performances provide an abiding community focus. ‘Without the breakwater and the choir, we couldn’t live here,’ declares one choir member. Another elderly interviewee concedes with a wink that his voice has long gone but that the younger men will never kick old fogies out. (Neither it seems will they revoke their driving licences.)
Cool & Crazy culminates in a bus trip to Murmansk, a place worse than Berlevåg. The men have a great time disparaging and pitying their Russian neighbours every mile of the journey, but international understanding improves remarkably in the concert hall when the Russians greet every note with wild applause. A similar effect is likely wherever this film is shown. — BG
It was during a late autumn day in Berlevåg on the shoot of my feature film Passing Darkness. A cold northwester swept snow horizontally through the streets of the small town. I was on my way to a concert at the community center – I was going to hear the Berlevåg Male Choir. From the very first note I was carried away. Here, at the very edge of the world, a motley group of grown men stood singing – gravely, powerfully and passionately. Furrowed faces which had withstood turbulent seas and ice-cold winds, had basked in the midnight sun and wondered at the awesome stillness of the ocean, softened through this encounter with music and poetry. Through the choir these men had sought refuge from the daily grind into a world of ballads, hymns and full blown marches – into The Song of Berlevåg. — Knut Erik Jensen