Tromsø International Film Festival

Project Spotlight: A leading film festival brings light to the polar night. 

Collaboration circumpolaire Création Représentation
Musicians perform the live score to a silent film on a blue carpeted theatre stage. On the theatre screen in front of them is a person wearing a headscarf and carrying a bundle over their shoulder.

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 the cultural event in the North’s twilight months. TIFF is also the film festival with the highest ticket sales in Norway. The festival has had incredible growth since it first commenced in 1991. The total of admissions in 1991 was 5,200—in 2020 it was 58,320. TIFF 2022 was the 32nd edition of the festival, and took place January 17–23.

Note: These events were organized prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See Barents Secretariat’s statement on the invasion and cross-border cooperation here.

Musicians perform the live score to a silent film on a blue carpeted theatre stage. On the theatre screen in front of them is a person wearing a headscarf and carrying a bundle over their shoulder.

A strong focus on Indigenous films

In the festival’s artistic profile, TIFF states that the festival shall be an arena for joint cinematic experiences focusing on artistic quality, curated on the background of the festival’s values—in particular, humanism and freedom of speech. 

TIFF has always had a strong focus on Indigenous issues and the festival screens films made by Indigenous directors and with Indigenous themes from all over the world.

The 2022 edition of the festival screened as many as 12 Sámi films—an all-time record. Sámi territory stretches across four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The total Sámi population in these four countries is estimated at approximately 80,000, of whom around half live in Norway. 

The Sámi films that were selected for this year’s festival represented a variety of genres and themes. 

One of the films that was screened was Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy by the director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (b. 1986). Tailfeathers is a writer, director, producer and actor. She is a member of the Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe, Blackfoot Confederacy) in Canada as well as Sámi from Norway.

A portrait of a community facing radical change, Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy is a film that brings humanity and compassion to the substance-use crisis and drug-poisoning epidemic on the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta. Contextualized in the historical and lived trauma of settler colonialism, the film draws a connecting line between the impacts of colonialism on Blackfoot land and people and the ongoing substance-use crisis. People with a substance-use disorder, both in active use and in recovery, come together with frontline workers to issue an urgent call to action: change is a matter of life or death for many people.

Films from the North—a popular sidebar programme

In TIFFs largest sidebar, Films from the North, viewers will find captivating films of great artistic quality from the Barents region and other circumpolar areas.

The sidebar has traditionally been reserved for shorts and documentaries. It has been tremendously popular, with more than 8,000 tickets sold annually. 

Films are qualified if the subject, the production or the director is connected to the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, or Alaska, Greenland or Iceland. 

“The films are made by contributors from all around the world both in front of—and behind— camera. This is what makes the sidebar so exciting and versatile. We get both the Indigenous perspective of the Blackoot Nation in Canada, and Inuk, and films about strong Sámi belonging, to stories from multicultural and LGBTQ+ filmmakers. This wide spectrum of artists put together is one of the program’s strongest traits,” says Films from the North Program Manager, Espen Nomedal about the Films from the Northprogramme in 2022.

Read more about the varied and interesting programme of Films from the North 2022 here.

TIFF in the Barents Region and East Side Stories

TIFF has a close collaboration with the film community in northwest Russia, and had a key role in the cultural collaboration between Norway and Russia through the last ten years. During recent years, the festival has built up a wide network of Russian partners, and is an important force in promoting film culture across the borders.

Through its projects with Russian partners, TIFF annually distributes film experiences to approximately 10,000 people in Norway and Russia. During recent years, approximately 60 shows have been put on each year, varying from screening of short film programs from TIFF’s Films from the North program, to singular screenings of Norwegian films and film concerts with live music from Norwegian and Russian musicians.

In the spirit of the historically close ties between Tromsø and its neighbors in the East, Tromsø International Film Festival aims to promote cultural exchange between the countries by presenting new films from the north-east. Since 2002, this program has been a regular sidebar for feature films and documentaries from Russia and the ex-Soviet republics.

Seen from behind, an audience watches a silent black-and-white movie accompanied by a live band, in a darkened theatre.

Old films – new music

One of the festival’s most successful and popular events is a silent film concert which features Norwegian and Russian musicians. Every year a team of musicians from the two countries are commissioned to work together and compose new music to accompany a film from the silent film era. The silent film concerts held during the festival week, where the musicians present the result of their collaboration, are always sold out. This unique concert production is then sent on tour to several places in Russia. 

In 2021 TIFF selected the film Strike for their Norwegian-Russian silent film-project. This iconic silent film from 1925 is Sergei Eisenstein’s first full-length feature film, made the year before another masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin. The plot of the film takes place in 1903, when factory workers in pre-revolutionary Russia decide to go on strike. The authorities brutally quell the revolts, resulting in the famous sequence showing the ruthless suppression of the strike, alternated with footage of slaughtered cattle. The parallel between the fate of the animals and the workers’ conditions is used several times in the film. Another central topic of Strike is collectivization versus Western individualism.

Four musicians from Norway and Russia were commissioned to write new music to accompany the film: Kohib (aka Øivind A. Sjøvoll), Evgeny Popov, Kristian Svalestad Olstad and Ekaterina Okhaminskaya.


TIFF is supported by BarentsKult.

This story is part of the Barents Secretariat Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.


The Norwegian Barents Secretariat strongly condemns Russia’s unprecedented military aggression against Ukraine.

The Barents Cooperation was established as a peace project in 1993, after 45 years of cold war. The foundation of the Barents Cooperation has always been people-to-people contact. The goal of the Barents cooperation is to remove cultural barriers and to build bridges across borders. During almost 30 years, we have gone from closed borders to close ties between the people in the Barents Region. The cooperation between people from all areas of society like schools, municipalities, NGOs and cultural institutions, the so-called people-to people-perspective, is an important keystone. Through meetings between people in the region we build down barriers and increase our mutual understanding.

Unfortunately, people-to-people cross-border cooperation in the north has long been constrained due to the increasingly authoritarian regime in Russia. The situation for civil society is now extremely difficult, and the uncertainty arising from Russia’s military attacks makes effective cross-border cooperation even more challenging. Unfortunately, the impacts of this will be felt at the local level, particularly by people living in the north.

In our spotlight the Norwegian Barents Secretariat will focus on the positive and successful cooperation between artists and cultural institutions that normally takes place across the Norwegian-Russian border.

While the Norwegian Barents Secretariat stands behind the Norwegian government’s demand that Russia immediately ceases its military operations and seeks a peaceful solution, we will continue to support people-to-people cooperation and contact. In the current situation we have suspended contact and cooperation with official Russian entities, but encourage contact and cooperation with independent Russian artists and organisations.