Industry heavyweights like Martin Scorsese and George Clooney know the Oscar game too well, but 27-year-old Norwegian filmmaker Hallvar Witzo has discovered a whole new world. An Academy Award nominee for best live-action short for “Tuba Atlantic” — which, along with the other short film contenders, became available on iTunes this week — Witzo traveled to the United States last week for the glamorous Academy Awards Nomination luncheon, and promptly had his mind blown. Here, the director shares some reflections thoughts about the experience ahead of the much bigger ceremony he’ll attend this weekend. —Indiewire editors
My first job was picking up stones from acres of wheat fields. I was 11 years old. I never in my life could imagine myself one day being nominated for an Oscar.
I’ve made films since the first time I “borrowed” my dad’s VHS-camera from Tokyo and blew up my GI-Joes with gasoline and explosives. I had worn out all of my big brother Arne’s VHS-cassettes and I was deep into the mystery of Hollywood. Now I’m here, meeting my idols and I’m hoping no one will pinch my arm so I wake up from this very surreal dream.
“Tuba Atlantic” is a story about Oskar, who is 72 and has six days to live. He is an angry man who lives alone on the Norwegian west coast and kills seagulls (that’s my version of a Greek chorus). His big challenge is that he needs to reconcile with his estranged brother in New Jersey before he dies.
He is followed by an annoying 13-year-old girl, Ingrid, who claims to be his death angel sent by the local authorities. She hopes he will die soon as she has failed twice before as a death angel. The others survived. This is her last chance. Oskar’s only hope is to reach his brother by using a gigantic homemade musical instrument of 40 tons that in theory can send a note across the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the first things that happened when I arrived in Los Angeles was the Oscar nominee luncheon at the Beverly Hilton. I accidentally ended up standing next to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. These guys made films that taught me more
than my own mother (no offense to my dear Mamma). Now I’m standing next to them talking about how they started making shorts, and I’m sharing my experience of making “Tuba Atlantic.”
The strangest thing about the whole thing was the low-key, relaxed feel to it. Talking to the guy who made me shape mountains of my mashed potatoes, in homage to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” wasn’t as scary as I imagined it would be. (My VHS of “Close Encounters” is so worn by use, it looks like an old sock.) I was just talking to another dude who loves making films the same way as I do.
But I got a feeling of how big the entertainment industry is here compared to Norway. I mean, walking into the Beverly Hilton next to Brad Pitt was like being at the circus. I wasn’t the cute elephant nor the pretty lady who did the gymnastics, I was just the young donkey running around thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? I must be in the wrong place.”
So what I’m doing now is promoting the film and hoping people will go and see it. We had a theatrical release a couple of days ago, and my publicist Roxie arranged a tuba quartet outside the Nuart Theatre. They played “Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg. And being the national romantic I am, I got really touched by this strange quartet playing Norway’s most cherished musical legacy. It worked really well and we got a lot of positive response and curiosity. Californians are much better at making contact with strange people like myself than Norwegians. I guess the long, dark winters make us shy.
Maybe I should be, but I’m not nervous about the Academy Awards on Sunday. Probably because being nominated among such great short films is like being a winner already.