Regarded as one of Norway’s leading auteur directors, Zaman is best known for his films exploring themes related to migration, identity and belonging. His previous features Before Snowfall (2013) and Letter to the King (2014) both won the prestigious Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at the Gothenburg International Film Festival.
Zaman’s latest film is one of his boldest and most artistically ambitious yet. Set in a refugee centre absurdly located in remote northern Norway, “a Happy Day” is a fictional story about a trio of teenage boys who are waiting to be sent out of the country on their 18th birthdays. Determined to stay together, the three friends come up with a plan to escape. But when a troubled young girl shows up at the center and falls in love with one of the guys, the trio’s escape plan – and their friendship – are suddenly thrown into jeopardy.
A Happy Day builds on several of Zaman’s well-known strengths, with its quirky and complex characters and use of black humour to approach a serious political issue. He once again opts for a leading cast composed entirely of non-professional actors (Salah Qadi, Ravand Ali Taha, Mohammed Salah, Sarah Aman Mentzoni), complemented by a supporting cast featuring several well-known names from the Norwegian film and TV industry. These include Stig Frode Henriksen, reality TV star Hilde Skovdahl, and actress Thea Sofie Loch Næss, who played in the Netflix production ‘The Last Kingdom’ and will star as Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend in the upcoming Norwegian-Canadian TV series ‘So Long, Marianne.’
At the same time, Zaman experiments with several new elements in A HAPPY DAY. It is one of his most visually remarkable films to date, shot amidst the vast, snow-covered landscapes of northern Norway. These tableau images are sprinkled with touches of poetic surrealism, through the use of magical, dreamlike sequences which blur the boundaries between imagination and reality.
The film tackles a hotly debated topic in Norwegian refugee policy, and one which is rarely explored on the big screen in Norway. Yet, as always, Zaman approaches the subject unconventionally, steering clear of political dogmatism and focusing instead on human themes such as identity, love, friendship, hope, dignity, and the fleetingness of life. Through the bizarre situations that his characters encounter, Zaman uses subtle humour to challenge his audiences to reflect on the way that policies impact people. The result is a film that is at once comically absurd, tragic, and heartwarming.
A HAPPY DAY is the first of Zaman’s feature films to be produced through his company Snowfall Cinema, established in 2015. He is joined by associate producer Turid Øversveen, a veteran producer in the Norwegian film industry known for Out Stealing Horses (2019) and Babycall (2011). The film is also an international co-production with one of Scandinavia’s leading production companies, Zentropa (Denmark) as well as Rein Film (Norway), which focuses on films made in the Barents region. The film received support from both the Norwegian and Danish Film Institutes, Eurimages, Nordic Film & TV Fund, Filmfond Nord, FilmCamp and others.
The Toronto International Film Festival is considered one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, drawing audiences of nearly 500,000 people every year. A HAPPY DAY will be featured as part of the festival’s newly revamped Centrepiece programme, which is “a showcase for acclaimed titles from festivals around the globe, highly anticipated premieres from Canadian and international talents, and the latest work of influential filmmaking luminaries.”
The film will premiere in Norwegian cinemas in Autumn 2023.