“Being able to give kids positive queer role models at the same age is important,” says director Kenneth Elvebakk about Hello World.
“When I was young, not even Elton John was openly gay. Today there are many gay celebrities in the media. So why are kids and young gay teenagers still afraid of telling others who they are, I ask myself in the beginning of this project,” says Norwegian film director Kenneth Elvebakk about his documentary Hello World.
Based on four queer characters between the ages of 12 and 16 that go to the same secondary school in Norway, Hello World, featured at the 2022 DOXA Documentary Festival, questions: what is it really like to be the only open queer person in the whole school?
In the production, streaming at the 2022 Doxa Documentary Film Festival, an online film marathon presented between May 5–15 by The Documentary Media Society of Vancouver, viewers follow the lives of four teenagers through secondary school, experiencing nuances of what it is like to grow up queer in Norway today.
To Elvebakk, what is special about this film is that his interviewees are as young as 12 and 13 years old when the film starts, and the viewer is invited to observe how the world around them reacts when you – at such a young age – want to be open about who you are and how you manage to express yourself.
“Being able to give kids positive queer role models at the same age is important,” says the director. “If we start working on diversity already in kindergarten, it can create children who become more confident about who they are. Then we can get rid of the concept of ‘coming out of the closet’. It is a long way to go, but I think it is important to show kids that it can be ok to be young and queer,” he adds.
In 1972, as a child, Elvebakk knew already that his sexuality was an issue in his country. One year before starting in elementary school, it became legal to be gay in Norway. However, legal did not mean that it felt normal to be queer.
“I spent my teenage years in fear that someone would reveal my secret,” he says “When I moved to Oslo to study, it became easier to be myself. It was also here that I met my first boyfriend, made queer friendships and participated in my first Pride parade. In Hello World, it became important to capture the feeling of happiness in the faces of young people participating in Pride. In those pictures I can recognize my own feeling of happiness.”
New nuances to queer politics
According to Elvebakk, feeling left out is something folks may all have felt at one time or more in their lives. That is why, for him, this film is an invitation to viewers to show themselves, to express themselves, to dress the way they want without prejudice, and without even thinking about gender. Queer, then, becomes a synonym of liberation, humanity, and happiness.
Analyzing social and political events such as the “Do not say Gay” bill in Florida, or the negative development of right wing policies in Russia, Hungary, and Poland, the director warns: political leaders do not always want the best for all citizens – and historically not for LGBTIQ+ populations.
“Even though we are experiencing more and more acceptance globally, it is also more and more clear that some people are fighting for the opposite, and some are willing to use violence” he argues. “I’m also getting threats because of this film. Fortunately, none of the young people have received threats. But we train them and prepare them, even though no one should experience threats because they are themselves.”
For those who watch Hello World, the stories of Dina, Runa, Viktor and Joachim make clear how these individuals have come a long way in their process of daring to be openly queer – and therefore themselves.
“It was important to find characters who were confident. Although it is noticeable that they are so much more informed than I ever was as a 13-year-old kid, they still find it difficult to be openly queer,” says Elvebakk. “The world around them may not be ready to receive them with open arms. That is why we still need to defend diversity, and create an environment at all schools that feels safe for everyone.”
Watch films at the DOXA Festival
Films to be streamed at the DOXA Festival will be available from May 5 to May 16 through the website: www.doxafestival.ca. To purchase tickets for Hello World, click here.