Pitched at the Forum in 2015 and the only feature-length selection in IDFA 2017’s Kids & Docs competition, Tongue Cutters may sound like a horror flick but in fact is anything but. Instead, director Solveig Melkeraaen delivers a funny and heart-warming film about kids working in a Norwegian fishing village during their winter holidays. Yes, the children have to cut out the tongues of cod (for delivery to top restaurant tables across Europe), but it doesn’t take them long to overcome their squeamishness, and they have very a clear idea as to how they will spend their well-earned money at the end of the holiday. Also, any film that includes the Tongue-cutting World Championships is bound to satisfy audiences of all ages.
The action revolves around the relatively experienced cutter Tobias (10) and first-timer Ylva (9). The highly engaging pair work together, play together and talk together – a lot of the time with heart-breaking frankness – about parental separation. Melkeraaen stresses how she filmed the kids at the perfect time, bubbling with life and enthusiasm before entering their more self-conscious and introspective teen years. “It was important for me to shoot when I did, otherwise it would have been too late. They are children, but they also have the language to express themselves and their feelings, so I think it is a perfect age for portraiting them. That is why I would like to make more documentaries with and for children.”
Like the Norwegian IDFA 2016 selection Sealers: One Last Hunt, this is a film with love at its heart (even if the subject is a little grisly). From a director’s perspective, it helped that Melkeraaen is the favourite aunt of one of the stars. “Yes, Ylva is the daughter of my little sister. I watched her a lot when she was small because my sister was doing some studying, so I have a really close relationship to her.” She describes the expressive and energetic Tobias as a “scoop, such a lovely boy”.
Melkeraaen was a tongue cutter herself who grew up in the beautiful northern village of Myra, where most of the action is set. It is where her parents still live (her dad takes Ylva out onto the high seas to catch cod). Many of the adults in the films are people the director knew when she was growing up there. “I have made three films in Myra before and I know where I can get the beautiful and spectacular shots.”