By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The trailer for a soon-to-be-finished film that was shot in Youngstown has unleashed waves of criticism in Norway because of its content.
The film, “Utoya Island,” was directed and produced by Russian-born filmmaker Vitaliy Versace of Cleveland, who makes very-low budget films, frequently in the Youngstown area. It is about the July 22 mass murder of 69 children at a Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island in Norway by a gun-toting man who dressed as a police officer.
A 70-second teaser for the film was posted Sept. 24 on YouTube.com. It has elicited threats via letters and emails to Versace’s agent in Los Angeles from people in Norway and other nations. Versace said that police in Norway have sent him a letter noting that he is not breaking any law but asking him to remove the trailer.
As of Saturday night, the trailer was still online and had more than 254,000 views, but it carried a warning posted by Youtube to viewers of its subject matter.
Critics say it’s much too soon to make a film about the tragedy and claim Versace’s film is insensitive.
“It is important to find a way to retell what happened,” Utoya Island survivor Adrian Pracon told mediaite.com. “But seeing it [done in] this way is simply disgusting.”
But Versace said “it’s never too soon for a producer to make a film,” and he refused to remove the trailer.
The film, he said, is now in the editing stage. A premiere screening will be shown somewhere in northeast Ohio in early December. After that, Versace will shop it to film distributors.
“Norwegian officials are normally the first to defend rights to freedom of expression, but in this case, they’re reacting on behalf of Norwegians directly involved in the terrorist attacks of July 22,” wrote Nina Berglund on the “News in English” website of the Norway International Network, explaining the calls to remove the trailer from Youtube.com.
“My reply is no,” said Versace of the request to squelch the trailer and the film. “I spent a lot of money and time, why would I remove it?”
Text in the film trailer reads, “Watch the mind behind the Norway shootings.”
The trailer depicts Anders Behring Breivik, the confessed killer, dressed in a police gear shooting at fleeing, screaming children. It was shot in the Lake Glacier area of Mill Creek Park. Linda Weaver was casting director and lead actors in the film are Michael Bole of Poland and Kevin Glesser of Pittsburgh.
Bole plays the gunman, Breivik, in the film. He said he hasn’t received any complaints, but he expressed regret over the controversy the film has stirred up.
“They are understandably upset, and my heart goes out to all those people in Norway affected by the tragedy,” he said.
Bole, 25, said he hadn’t considered beforehand that the film would draw criticism. “We were just making a movie,” he said. “I never thought many people would see it.
“I feel bad that I made such a difficult time even more difficult for the people in Norway.”
Versace said citizens in Norway have launched an online campaign against him and the movie, and he has been keeping a low profile online since the controversy began. He has not told the foreign journalists who have contacted him exactly where the film was made because of its notoriety.
The film was shot in a few days last month without a script. Versace said he got the idea for the film as he was monitoring BBC news reports of the unfolding tragedy. “I envisioned the chaos in my mind,” he said.
To save time, he improvised the whole movie. “There is no script,” he said. “The actors move based on my direction. We created it on the set, with the story in my head, just a storyline, no script.”
Versace said he believes the controversy will only increase the likelihood of commercial success for “Utoya Island.”
Versace’s most recent film shot in the Mahoning Valley was “The Last Vampire on Earth” (2009).