Imagining Emanuel & Out of Norway

by Thomas Østbye
22.02.21 – 07.03.21

Emanuel was an illegal refugee in Norway whose lack of identity papers prevented him from returning home. This online double feature presents the two award-winning films about Emanuel's kafkaesque battle with Norwegian immigration bureaucracy and his long journey home, made by one of the most original voices in Norwegian documentary film today.

The films are shown in collaboration with Office for Contemporary Art Norway and in connection with their exhibition Actions of Art and Solidarity at Kunstnernes Hus.

About the double feature

Emanuel was an illegal refugee in Norway whose lack of identity papers prevented him from returning home. Thomas Østbye's award-winning Imagining Emanuel (2011) depicts a kafkaesque battle between a refugee and the Norwegian immigration bureaucracy. The prize money gave Emanuel an opportunity to quite literally take his destiny - and camera - in his own hands. In the thought-provoking follow-up Out of Norway (2014), we follow Emanuel on his illegal journey from "the world's wealthiest country" back to war-worn Liberia in search of a new life.

About Imagining Emanuel

Emanuel arrived in Norway in 2003 as a stowaway on a container ship. He arrived with no papers, claiming to be from Liberia and to have fled its civil war in the early 1990s to spend the next decade on the streets of Ghana. But Norwegian authorities suspect he is of Ghanaian origin, and have him sent to Ghana twice, only to have Emanuel rejected and returned to Norway. He is held for a year in a Norwegian detention center, where he is subject to harsh treatment, including being woken several times an hour at night by the guards. Outside of the detention center, he is not permitted to work. For nearly ten years, it remains both illegal for him to stay in Norway and illegal for him to leave. By exploring these contradictions and drawing a portrait of a man, Imagining Emanuel probes the nature of identity itself.

About Out of Norway

After the Norwegian Ministry of Culture's Human Rights Award was awarded to Imagining Emanuel, Emanuel uses the money to buy fake identity papers and smuggle himself out of Norway and back to Liberia in order to start a new life. With a single handheld camcorder, Emanuel films his escape via Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and his eventual return to his home village in Grand Bassa, Liberia, where he hopes to finally build a family and a life. Throughout his journey, Emanuel offers his unique perspective on modern life. Out of Norway is a one-of-a-kind road movie about the great lengths a refugee must go to find his home.

While Emanuel was a walking mystery in Imagining Emanuel, a mischievous and self-reflexive (meta)film which constantly undermined everything we thought we knew, this time we get the story from Emanuel himself.

About the filmmaker

Thomas A. Østbye is a distinctive voice among Norwegian directors. He’s known to combine artistic reflections on the documentary genre with contemporary political dilemmas. He made his mark with formally challenging documentaries like Imagining Emanuel, HUMAN, and In your dreams, which received a dozen art and film awards, was bought by the Arts Council Norway, and screened at venues ranging from the National Broadcasting to the Museum of Modern Art NY. Østbye also makes art installations, photography, interactive film, and runs the production company PlymSerafin. His newest video installation “Enhver har rett til” is a 5-hour documentation of the first climate law suit agains the Norwegian state. It shows at Galleri Høg Standard, March 3-9, 2021 as part of the HUMAN International Documentary Film Festival.

Imagining Emanuel + Out of Norway
Thomas Østbye
1h 37 min (in total)
2011 + 2014
English and Norwegian language with English subtitles
Øystein Mamen, Jon Christian Simensen
Kristine Ann Skaret, Thomas Østbye