Oslo’s Litteraturhuset ('The House of Literature') theatre was packed for the Scandinavian premiere of The 50 Year Argument minutes after its doors opened at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday 10 June. The event took place just three days after its world premiere at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival last weekend.
The 50 Year Argument, directed by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi, pays homage to The New York Review of Books (NYRB) upon the 50th anniversary of its founding during the New York City newspaper strike of 1963.
“When we started the paper, we weren’t seeking to be part of an establishment,” recalls NYRB editor Robert Sivers. “We were seeking quite the opposite; we were seeking to examine the workings and truthfulness of establishments whether political or cultural”. The NYRB has assiduously pursued that goal and now itself is a cultural institution, with a print circulation of 150,000 and subscribers in 120 countries round the world.
The documentary is the seventh collaboration between famed director Martin Scorsese and editor turned director David Tedeschi; the previous two are The Rolling Stones: Shine a Light and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. It’s a cinematic collage of fly-on-the-wall documentary, archive footage and talking-head interviews. The mix is at once an in-depth examination of the dedication and insight of Editor Robert Silvers and his staff and an overview of the events that have marked the five decades since The NYRB was founded.
Professor of Sociology Grete Brochmann, vice-chair of Fritt Ord (“Freedom of Expression”), a private sector, non-profit foundation itself 40 years old this year, opened the Scandinavian premiers. Fritt Ord’s remit is to protect and promote freedom of expression in Norway and to encourage and support public debate. As Ms. Brochmann observed, Fritt Ord does this in part by cooperating with like-minded organisations elsewhere, including The NYRB, with which it has interacted several times over the past ten years.
One of Fritt Ord’s initiatives was a proposal of about ten years ago that a former teacher training college at Wergelandsveien 29, in downtown Oslo across the street from the northeast corner of the Palace grounds, be converted to the country’s first House of Literature. Opened in 2007, the House of Literature is now the country’s foremost venue for public debate and now holds more than 1500 events a year, free to the public and often featured on television.