We’ve just had Oscar night in the US. But sadly, there was no nomination for «Bravest Director.» Here is a nomination.

Ordinarily of course, you would not dare to have a nomination for «bravest director.» The role would be coveted by, and only awarded to, people who made films that made utterly predictable points for whatever the spirit of the age happened to be. A tale of one woman’s battle against disease, set against the backdrop of the anti-slavery movement. The tale of one man’s fight against class prejudice and unequal pay, set against the background of the sinking of the Titanic, and so on.

The word «brave» is so overused in the film industry that it is easy to forget what the word actually means. Here is a suggestion. Bravery is Finn Norgaard. He was the 55-year-old film director who was shot dead in Copenhagen earlier this month by Omar Abdelhamid Hussein. The story of exactly how Finn Norgaard died has only just emerged and has not yet been told. But it needs to be known.

Norgaard was one of the attendees at the eighth meeting of the Lars Vilks Committee in Copenhagen. This organization, put together two years ago, was formed to offer solidarity and an element of normality to Swedish artist Lars Vilks. Certainly, Vilks’s life has been far from normal since 2007, when he did a series of illustrations considered blasphemous by some Muslims, and which led to his inclusion on an al-Qaeda death-list.

The fear and suspicion that Sweden’s cultural elite then demonstrated meant that after 2007, it was basically impossible for Vilks to carry on as an artist: galleries did not want to take his work; newspapers did not want to publish him. Wider Swedish society did not stand by him. And so a small group of Danish media figures came together in 2013 to help turn things around. The committee’s events allow other cultural figures to meet with Vilks, discuss things with him and focus on free-speech matters, including ones not solely concerned with Islam.

Finn Norgaard had attended a number of the Committee’s events, and he was present in the café in Copenhagen earlier this month where the leader of the feminist group, Femen, and one of the organizers of the London-based «Passion for Freedom» art festival were due to speak. The French Ambassador to Denmark had already opened proceedings to express solidarity and support in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity.

In the days immediately after the attack, it was unclear how exactly Norgaard died. One of the organizers of the event — Committee founder Helle Brix — said it was thought that Norgaard had headed out during the first part of the event to make a phone call. When the gunman came into the lobby and started firing, Lars Vilks’ bodyguards returned fire. No one inside the room where the meeting was taking place was hit. Norgaard was the only fatality at the free speech event (although the gunman went on to a Copenhagen synagogue and gunned down 37-year-old Dan Uzan).

In the hours immediately after the café attack, it seemed that Norgaard was just unlucky. He had slipped out of the event briefly, at exactly the wrong moment, and had come face to face with the gunman who shot him dead. But now it seems that the story is not just one of terrible luck but also one of heroism. Those who were at the event said it now seems that as Norgaard went into the lobby, he saw the gunman and tried to stop him. It appears there was some kind of struggle, with the film director struggling to take the gun away from the terrorist. The assassin managed to prevail and shot Norgaard dead. Friends of Norgaard have confirmed that this would have been very much like him, and that he was known to interfere when he saw fights break out.

People inside the café now credit Norgaard with helping to save their lives. If he had not struggled with the terrorist and bought precious extra seconds for the police and others, it is likely that the number of fatalities at the free-speech event would have been far higher, and the effect on Europe’s free-speech battles could have been incalculable. A substantial proportion of the very few people on the very front line of the struggle for freedom of speech in Europe were crammed into that small room. Had the fatalities been higher, the impact on that debate — and the possibility of one day winning it — might well have set it back irreparably.

Finn Norgaard (left) was murdered this month by terrorist Omar Abdelhamid Hussein, as he tried to stop Hussein from shooting up a room filled with free-speech activists in Copenhagen, Denmark. At right, Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who is on an al-Qaeda death-list, was one of the attendees at the meeting that Hussein came to attack

It is so important to call to mind people such as Finn Norgaard. In an industry that likes to pat itself on the back for its supposed bravery, Norgaard lived a life, and died a death, of true bravery. Is it too much to hope that at some point his industry recognizes the real heroes of our time?

Even if they do not, the rest of us can. Norgaard’s family have created a charity in his name and in his honor. I will post the details here when I have them, and would encourage people to contribute. As one friend, whose life Norgaard may well have helped save, said this week, «One of life’s beauties is the extraordinary people you meet from time to time.»




«Bravest Director»: Finn Norgaard

by Douglas Murray
February 25, 2015 at 4:00 am


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