Directors: Stian Servoss, Benjamin Langeland
Words – Rhiannon Topham
I’d never heard of Aurora Aksnes, or AURORA as she’s known to her fans, prior to this documentary. But having spent just over an hour with her (sort of), I now feel like I know her quite well. We’re roughly the same age, but that’s pretty much where the comparisons end – she has the voice of an angel, admirable dedication to her craft, emotional maturity and capacity for inspiring self-reflection, whereas I call myself ‘cultured’ because I sit and write about films using quasi-intellectual language from time to time.
I should be jealous, but I’m not – because despite her timid nature, Aurora works phenomenally hard to perfect her music, not only to satisfy her own creativity but also out of respect for her fans and those who truly understand her vision for her musical output. She stumbled into fame when she was 16 and a video of her performing a song she wrote at school was posted online by a friend and went viral.
Once Aurora chronicles the years following the release of her debut album, ‘All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend’, including a massive world tour, increasing pressure from her management, record company and fans to create her much-anticipated sophomore album, and a stultifying lifestyle that makes her question whether she really wants to be an artist at all.
What’s so laudable, more than Aurora’s ability to stand her ground in a room (and industry) occupied mostly by much older men, is the tenderness with which the filmmakers (Stian Servoss and Benjamin Langeland) handle the dissonance between AURORA the energetic stage persona and Aurora the young woman with, at times, quite extreme bouts of anxiety. Several times we see her backstage after a performance, trembling and struggling to gather her breath. She doesn’t like hugs, but embraces her fans regardless. She doesn’t quite understand how to balance being herself with finding her place in the ruthless music industry. These personal sensitivities are addressed so benevolently and authentically it’s impossible not to identify with the overwhelming sense of being lost somewhere between achievement and disappointment.
Behind the scenes, Aurora, the young feminist who is visibly moved by an all-female drum troupe in Brazil, is on a mission to inspire other women with her celebration of ‘queendom’. For the millions of fans who listen to and enjoy her music, especially her ‘difficult’ second album, her dynamism and philosophy to be true to oneself is as uplifting as it is potent.
Details and tickets for screenings of Once Aurora at Sheffield Doc/Fest are available here: