In Camilla Strøm Henriksen’s startling first feature, a young girl struggles to keep her family together in the aftermath of a tragedy that forces her to grow up far too quickly. Phoenix is screening as part of LIFF Presents, the year-round programme of specially-selected British and international filmmaking from Leeds International Film Festival.

Caring for her mentally unstable mother Astrid (Maria Bonnevie) and younger brother Bo (Casper Falck-Løvås), teenager Jill (Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin) has acted like the adult in her family. Living together in a small apartment in Oslo, the two children walk a constant tightrope, avoiding anything that could provoke their mother’s volatile behavior. When Astrid lands a job interview at the local art gallery and it seems like the things could be looking up. As Jill works hard to prepare her mother, their estranged father Nils (Sverrir Gudnason) calls to say he’ll visit them on her 14th birthday, just two days away. But when tragedy strikes, Jill decides to bury the truth. Nothing will ruin her birthday - not when it’s a matter of survival for herself and Bo. Featuring a breakout performance from Ylva Bjørkaas, this striking chamber drama marks Norwegian writer-director Camilla Strøm Henriksen as a one to watch.

Director's statement from Camilla Strøm Henriksen:

Phoenix is above all about children who take the role of adults. It’s about the conflict between the responsibility they take, and the unanswered needs they have, as children. It’s about the complex dynamics within a family where the roles are reversed: where the children become the small adults. Growing up, I took the responsibility in my family from an early age. My younger brother and I lived with a mentally unstable mother, whilst our father was absent. My main focus was how to make the family function. Phoenix is also about a mother and a father who fail in their parental roles. What mechanisms are triggered in a child when the parents lose the grip on their life? What happens in the relationship between a teenage daughter with the future ahead of her, and a mother who can’t cope with her existence? Who takes the responsibility for this relationship?

Over the years, while working on the script and then the film, I’ve found that the themes resonate. I think many parents can relate to having put a too heavy burden on their children, perhaps while going through a difficult period. Their children will always be loyal. The main character in Phoenix, Jill, makes an exceptional decision, but her motivation is familiar: Children will often hide the truth about what is going on at home. They will do almost anything to protect their family. Jill takes the responsibility for her own and her brother’s fate, which is a responsibility that’s too much for a young person. In a strange way, she succeeds in this. There is no simple solution to the dilemma that Jill faces. Who takes the responsibility when the parents don’t? Jill makes brave choices, and by doing them, she finds her inner strength. This strength comes at a price. It’s a desperate realisation when Jill understands that they will have to cope without their parents. Phoenix is a tribute to children who are confronted with a harsh reality and meet their fate, brave, and with dignity. It’s also a film about a sibling relationship. The love between Jill and her brother is what will give them the strength to survive. They are not alone.