Norwegian filmmaker Eirik Tveiten’s short film, “Night Ride” (Nattrikken) was never supposed to be a success story, let alone years after its release. It had a tricky production that took place in the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic; it struggled to gain admittance to film festivals after premiering in 2020; it has an eccentric approach to handling the difficult subject of transphobia. All of these factors made “Night Ride” a peculiar pick for awards circles. But against all odds, Tveiten’s film has become one of the most acclaimed live-action narrative shorts of 2022 and the only LGBTQ film to be nominated for an Oscar® in its category.
Much like the film’s success story, the plot of “Night Ride” is unpredictable, if not fortuitous. Ebba (played by Sigrid Kandal Husjord) finds herself stuck in the cold of a December night, a conflict she resolves by doing the only reasonable thing she can: hijacking a tram to drive herself home. For a brief period, the film is happy to follow Ebba as she picks up passengers and learns how to be a conductor.
However, things change when a rowdy male passenger discovers the woman he has been flirting with, Ariel (Ola Hoemsnes Sandum), is trans. The man and his friend then begin berating Ariel with transphobic remarks, forcing Ebba to decide whether she should stick up for a stranger or ignore the situation.
If this setup and social dilemma make “Night Ride” sound like a moralistic fable, that’s because it is. Tveiten’s film may lack the magic of a fairy tale, but his whimsical style, Morten Rognskog’s holiday-inspired score, and Vegard Landsverk’s warm cinematography capture something similar. Tveiten’s boldness in making his point — that people should ultimately stand up for the marginalized like Ariel — completes his film’s fable aesthetic.
That “Night Ride” deals with the sensitive subject of transphobia in such a direct but stylized manner makes its Oscar® nomination all the more special. “Night Ride” producer Heidi Arnesen shared how surprised everyone was about the nomination, considering the film’s difficult beginnings.
“We didn’t know at all that [‘Night Ride’] was going to be such a hit,” Arnesen said. “It was a complete surprise, and it took a while because the film was completed as the pandemic started. Our first festival wasn’t even in person; it was all online. It was kind of a disappointing start, so we had no idea at first. A lot of festivals didn’t accept it, and it was kind of a rocky ride.”
The story of “Night Ride” presented additional challenges during the filming process. In particular, the film being set on a tram created obstacles for the cast and crew.
“It was a challenge to, first of all, get access to a tram,” Arnesen said. “Oslo didn’t want us to use their trams because they didn’t want us to show how easy it is to steal one — they didn’t like that part. Finally, we forged a good relationship with Trondheim and got access to their tram. However, we had to shoot when the tram was not in use, which was at night, so it was a complete night shoot.”
“The tram moves, too,” she continued, “so the whole team had to be on the tram, lined under couches to hide and not be in the frame.”
Regardless of its initial challenges, “Night Ride” enjoyed successful festival appearances from 2020 to 2022, winning awards at four of the seven festivals it was featured in, including Best Narrative Short Film at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
“We put so much work into this film, and to see that it’s finally recognized — and not just recognized but viewed and appreciated by other people — is really gratifying,” Arnesen said. “We worked really hard on trying to get the message across in the film, which can sometimes be difficult without coming across as preachy. So, I think we feel very surprised and delighted.”
As with all films, the reception of “Night Ride” has not been entirely warm, but it is likely to remain divisive. A film that discusses a topic as sensitive as transphobia is bound to leave audiences uncertain. That the story of “Night Ride” is so fortuitous adds to this uncertainty, as it can make the film feel as if it’s more interested in asking audiences what they would do if a stranger were being harassed than addressing transphobia.
However, Arnesen shared that tackling transphobia was important to the film despite its broader themes.
“What [Tveiten] wanted to communicate was, ‘Do you have the courage to stand up if you see someone being harassed?’” Arnesen said. “But I think it was important for us to demonstrate that courage with a trans person. Because I think had it been a cis woman, most women would have immediately related to her. But if it’s someone you know who is a minority and has to take a whole lot of crap from other people, would you stand up or do what’s easier? […] It’s easier for us to look the other way when it’s not someone we particularly relate to. To say something about that […] I think that’s what we’re hoping this film will do.”
Last year was an exceptional one for queer cinema, but the underdog tale of “Night Ride” and its nomination may be queer cinema’s most special story at the Oscars®.