Once Aurora: SheffDoc Festival Review

Once Aurora: SheffDoc Festival Review

Once Aurora: Review

Benjamin Langeland and Stian Servoss’ new documentary, Once Aurora, focuses on the Norwegian pop sensation as she works on her sophomore album while simultaneously touring her debut. This may sound like a fairly straightforward music documentary, but there is actually far more to it than that. 

The film is an unparalleled look at someone trying to figure out who she is, both as a person and as an artist, and trying to keep true to that identity while in an environment in which she is surrounded by people trying to make that decision for her. 

Aurora was thrown into fame at a very young age, when a friend of hers filmed her perform and uploaded the video online. The clip went viral, and Aurora went on to quit school and pursue a career as an artist. Of course, while teenagers may think they know everything, the truth is that nobody really knows who they are at that age, or what exactly they want to get out of life. Now in her early twenties, the film follows Aurora as she comes to terms with this reality, having already made a life-changing decision before she really knew all the answers.

At one point, Aurora says that she isn’t sure if she even wants to be an artist, and it is clear that she struggles with the lifestyle it entails. She is visibly exhausted, both mentally and physically, by the constant touring and recording sessions she is required to do, and the calmest we see her is upon her return home. 

The affection from fans is something she also struggles with, despite clearly appreciating it. Aurora is happy to meet her fans and undoubtedly cares for them much the same, but her internal struggles and anxieties become apparent the moment she walks away. It’s truly an eye-opening look behind the curtain at someone who feels out of place in her own world. 

Another theme running through the course of the picture is that of Aurora’s refusal to relinquish creative control despite being surrounded by people who would gladly take it. Her manager keeps telling her that the album needs more ‘radio hits’, something which she is reluctant to create, and she has a clear disdain for her song Conqueror, which she cries at the thought of performing and admits to hating promote. 

Aurora says that she’ll quit if she has to release another song she doesn’t like, but this doesn’t seem to matter to her team. When she tells her manager she needs somebody who thinks differently, he simply tells her that her refusal to give up creative control is actually part of the problem. Moments like this are genuinely troublesome, precisely because of the relaxed manner in which they occur. 

The team Aurora has surrounded herself with are much older and overwhelmingly male, offering valuable insight into the industry in the post #MeToo era. They see Aurora as being vulnerable and easy to manipulate, and, while the stresses of the job often prove too much for her to handle, one thing she admirably stands by is her music. Her team are pushing her in one direction while she intends to follow another, and the film observes her as she tries her utmost not to get swallowed up the many pressures of the career she’s pursuing. 

The film is well-directed by Langeland and Servoss, with a clever use of close-ups and quick cuts to convey the cluttered and confused nature of the subject’s mind. Langeland is a childhood friend of Aurora’s, and the clear trust she has in him radiates in every frame as she welcomes him into her world and wears her heart on her sleeve. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that the film is far from upsetting or moody, in spite of Aurora’s lost and confused mind. This is because she is simply such a warm and likeable presence, vulnerable and innocent yet talented and strong-willed. It’s hard not to be taken in by her in her struggle to remain in control of her own life, as she wrestles with the blurred lines between Aurora the person and AURORA the star.

Once Aurora is a sobering look into the music industry through the eyes of a young, talented girl trying to find her way in the world amid her label’s attempts to take control. It’s an intimate and revealing picture, brought to life by an extremely watchable and charming central character. This is terrifically engaging viewing, whether you are aware of AURORA or not, and will resonate with millions in the current climate. 

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