Coal-hearted reality: TV series about Store Norske’s last mine keeps it real – and real entertaining, say workers and watchers


Want to a see grizzled old-time coal miner brusquely musing about starting his shift for the “most dangerous job on the planet” while ominous music thumps in the background? Change the channel.


Adrian Ottemoreacts to seeing himself in the new reality TV series “Kompani Spitsbergen” during an advance screening Tuesday at Huset. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Per Nilssen said the makers of a new ten-part reality TV series about some of Svalbard’s last miners wanted to use “most dangerous” characterization and, as with other things that seemed less than real during a shift inside Mine 7, “I put my foot down” during discussions before the final cut.

Demands not to overdramatize might ordinarily be spurned by the producers of plenty of globally-known reality shows whose notoriety includes questions about authenticity. But the Norwegian production company working on the mining series “Kompani Spitsbergen” proved willing to work with their subjects and their parent company that owns the mine.

The result during an advance local screening of the first episode – occurring in a gala-like setting Tuesday evening at Huset – was a show that got plenty of lauds and laughs from “stars” and spectators.

“I would say it was as real as you can get,” said Daniel Olofsson, one of the seven employees that are the primary focus of the series. “They never asked us to stage anything or pretend anything.”

The production company Novemberfilm spent several months following the employees at work and in their personal lives last year for the series scheduled to debut Feb. 27 on TV2. Olofsson, who lost count of the number of hours crews spent filming him, said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he showed up for the screening.

“I was very nervous at first because they followed me around for a long time here,” he said. “A lot of time goes on an you’re not really sure what you’ve said and what you’ve done.”

As might be expected with a debut episode, the roughly 50-minute show served largely as an introduction to the seven people whose lives be featured in varying ways during the next nine episodes. All are shown at work and in various aspects of their home life, whether it be wholesome evenings with family or wild evenings partying with friends.

There are moments of machinery grinding up coal that has fueled Longyearbyen’s economy for more than a century, Nilssen and others reflecting on the fact mining is rapidly being phased out and may have no more than 15 years of life remaining, and various “characters” interacting in moments somber and silly.

Among the first moments for “green helmet” miner Adrian Ottemo, the newest employee who is shown making his first venture inside the mine, is what he describes as “my boss doing his thing where I was being made fun of, but being made fun of in a good way,” prompting an oh-my-god facepalm from him while getting plenty of razzing from friends in the seats next to his.

“I was kind of surprised they chose those,” he said after the screening, referring to that and other personal moments shown.

But Ottemo, who grew up in Longyearbyen and has many family members who worked for Store Norske, said he has no regrets about participating in the show or what he saw on screen.

“I felt like they were getting the reason I was here,” he said.

Ottemo estimates crews spent about 24 hours capturing him on film, mostly at work.

“When I was asked to be in this series I was focused on things I wanted to say, things I wanted to show to Norway,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here,” he said. “I’m just happy to be able to do what those people did.”

The gathering of a few hundred locals at Huset  – which served as a community center for meals and merriment during Longyearbyen’s golden era of mining decades – lasted nearly two hours as the evening also served as a tribute to the contribution of miners to the town’s history and a farewell to departing Store Norske Administrative Director Wenche Ravlo, who is scheduled to depart Friday after spending the past three years leading the company during a crisis that has seen the company constantly teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The time of hardship – and concern about the environmental impact of coal mining – has resulted in considerable interest from the media in terms of articles and documentaries about Store Norske’s last operational coal mine. But Nilssen said he has little interest in cooperating with those seeking to film a reality series until Novemberfilm approached, who he said seemed willing to treaty the subject with more interest in reality and respect instead of drama.