Located in the northern Mountains of Telemark, Rjukan and the surrounding region have been the site of film projects often focused on the 'heavy water' production from WWII and the German's attempt to use that to create an atom bomb.
Examples of film projects include 'Heroes of Telemark' (1964), The Sabateurs (2015) and The Snowman (2016) as well as a recent History Channel 'Hunting for Hitler' epidsode.
Why Rjukan? The landscape is legendary, with thundering waterfalls, a mountain (Gaustatoppen) from where you can see one-sixth of Norway, the Rjukan town valley where the sun disappears for nearly half the year - right next to the high mountain plain 'Hardangervidda' where Star Wars' 'The Empire Strikes Back' was filmed.
Add to this the monstrous hydropower facilities and factories built by Sam Eyde in the early 1900's combined with the lingering secrets of WWII heavy water, and you have the recipe for film and film tourism.
Working with Visit Rjukan, Tinn Kommune and Innovation Norway, the region is building sustainable film business and tourism.
To understand why we know this is possible, you should get to know the Rjukan region, soon.
When Steven Van Zandt first came to Notodden in 2015, he found a unique Blues Festival in a very special place in the mountains of southern Norway. The next year he returned once more, and realized that the history behind the festival and the industrial roots of Notodden was an important story waiting to be told. It was then that Little Steven had the idea for this documentary.
The story of the Notodden Blues Festival is a universal tale of a small working-class town that overcame great obstacles. When the factories closed in 1987, a thousand people were throwed out of work, leaving little to hope for. Rather than give up, 13 young women and men risked everything to create a Blues Festival that now 30 years later is one of the best in the World.
This is a story of not giving up and showing that nothing is impossible.
The 30th anniversary of the Notodden Blues Festival broke all records, with 25,000 tickets sold and 40,000 visitors to the different concerts and events. A great success, setting the stage for 'Bluestown Rising'
With Steven as Executive Producer, David and Bluestown Rising Inc. is building a professional film team to tell all the compelling tale of how the Blues saved the town of Notodden.
In March 2015, David sat with Espen Fjelle (Director of the European Blues Centre) in a coffee shop in Oslo.
Espen knew that David was working with Little Steven, and that the show 'Lilyhammer' was ending its 3-year run that Steven Van Zandt would soon be leaving the country. Had Norway seen the last of him?
So Espen asked, "Can you ask Little Steven to come to the Notodden Blues Festival?"
Steven did come to the Festival in 2015, then returned again in 2016 to found the 'Little Steven's Blues School' and again in 2017 to perform with his Disciples of Soul and to continue with the 'Bluestown Rising' documentary.
As part of the Notodden Blues Festival team, David contributed to an event that broke all records with 25,000 tickets sold and 40,000 visitors to the different events.
Now to the future - the Bluestown Rising documentary is being developed, and Little Steven's Blues School is maturing. And of course, the continued efforts of the many hundreds of volunteers and staff that have made this festival one of the most respected in the world are already looking forward to 2018.
Steven Van Zandt has often said that Norwegian culture has more talent per person than anywhere else he has ever been, but that 'janteloven' (no one can be better than anyone else) has held back creativity. We want to do our part to change that.
When Steven first came to Notodden in 2015, he was the guest at the Festival Band Camp that has been staged every year since 1989. Amazed at the talent, he suggested expanding the school and teaching blues in the the educational process.
Little Stevens Blues School (LSBS) started up in 2016, and this year's edition saw two age groups (13 -18 / 19 -26) going deeper in the Blues - a great start point to go to any musical genre. One highlight was the national broadcast in prime time of one of the bands created as part of school and a visit from the Prime Minister.
The latest development has been the beginning of a collaboration with the University of Southeast Norway, taking the first steps to create Master Classes for the Blues, working together with the Europa Blues Center and Steven's Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.
David works with Steven, coordinating with both the European Blues Centre and the Festival to make sure that all goes according to plan - to create a blues school where young people can develop their talents all year round.
The Juke Joint Studio is an original vintage analogue studio located at the Bok and Blueshuset by the Heddal Lake in Notodden.
The Juke Joint Studio has its roots in the famous Stax Studio in Memphis the legendary studio “born” in the cradle of the Mississippi at Memphis with Stax Records. where Elvis, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett and many others created much of their legacies.
When the Stax Studio went bankrupt in the mid-70's, the Audiotronic 501 soundboard embarked on a journey that would take it first to the grunge scene in Washington in the early 1990's and then finally to this idyllic mountain village of Notodden.
The Juke Joint is the popular recording choice for many artists, but more should know about this seldom found treasure.
But the Juke Joint Studio is open for everyone, also to you who want to experience being a recording star for a day.
We invite companies and organizations to Notodden for a 'creative kickoff' with meetings, a dinner...and an afternoon in the Juke Joint. Great team building. We supply any musicians you need, and of course the studio engineer.
Look for the launch of a new Juke Joint / Blues Museum website in September.
The Lillehammer International School of Music Production and Industry (LIMPI) is the brainchild of Magnus Beite. This one-year school for elite music and music industry talents is in full development, now having received full accreditation from NOKUT.
Magnus is a well-known film composer, and together with Svein Berg-Svendsen the creators of The Lipp, Norways only world-class Post Production sound studio.
David assisted LIMPI in the initial funding and startup phase, and is continuing to coordinate with the Lillehammer-based team as the institue develops that focuses on each individual student's education and experience, matching the needs of the music industry.
LIMPI intends to provide the "Portal", the smooth transition for each student from a school environment to the Music Industry and a sustainable and sucessful career.
LIMPI's unique method of bringing students with diverse talents and backgrounds within all aspects of the music business will reflect the real life situation experienced in the workplace.
The result of the Limpi Concept will be that students are better prepared to meet industry needs - and realize their own personal goals.
This non-profit initiative founded in 2013 by Steven Van Zandt, David John Smith and Lillehammer Olympiapark was established with the goal of promoting music, film and culture in the Lillehammer Region.
The first major project was the development of a "TV Drama Week", an annual meeting place for the major players in the new streaming industry (Netflix, HBO, Showtime etc.), and event that would celebrate TV Drama as the dominant, most prestigious, and most profitable art form in the entertainment world, bringing together production, technology, creativity – a future vision.
While the full scope of the TV Drama Week did not come off as planned, there have been a number of positive spinoffs including seminars and workshops, with Lillehammer Foundation for the Arts activities now integrated into cultural, film and musical activities at the Lillehammer Campus at the University of Innland Norway.
Since becoming a Disc Jockey at WCCB in Western Pennsylvania during the college years, David has enjoyed being behind the microphone, including stints with Radio 1 in Oslo and also Radio Lillehammer as well as NRK and other voiceovers.
The above photo is from the popular 1991 - 94 'American Pie' weekly radio show with Morten Brusletto as co-host.