Norwegian writer and activist Sturla Haugs­gjerds talks drugs and docu­men­ta­ries

Middle school was the last educational qualification Haugsgjerd completed, but that hasn’t stopped his career.

«I was part of one student club,» says Sturla Haugsgjerd and straightens his grey hat. «It was called the heroin-smoking club. We had two members.»

Sturla has become a prominent voice in the Norwegian drug debate. He is a writer, author, and open addict. «When I was younger I wanted to do something more academic; an author or perhaps a director...I came from kind of a unique home,» he says.

His dad was a Communist, Christian Freudian; his mother from a typical working class home. When his parents got divorced, Sturla had a change of heart: he was never going to be an academic. «Then I just thought: fuck school.» He starts singing Pink Floydʼs «Another Brick in the Wall». «We donʼt need no education...»

In his third year of high school, he dropped out of the drama program at Hartvig Nissen VGS (yes, from «Skam»). After a few years working at Rimi grocery store, Peppes Pizza, and as a drug dealer, Sturla applied for Westerdals’ brand new film school. Despite not having a high school diploma, he got accepted. «I sent them a paper and a mood board. And then I talked my way in, like I always do,» he says wryly.

Westerdals at the start of 2000 was something quite different from what it is today, according to Sturla. The teaching quality was low, routines had not yet been worked out, and the technical equipment was slow and tedious. «Film school in Norway at the time was just a bunch of guys in black coats who wanted to make karate movies. Nothing was functioning. It was really frustrating,» he recalls. He describes himself as narcissistic and not a very socially engaged student. Nevertheless, he managed to make a few documentaries.

The biggest distraction for him was heroin. Westerdals was the place where Sturla first discovered the drug, which soon became more important than paying attention in class.

«It was far more fun than school. We sat and smoked whilst dreaming away. After two years I dropped out of Westerdals too, so there was no diploma this time either,» he said.

Sturla then tried attending adult education twice, in two different places in Oslo.

«It was too many Norse sagas too handle», he laughs. [Editor’s note: Norse literature is a big part of the curriculum in Norwegian high school.] «Too many names! I just couldnʼt deal.»

Instead, he received social security benefits for a while, before rediscovering the internet – and with it, the joy of writing.

In 2009 Westerdals wanted Sturla back, and he was headhunted the writing program. By then Sturla had made a name for himself as a writer, and started writing for the magazines Smuglesing and Natt og Dag. He went to Westerdals for a year, but left when he received a job at the TV program «Trygdekontoret», hosted by NRK. Still they wanted him back as a lecturer. «They had heard me lecture about the TV industry before. I guess they thought I had some interesting perspectives,» Sturla says.

Whatʼs your personal experience of higher education?

«I like to be around academics. People with a good general education are often better conversation partners. But we need to get more people in with different mindsets, not solely academic theorists. We have become a society of black-and-white, boringly clever people.»

Sturla calls for more diversity in higher education, and thinks more students should be accepted on the basis of practical tests, and not exclusively on having top grades. He takes a last sip of his red wine, ending our conversation.