BERLIN • Some critics said the movie came out too soon after the massacre and wounds were still raw.
But director Erik Poppe said his latest film is part of the healing process in the aftermath of one of Norway's most horrifying events - the killing of 69 people, many of them teenagers, at a youth camp on the island of Utoya.
U-July 22, premiering at the Berlin film festival, is a retelling of the shootings by a far-right gunman on July 22, 2011.
Filmed on another island close to Utoya, it follows Kaja - a fictional teenager - as she flees for her life through woods, along beaches and in the sea.
The audience sees her desperately searching for her younger sister, comforting a dying teenager and singing to herself as she cowers in fear against a cliff.
Shots ring out but the gunman is only fleetingly visible, from a distance.
Poppe acknowledged that some had complained that his movie had come too soon but young survivors of the attack had told him he should not wait.
"I would say that if it doesn't hurt to watch this movie, then it's too late, so I would say for sure it's hard but it's also a part of the healing process," he said.
"We decided to make fiction for ethical reasons so the parents, sisters and brothers don't need to see and think: Is that my sister or my brother? Is that my daughter?" he said, adding that psychologists had been on location to help actors and residents of the island where it was shot.
"Looking around Europe today, realising neo-fascism is growing day by day, we need to remember what took place out on that island, what right-wing extremism can look like."
Survivor Ingrid Marie Vaag Endrerud said at a news conference the film's story was one many Norwegians found impossible to tell.
"When I try to explain what I experienced, I am only able to tell it from a distance and that's where film and the art of film can tell a story another way that writing or speaking cannot," she added.
"This is pain in its purest form and as society we have to stand against it," she highlighted.
Andrea Berntzen, 19, who plays Kaja, remembers being scared at the news of the massacre when she was 12.
When she heard about the making of the film, she initially felt it was too soon but later changed her mind.
"Reading the script and learning that the focus would be on the youth, the teens on the island, rather the man who has been behind all of this was really important to me," she said.
The gunman was given the maximum sentence of 21 years, but with a "preventive detention" clause that allows for his time in jail to be extended as long as he is deemed a menace to society.
U-July 22 is one of 19 films competing for the Golden and Silver Bears, which will be awarded on Saturday.