Scandinavian Film Festival LA #SFFLA 2020 Coming Soon to a Theater Near You!

The 21st annual Scandinavian Film Festival LA returns to the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills the first two weekends of January. Start the new year with “top films from the top of Europe.” Despite its name, the scope of the festival actually extends beyond Scandinavia. Besides films from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, you can view films from the Nordic countries of Iceland and Finland as well as Baltic neighbors Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

A highlight of the festival is the opportunity to see all the Nordic and Baltic countries’ submissions for the upcoming Oscars 2020’s International Feature Film category (formerly known as Foreign Language Film). (However, only Estonia’s selection made it to the shortlist of ten.)

  • NorwayOut Stealing Horses by Hans Petter Moland
  • SwedenAnd Then We Danced by Levan Akin
  • DenmarkQueen of Hearts by May el-Toukhy
  • IcelandA White, White Day by Hlynur Pálmason
  • FinlandStupid Young Heart by Selma Vilhunen
  • LatviaThe Mover by Dāvis Sīmanis Jr.
  • EstoniaTruth and Justice by Tanel Toom
  • LithuaniaBridges of Time by Kristine Briede, Audrius Stonys

On Saturday, January 4, at 6:00 p.m., join other film enthusiasts at the Opening Gala for drinks and a Scandinavian buffet meal. Gala tickets (a great deal at only $40 each) also include Opening Ceremonies at 7:15 p.m. and the screening of Norway’s only feature film selection at the festival, Out Stealing Horses, at 7:30 p.m. Buy your gala tickets now!

Below you’ll find a list of films by country. Descriptions are taken from the festival’s website, where you can also find a chronological schedule. Consider purchasing a SFFLA Festival Passport which allows admission to all screenings and the Opening Gala (available for $140), or you can buy tickets for individual films for $12 each online or at the door. Please confirm the schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published. Hope to see you there!


* NORWAY *

Out Stealing Horses (Ut og stjæle hester)

  • Feature Film by Hans Petter Moland (2019)
  • Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Per Petterson
  • Saturday, January 4, 7:30 p.m. (123 min)
  • https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7319496/

67-year-old widower Trond Sander (Skarsgård) transitions to a lonely retirement in the breathtaking but desolate landscape of eastern Norway. As winter arrives, he finds a neighbor who he once knew during the summer of 1948. Trond reflects back on that bucolic and childhood summer, the last one he spent with his father as they rode wild horses and chopped wood.

The Tent (Teltet)

A dysfunctional family of four is going camping, and poor communications skills make it a struggle to cooperate when trying to put up a complicated tent. The kids are reacting badly to the increasingly uncomfortable tension, as an underlying conflict between the two parents is slowly forced to the surface – and a shocking secret is finally revealed.


* SWEDEN *

And Then We Danced

A passionate tale of love and liberation set amidst the ultraconservative confines of modern Georgian society, And Then We Danced follows Merab, a devoted dancer who has been training for years with his partner Mary for a spot in the National Georgian Ensemble. The arrival of another male dancer, Irakli, gifted with perfect form and equipped with a rebellious streak, throws Merab off balance, sparking both an intense rivalry and romantic desire that may cause him to risk his future in dance as well as his relationships with Mary and his family.

The Unpromised Land (Till drömmarnas land)

Sabina has traveled from Romania to the small Swedish town Holmsund with her Roma brothers. They work in a garage and Sabina is looking for a job. Elin, born and raised in Holmsund, is in the church singing at the graduation ceremony. A summer is about to start and Sabina will get to know Elin. Together they will revolt against the old ways and find something new in each other. At the same time the society around them collapses in fear and Elin’s dad becomes insane by sorrow. Because there is a madness in the Swedish idyll.

Se7en Dayz till Payoff

An arrogant working actor of low budget horrors hears about a recurring role as a homeless person on an Emmy nominated cop show that he badly wants to land. His agent is against it, but challenges the actor that if he could show him that he could be homeless for seven days, he’ll get him an audition.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjöld. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime with even farther reaching consequences.

Greta’s Bed and Breakfast

A successful business woman living in New York decides to go back to her home country Sweden after many years to support her best friend who is newly divorced. They make a trip together to a magical place where they meet odd people that change their lives forever.

King of Atlantis (Kungen av Atlantis)

When a young man who takes care of his schizophrenic father meets a young woman he tries to break free from his father to live his own life.


* DENMARK *

Ida

Set in Poland in 1962, it is about a young woman on the verge of taking vows as a Catholic nun. Orphaned as an infant during the German occupation of World War II, she must now meet her aunt. The former Communist state prosecutor and only surviving relative tells her that her parents were Jewish. The two women embark on a road trip into the Polish countryside to learn the fate of their family.

Collision (Kollision)

A married couple, Leo and Olivia, are facing a crisis in their marriage. Their nine-year old daughter, Liv, becomes a messenger between her mother and father. The film explores the break-up of a family and the decisions parents make in trying to find meaning and hope when everything is falling apart.

Confirmation (Konfirmanden)

It’s the big day of Mathias’ confirmation. The Danish tradition where young people say yes to being a Christian and enters adulthood. Mathias is transgender and just wants to be a normal teenage boy. His mother does everything to protect him, but who is this day really about?

Queen of Hearts (Dronningen)

Anne, a successful lawyer and doting mother, places both her family and career at risk when she becomes involved with her teenage stepson.

The Dead Soldier

In Afghanistan, the Danish soldier Jacob Panton is shot five times by a sniper, is hit by a grenade and dies in the operation room. Miraculously he is brought back to life and survives the attack from the Taliban that occurred during his very last patrol. Back in Denmark a long and hard struggle awaits Jacob, his wife Charlotte and their daughter Dina. The former tank commander’s injuries are so severe that it is impossible for him to return to the army. Jacob struggles with a feeling of identity loss and is frustrated with the public treatment of injured soldiers. He slowly starts to find a new purpose in life by helping other war veterans get a tolerable existence.

Before the Frost (Før frosten)

For years, Jens has been fighting to survive on a harsh, unyielding piece of land. The family’s decline in fortune is deeply felt and underscored by the local burghers. The parish priest humiliates them by moving them further back in the church, and Jens is now being targeted by Gustav, a wealthy Swede looking to expand his holdings. With winter coming, Jens must choose between marrying off his beloved daughter or losing his family’s only means of survival.

Daniel (Ser du månen Daniel)

The story of Danish photographer Daniel Rye, who was captured by ISIS in Syria in 2013 and held hostage for 398 days.


* ICELAND *

Little Moscow (Litla Moskva)

During the Cold War, Iceland was part of the West. They became a member of NATO and the United States operated a military base there. Center right coalitions ran the national government and municipalities all across the country, with one exception: In Neskaupstadur, a town of 1,500 people in the east of the country, socialists ran the show. They came to power in 1946 and maintained control for 52 years.

A White, White Day (Hvítur, hvítur dagur)

In a remote Icelandic town, an off duty police chief begins to suspect a local man for having had an affair with his wife, who recently died in a car accident. Gradually his obsession for finding out the truth accumulates and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones. A story of grief, revenge and unconditional love.


* FINLAND *

Stupid Young Heart (Hölmö nuori sydän)

An edgy, warm, and raw drama about the first love between the skinny and carefree Lenni and the gorgeous and popular Kiira. Not yet in a relationship, nor out of high school, they discover that they are expecting a baby. Lenni has nine months to become a man. Having grown up without a father figure, Lenni finds longed-for adult attention and guidance from an unlikely friend Janne, a member of a right wing group that has recently moved into Lenni’s diverse neighbourhood. After taking part in a scrambled attack on a local Mosque, while Kiira is rushed to the hospital to give birth, Lenni realises that he must learn to be a man in his own way, even though he never had a chance to be a child himself.

Project Rockin’ High

The Finnish heavy metal band Ancara wishes to enter the Guinness Book of Records by organizing a rock concert in the mountains, and in order to obtain global coverage, they decide to try and reach Everest Base Camp. However, from the moment they make this decision, everything will start to go wrong and all the contradictions of a crazy and visionary project will begin to emerge.

Maria’s Paradise (Marian Paratiisi)

The orphan Salome is the servant and devout follower of Maria Åkerblom, a charismatic sect leader. But as Salome befriends a rebellious outsider and starts to have doubts, Maria turns dangerous.

Someone, Somewhere

A tragicomedy set in the true Hollywood where the only spotlight is a malfunctioning streetlight, and the people least likely to make it are the most likely to give everything they got — for a chance to get a shot.


* BALTIC COUNTRIES *

Immortal (Surematu)

Russian documentary filmmaker Ksenia Okhapkina’s essay portrait looks at the strict order that governs life in a small industrial city in Russia. With her talent for visual composition and perceptiveness regarding local events, she puts together an audiovisual collage of seemingly minor details that enable us to observe a society bound by the regime and political power. Scenes of young girls learning about discipline at ballet school or adolescent boys training for the army are eloquent examples of citizen indoctrination, but the filmmaker avoids psychologizing the participants. Instead she portrays the dangerous ideology without excessive words or narration, thus perfectly capturing its furtive omnipresence and inconspicuousness.

The Mover (Tēvs Nakts)

Based on the true story of Zanis Lipke, a working-class man who worked in German military warehouses during the wartime Nazi occupation of Latvia and as a smuggler of human beings at night, The Mover has been dubbed Latvia’s Schindler’s List.

Journey Home (Kelionés namo)

An upbeat memoir, never before presented in cinema, recounting the unexpected first encounters of American-Lithuanians who traveled back to their Soviet-occupied homeland after WWII. During the war, the heroes of the film were forced to leave Lithuania and became displaced persons (DPs). Their nostalgia created somewhat naïve images of their homeland. Yet when allowed to travel to Soviet Lithuania in the late ‘60s and 70’s, they were confronted with a different reality! This account of returning to their homeland reveals the hope and spirit of the pre-occupation era, the intersection of two different civilizations, colorful heroes and their unique experiences.

Bridges of Time

A documentary about the “Baltic New Wave”, avant-garde filmmakers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during the 1960s.

Truth and Justice (Tõde ja õigus)

  • Feature Film from Estonia by Tanel Toom (2019)
  • On Shortlist for Oscars 2020 Best International Feature Film
  • Sunday, January 12, 1:30 p.m. (149 min)
  • https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5593384/

Estonia, 1870. Young and staunch Andres along with his wife Krõõt arrive at a farm bought on a loan to establish their new life. Desolate and neglected between the marshes, Robber’s Rise must be transformed into a place that will take care of the family. All they have to do is to break the resistance of the barren land, make his neighbour cooperate, and raise an heir – a son to inherit his father’s life’s work. But when nature refuses to bend, the neighbour turns out to be a roughneck rival, and Krõõt keeps giving birth to daughters, Andres struggles to find the right way. In his desperate search for truth and justice – from the court, the tavern and the Bible, he sacrifices his family, his friends and eventually himself. The beautiful dream of prosperous and nurturing Robber’s Rise gives way to an obsession, resulting in none of the things Andres wanted and everything he was afraid of.


What festival films look interesting to you?

Norway’s Out Stealing Horses is on the top of my list to see. Many others look interesting, but I’m especially intrigued by Iceland’s A White, White Day; Sweden’s The Unpromised Land; and Estonia’s Truth and Justice. What festival films look interesting to you?

A note to Scandi film enthusiasts, this year the festival needs your help more than ever. One of its major funding sources wasn’t available. Please consider helping make up the difference by making a tax-deductible donation. All contributions small and large are welcome. You may donate online or send a check to ASFLA/SFFLA, 3445 Winslow Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90026 (see SFFLA donor brochure). Your contribution is much appreciated!

December 2019: Los Angeles Culture Challenge (Bonus: Norwegian Christmas Series on Netflix!)

December offers many special seasonal events which highlight the diverse richness of Los Angeles! Which will you put on your calendar?

The season of Scandinavian Christmas fairs wraps up this weekend with SWEA Los Angeles’ 41st Annual Swedish Christmas Fair on Sunday, December 8, in Torrance. It’s a big one that welcomes about 3,000 visitors during the one-day event. Highlights of the fair include a multitude of vendors selling Scandinavian gifts, books, music, handmade crafts, traditional holiday foods, and baked goods as well as traditional entertainment with folk dancing and Lucia pageants.

While on the topic of Scandinavian Christmas, I’d like to give you a heads-up about a Norwegian Christmas series just added to Netflix. Home for Christmas (Hjem til jul) is a 6-episode romantic comedy series about Johanne, a 30-year-old woman who is tired of the constant reminders of her single status and suddenly finds herself on a quest to find a boyfriend in time to bring home for Christmas. It takes place in a quaint little Norwegian town (filmed in Røros, Norway) and can be watched in Norwegian with English sub-titles or dubbed in English. Two episodes in I’m really enjoying it, especially the Norwegian winter setting and the diverse characters.

And finally, so you can plan ahead, one of my favorite Scandinavian events returns next month. The Scandinavian Film Festival LA opens the weekend of January 4 & 5 in Beverly Hills and continues the weekend of January 11 & 12. The schedule will be posted soon.

How will you explore the richness of Los Angeles this month?

* SPECIAL REPEATING EVENTS IN DECEMBER *

Las Posadas at Olvera Street, El Pueblo Historical Monument, Downtown LA, Monday, 12/16 – Tuesday, 12/24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Las Posadas has been a part of Olvera Street since its founding in 1930. Every evening beginning December 16 and continuing through Christmas Eve, the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem is reenacted with traditional songs, colorful costumes, and vibrant music. Festivities begin with a children’s piñata breaking. Free sweet bread and champurrado are given to all in attendance afterwards. While the event is rooted in Christian and Catholic traditions, it is attended by people from all religious backgrounds, and all are welcome to participate.

DTLA Holiday Lights Walking Tour, Meeting Point: Union Station, Downtown LA, Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays, & Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. until December 26. Explore the richness of Downtown LA with the annual DTLA Holiday Lights Tour offered by DTLA Walking Tours. It is a two-hour evening tour of the festive holiday decorations and traditions in Downtown LA. The tour begins at Union Station and highlights include Las Posadas at Olvera Street, Grand Park with its illuminated fountain and Winter Glow (a month-long immersive nighttime art experience), Walt Disney Concert Hall, Broad Museum, and Pershing Square festivities. Adults $20, children ages 5-12 $5, and children 4 and under free. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit website.

Ice Breakers, Ice at Santa Monica, Downtown Santa Monica, Sundays, until January 19. This holiday season take advantage of Ice Breakers, a family-friendly live music series every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 7 & 8 *

Undiscovered Chinatown Walking Tour, Chinatown, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/7, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Visit a temple, an herbal shop, art galleries, antique stores, and more! The 2 1/2 hour walking tour will take visitors to a number of off-the-beaten-track points of interest and will guide those interested in shopping to some of Chinatown’s best bargains and its trendiest shops. Wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to wind your way through a myriad of alleyways, plaza stalls, and classical courtyards to discover the charm of L.A’s Chinatown. (Offered every first Saturday of the month).

CicLAvia: The Valley, Sunday, 12/8, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Discover Sherman Way from Canoga Park through Winnetka and into Reseda as CicLAvia offers an entirely new, 5-mile stretch of open streets. You will find a Volta Cirque du Soleil photo booth, LA Kings hockey clinics, music performances, family-friendly games, food trucks and dozens of other activities along the route. Bike, skate, run, walk, skateboard, and enjoy the route however you want.

Ancient Cycladic Civilization: Clay Figurines (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 12/8, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Experience inspiring, innovative workshops that enrich lives and teach basic visual art skills with highly qualified artist-educators. Each workshop focuses on a global culture, and different media are explored weekly including painting, textile art, printmaking, clay, sculpture, collage, and 3D constructions. Many of the projects celebrate holidays of the diverse community in LA. The program is open to all ages, including children, families, and adults.

41st Annual Swedish Christmas Fair, Torrance Cultural Arts Center, Torrance, Sunday, 12/8, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The fair features artisans and stands presenting the best of Swedish fine art, handicraft, books, jewelry, toys, decorations, and much more. Enjoy a traditional Swedish lunch or “fika” (coffee break) with delicious home baked sweets. You can even enjoy an invigorating glass of hot glögg (mulled wine). The radiant Lucia Pageant is performed twice during the day, at noon and at 3pm. There’s also a children’s corner with crafts, games, and a possible visit with Santa.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 14 & 15 *

England: Toy Theater (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 12/15, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Experience inspiring, innovative workshops that enrich lives and teach basic visual art skills with highly qualified artist-educators. Each workshop focuses on a global culture, and different media are explored weekly including painting, textile art, printmaking, clay, sculpture, collage, and 3D constructions. Many of the projects celebrate holidays of the diverse community in LA.

Hanukkah Festival, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, Sunday, 12/15, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Celebrate the Jewish festival of lights, while enjoying music, dance, storytelling, art making, and tasty treats. Get in the holiday spirit with musical performances by Klezmer Juice, hear classic Hanukkah tunes and folk music by fiddler and accordionist duo Zingarella, and be dazzled by capoeira performed by Dana Maman and Friends. Take a little bit of the festival home with you by creating a one-of-a-kind art project or making a delicious treat with Maite Gomez-Rejón (ArtBites). Be inspired as Noah’s Ark storytellers recount the age-old tale of Hanukkah in both English and Spanish, and join a special Hanukkah sing-along. Then listen to author Alan Silberberg read his book Meet the Latkes.

CAAM Makers Fest – Winter 2019, California African American Museum, Exposition Park, Sunday, 12/15, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. Let your creativity flow at this all-ages affair featuring maker stations led by local artists. Learn from the pros of our community, including Nneka Gigi, who will lead a workshop embellishing clothing with retro cartoons; J. Mack, who teaches how to create music shakers from recycled materials; and Wayne Perry, who will demonstrate how to create relief portraits. Take home several creative treasures! No prior art experience necessary; art materials provided.

Las Posadas Festival, Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, Sunday, 12/15, 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. Experience a traditional Mexican Christmas re-enactment of the story of Mary and Joseph as they seek shelter for the birth of the Baby Jesus at an inn (posada). There will be face painting, art projects and Mexican hot chocolate and pan dulce. Enjoy performances by Rhythmo Mariachi Kids, Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center, and Folklorico RaÍces de Mexico.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 21 & 22 *

Las Posadas at Olvera Street, El Pueblo Historical Monument, Downtown LA, Monday, 12/16 – Tuesday, 12/24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Las Posadas has been a part of Olvera Street since its founding in 1930. Every evening beginning December 16 and continuing through Christmas Eve, the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem is reenacted with traditional songs, colorful costumes, and vibrant music. Festivities begin with a children’s piñata breaking. Free sweet bread and champurrado are given to all in attendance afterwards. While the event is rooted in Christian and Catholic traditions, it is attended by people from all religious backgrounds, and all are welcome to participate.

Holiday Cards: Print-Making (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 12/22, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Experience inspiring, innovative workshops that enrich lives and teach basic visual art skills with highly qualified artist-educators. Each workshop focuses on a global culture, and different media are explored weekly including painting, textile art, printmaking, clay, sculpture, collage, and 3D constructions. Many of the projects celebrate holidays of the diverse community in LA.

60th Annual LA County Holiday Celebration, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, Downtown LA, Tuesday, 12/24, 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Community and professional choirs, music ensembles, and dance companies representing the diverse cultures and holiday traditions of the region celebrate the season during this free three-hour holiday show. Doors open at 2:30 p.m. First come, first seated. People begin lining up early. The show is also broadcast live in Southern California on PBS SoCal (KOCE) and live streamed on pbssocal.org.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 28 & 29 *

W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine, Annenberg Space for Photography, Century City, on view until December 29. This is the closing weekend for this exhibit that examines the historical use and artistic treatment of walls over centuries. Across diverse civilizations, walls have been central to human history, from Hadrian’s Wall to the current debate over the U.S./Mexico border.

Feel free to add events for the current month in the comments below. If you have suggestions about future events and celebrations to include in upcoming months, please email the details. Thank you!

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2019: One Weekend Down, One to Go

Long time subscribers to my blog will know that the Scandinavian Film Festival LA is one of my favorite annual Scandinavian events in the Los Angeles area. This year the festival opened the first weekend in January and it continues this coming weekend, January 19 and 20, in Beverly Hills. The first weekend did not disappoint, and the second looks to be promising as well.

This year the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary. A full house of Nordic film enthusiasts was at the Opening Gala on Saturday evening of the first weekend to celebrate this milestone. Along with a buffet of favorite Scandinavian foods, the festivities included a champagne toast and delicious Princess Cake from Copenhagen Pastry at the end of the evening.

Compared to other film festivals, this is a small one. But it’s very welcoming and friendly. Many festival goers come for multiple screenings. They hang out in the lobby between films. They chat and enjoy food from the Nordic Café, the best part of which is the pastries from none other than Copenhagen Pastry.

Last year I volunteered for the first time and I did so again this year because it was such a fun and rewarding experience. The festival is basically a family-run operation with Jim Koenig as head of the festival and his sister Flo Niermann in charge of ticket sales and volunteers. And they are so grateful for their volunteers.

During the first weekend I saw four films: Sweden’s Border, Denmark’s The Guilty, Iceland’s Woman at War, and Norway’s The 12th Man. I would have seen a fifth, Norway’s What Would People Say, if I hadn’t already seen it (highly recommend it, read more at What Will People Say by Iram Haq: An #OwnVoices Immigrant Story from Norway).

My absolute favorite of the weekend was Iceland’s Woman at War directed by Benedikt Erlingsson. I highly recommend it. Go watch it when it opens in theaters March 1. It’s about a single woman in her fifties who’s an ardent environmentalist intent on sabotaging Iceland’s aluminum industry. She’s independent, bold, and strong — my favorite type of female protagonist. Then suddenly, she receives the unexpected news that she’s been approved to adopt a girl from the Ukraine and she has to rethink her actions. Viewers get glimpses of Iceland’s beautiful landscape. There’s an interesting musical aspect that adds a surreal and humorous touch. The actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is wonderful. (This movie was the winner of Nordic Council Film Prize in 2018.)

I also very much enjoyed Denmark’s thriller/drama The Guilty directed by Gustav Möller. It’s about a police officer who’s been demoted to work as an emergency dispatcher. He expects nothing more than a boring evening answering calls from drunks and druggies. However, he gets a phone call from a woman who’s been kidnapped and so begins a desperate search from his desk for the woman. It is extremely suspenseful with interesting twists. At the same time, viewers wonder and learn more about the officer’s demotion. The lead actor, Jakob Cedergren, is perfect for the role which is good because the whole movie is focused on him.

As a festival bonus, director/writer Gustav Möller and producer Lina Flint were at the screening and answered questions afterward. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse behind the scenes of a movie, and their story as friends from film school in Denmark was a great one. Find out if there’s a showtime near you or watch it at home. Interestingly, there will be an American remake of The Guilty with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead so see the original before that comes out.

Sweden’s Border directed by Alli Abbas was not at all what I was expecting. I did not do my research properly and went in blindly. I was expecting something realistic about border issues, which was not at all the case. I later saw the movie described as a “dark romantic fantasy fable.” Had I known this, I may have enjoyed it more since my expectations would have been different.

It’s about Tina, a customs officer who uses her extraordinary sense of smell to identify people who are smuggling. She also has an extreme connection to the natural world. One day when traveler Vore walks past, Tina senses something suspicious about him but nothing is found. However, an attraction develops between them, and when Tina begins to develop a relationship with Vore, she discovers his true identity and also learns the truth about herself.

I wrapped up the first weekend with Norway’s The 12th Man directed by Harald Zwart. I brought my family along to this film since I had previously seen it at a special screening at The Museum of Tolerance and thought it was an amazing World War II story of survival, will to live, and kindness to others despite tremendous risk. The movie is based on the true story of Norwegian resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud who was the only one of 12 Norwegian resistance fighters on a mission from Shetland to sabotage Nazi activity in Northern Norway to escape when they were discovered by Nazis. It chronicles his journey towards neutral Sweden which would not have been possible without the kindness and help of locals who risked their own lives.

It turns out my family was not as enthralled with the movie as I was. They thought there was too much brutality (Germans against captured Norwegians), too much gruesomeness (German torture of captured Norwegians and Jan’s physical condition throughout his journey), and too much repetition of plot elements. I thought it was important for my kids to see the local Norwegian resistance in action as both my grandfathers had been a part of it before one escaped to Sweden and the other was sent to a camp in Germany. Also, the Norwegian landscape was beautiful and I loved the unexpected glimpse into Sami culture.

This coming weekend I will see Utøya – July 22 directed by Erik Poppe, a film about a teenage girl who struggles to survive and to find her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya. I expect it to be a difficult film to watch considering the subject matter. I have read Åsne Seierstad’s non-fiction book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath so at least I won’t be totally surprised by the scale of terror and horror.

I have not yet decided on which other films to see during the upcoming weekend. It will depend on when I’m there as a volunteer. Estonia’s Take It or Leave It, Sweden’s The Cake General, Denmark’s Becoming Astrid, and Finland’s One Last Deal all look interesting (see schedule). I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about the festival if you’ve been or plan to go.

20th Anniversary of Scandinavian Film Festival LA: A Preview of #SFFLA 2019

Is one of your new year’s resolutions to broaden your horizons by seeing and reading more foreign movies and books? You can start making progress on that goal the first weekend of the new year by attending the annual Scandinavian Film Festival Los Angeles (SFFLA) in Beverly Hills. It takes place the weekends of January 5 & 6 and 19 & 20. Join SFFLA as they celebrate their 20th anniversary this year!

Despite its name, the scope of the festival actually extends beyond Scandinavia. Besides films from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, you can view films from the Nordic countries Iceland and Finland as well as Baltic neighbors Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Once again this year, you will have the opportunity to see all the Nordic and Baltic countries’ submissions for Best Foreign Language Film for the upcoming 91st Academy Awards (although only Denmark’s selection made it to the shortlist):

  • Norway – What Will People Say by Iram Haq
  • Sweden – Border by Ali Abbasi
  • Denmark – The Guilty by Gustav Möller
  • Iceland – Woman at War by Benedikt Erlingsson
  • Finland – Euthanizer by Teemu Nikki
  • Latvia – To Be Continued by Ivars Seleckis
  • Estonia – Take It or Leave It by Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo
  • Lithuania – Wonderful Losers: A Different World by Arūnas Matelis

At the SFFLA Opening Gala on Saturday, January 5, at 5:30 p.m., you can enjoy drinks and a buffet meal with other Scandi film enthusiasts. Gala tickets (a great deal at only $40 each!) also include Opening Ceremonies at 7:15 p.m. and the screening of Denmark’s feature film The Guilty at 7:30 p.m. as well as a Q&A with director Gustav Möller. Buy your gala tickets now!

Below you’ll find a list of films by country. Descriptions are taken from the festival’s website. You can also view and download a chronological schedule. SFFLA Festival Passports which allow admission to all screenings and Opening Gala are available for $140, or you can buy tickets for individual films for $12 each online or at the door. Please confirm schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published. Hope to see you there!


* NORWAY *

What Will People Say (Hva vil folk si)

  • Feature Film by Iram Haq (2017)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/6, 3:00 p.m. (106 minutes)

Sixteen-year-old Nisha lives a double life. When out with her friends, she’s a normal Norwegian teenager. At home with her family, she is the perfect Pakistani daughter. But when her father catches her alone with her boyfriend in her room, Nisha’s two worlds brutally collide.

Morgen

  • Short Film by Knut Erik Jensen (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/6, 7:00 p.m. (15 min)

It can seem like we are living on the edge of the world. But one morning 200,000 soldiers march into our arctic landscape. Four years later they stumble out leaving everything in ruins. As if nothing has happened. What in human nature triggers violent acts of war, thousands of miles into the wild? Can it happen again? As the ice melts?

The 12th Man (Den 12. mann)

  • Feature Film by Harald Zwart (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/6, 7:30 p.m. (135 min)

True World War II story about Jan Baalsrud, one of the 12 saboteurs sent in 1943 from England to the Nazi occupied Northern Norway. After their boat is sunk by the Germans, the Nazis killed 11 of them. The 12th man, Jan, goes on the run towards the neutral Sweden. However, the brutal weather conditions turn out to be an even greater foe than the Nazi patrols.

The Green Valley

  • Short Film by Ellen Ugelstad (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/20, 4:30 p.m. (24 min)

The Green Valley is a short film that explores the connection between politics, art and daily life in a multicultural neighborhood in Oslo. The film is inspired by three real events that took place in the director’s neighborhood.

Utøya – July 22 (Utøya 22. juli)

  • Feature Film by Erik Poppe (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/20, 5:00 p.m. (93 min)

A teenage girl struggles to survive and to find her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya.

*Note: Do not confuse this film with the similarly named movie 22 July directed by Paul Greenglass which also came out in 2018. Greenglass’ work is a documentary style film based on the non-fiction book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad (available to stream on Netflix), while Poppe’s film is a one-take feature shot in real time of the day the youth summer camp was attacked. Read more at Utøya-July 22 recreates the terror attack in one remarkable shot.


* SWEDEN *

Border (Gräns)

  • Feature Film by Alli Abbas (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/5, 2:30 p.m. (101 min)

Customs officer Tina is known for her extraordinary sense of smell – she can sniff out fear on anyone. But when Vore walks past her, her abilities are challenged for the first time. Tina can sense Vore is hiding something she can’t identify. Worse, she feels a strange attraction to him. This fateful encounter calls into question her entire existence.

Ted: Show Me Love (Ted – För kärlekens skull)

  • Feature Film by Hannes Holm (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/19, 12:30 p.m. (121 min)

Chronicling the beautiful and tragic life and career of legendary Swedish singer-songwriter Ted Gärdestad, this biopic tells the story of the great highs and lows of one of Sweden’s most loved artists.

The Cake General (Tårtgeneralen)

  • Feature Film by Filip Hammar and Fredrik Wikingsson (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/19, 7:30 p.m. (101 min)

Set in 1984, Hans Pettersson (Hasse P.) decides to create the largest sandwich cake ever made in order to put his hometown, Köping, on the map.


* DENMARK *

The Guilty (Den skyldige)

When police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is demoted to desk work, he expects a sleepy beat as an emergency dispatcher. That all changes when he answers a panicked phone call from a kidnapped woman who then disconnects abruptly. Asger, confined to the police station, is forced to use others as his eyes and ears as the severity of the crime slowly becomes more clear. The search to find the missing woman and her assailant will take every bit of his intuition and skill, as a ticking clock and his own personal demons conspire against him.

Becoming Astrid (Unga Astrid)

  • Feature Film by Pernille Fischer Christensen (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/20, 2:00 p.m. (123 min)

This is a biopic of Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, the author of numerous children’s books and creator of Pippi Longstocking.

 


* ICELAND *

Mihkel (Undir Halastjörnu)

  • Feature Film by Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/5, 10:30 a.m. (100 min)

This movie is based on true events from a 2004 criminal case in Iceland where a body was discovered by chance by a diver in the Neskaupstaður harbor. 

Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð)

Halla, a woman in her fifties, declares war on the local aluminum industry to prevent it from disfiguring her country. She risks all she has to protect the highlands of Iceland but the situation could change with the unexpected arrival of a small orphan in her life.

Vultures (Vargur)

  • Feature Film by Börkur Sigþórsson (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/19, 5:30 p.m.

Sharp-suited Erik represents the aspirational face of modern Iceland. Atli, a petty criminal just released from prison, is stuck in a downward spiral. The distance between these two very different brothers vanishes when the duo teams up to smuggle cocaine into Iceland, inside plastic pellets swallowed by a young Polish mule, Sofia. But things go wrong when rule-breaking cop Lena starts closing in on them and Sofia falls sick. With the drugs yet to reach their destination and a rival gang demanding a slice of the action, time is a luxury that the brothers can’t afford. Charismatic anti-hero Erik’s ability to stay one step ahead is tested to the limit – how many lives is he willing to sacrifice to sustain his own?


* FINLAND *

Euthanizer (Armomurhaaja)

This violent summer noir tells the story of Veijo, a 50-year-old mechanic, whose second job is to put sick pets to sleep. He’s also an animal whisperer and prefers to personally deliver justice to careless owners who neglect their pets. His unconventional but meticulously organized life is disrupted when he comes across Petri, a garage mechanic and member of a neo-Nazi gang, and Lotta, a young nurse who understands his psychosis. The themes revolve around animal rights, suffering and death. But the real story is not about good or evil – it’s about intolerance and the stupidity of absolute men.

Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon sotilas)

  • Feature Film by Aku Lohimies (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/6, 4:30 p.m. (132 min)

Based on novel of the same name by Váinö Linna, the film follows a fictional Finnish Army machine gun company on the Karelian front during the War from 1941 when the troops prepare for the invasion of the Soviet Union until armistice in 1944. The author himself had served in such a company.

Rendel: Dark Vengeance

  • Feature Film by Jesse Haaja (2017)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/19, 10:00 a.m. (104 min)

A Finnish superhero, a masked vigilante Rendel, seeks for revenge and fights against VALA, the huge criminal organization.

One Last Deal (Tuntematon mestari)

  • Feature Film by Klaus Härö (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/20, 7:30 p.m. (95 min)

An elderly art dealer Olavi (72) is about to retire. A man who has always put business and art before everything – even his family – cannot imagine life without work. At an auction, an old painting catches his attention. Olavi suspects it is worth much more than its starting price, which is low because its authenticity hasn’t been confirmed. Olavi’s instincts kick in. He decides to make one last deal in order to earn some proper pension money. At the same time, Olavi’s daughter Lea (42) – whom he hasn’t seen for years – asks him to help her with his teenage grandson Otto (15). Together with Otto, Olavi starts to investigate the background of the painting. They find out that the painting is called Christ and was painted by Ilya Repin. Olavi manages to buy the painting, but when the auction house realizes that there has been a mistake with the original pricing, they turn against him. To fulfill his dream, the old dealer must face both the auction house and his own past mistakes.


* LATVIA *

To Be Continued (Turpinājums)

  • Feature Documentary by Ivars Seleckis (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/5, 12:45 p.m. (101 min)

Ivars Seleckis takes a look at five children and their families from throughout Latvia. Shot over a period of two years, the film explores how choices made by adults are reflected in a child’s thinking.

 


* ESTONIA *

Three Days in August (Kolm peeve augustis)

  • Short Film by Madli Lāane (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/19, 2:30 p.m. (22 min)

In the midst of the political upheaval of the early 1990s in Soviet Union, an Estonian girl and a Russian boy reach across cultural lines to unite over a shared bottle of American soda.

Take It or Leave It (Võta või jäta)

  • Feature Film by Liina Triškina-Vanhatalo (2018)
  • Screening: Saturday, 1/19, 3:00 p.m. (102 min)

One sleepy Saturday morning a 30-year-old construction worker Erik gets some earth shattering news: his ex-girlfriend Moonika who he hasn’t even seen for the past six months is about to go into labor. She however is not ready for motherhood and if Erik doesn’t want the kid either, the little girl will be put up for adoption. Take it or leave it!

 


* LITHUANIA *

Wonderful Losers: A Different World

  •  Feature Documentary by Arūnas Matelis (2018)
  • Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 2:00 p.m. (71 min)

They’re called water carriers, domestics, ‘gregarios’, ‘Sancho Panzas’ of professional cycling. Always at the back of the group, with no right for a personal victory. These wonderful losers are the true warriors of professional cycling.

 


What festival films look interesting to you?

I have actually already seen two of the movies to be presented, both of which I highly recommend. I saw What Will People Say, an #ownvoices immigrant story from Norway, at AFI Fest in November 2017. It was a moving and thought-provoking filmThe 12th Man is an amazing World World II story of survival and will to live and kindness to others despite tremendous risk that I saw just recently at a special engagement at Museum of Tolerance. I plan to bring my family to see it at SFFLA this year.

There are many films I’m personally interested in seeing. I am currently reading Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath and plan to see Greenglass’ 22 July on Netflix at some point. Poppe’s Utøya – July 22 seems to be a totally different take on the same event so I’m very eager to see that, though I think it will be an extremely tough film to watch. Other films at the top of my to-watch list are Sweden’s Border, Denmark’s The Guilty, and Iceland’s Woman at War. Can’t wait for the screenings to start. Will I see you there?

Reflections on Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2018

My experience at Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2018 didn’t disappoint! Not only did I see many great movies, but this year I added another component to my festival experience. I was a volunteer. On Opening Day, festival newsletter subscribers received an email reminding them of the event and it also happened to mention “Beloved volunteers– we DO NEED YOU!!!” I am not one to let that plea go by without action if I’m available.

My offer to help was quickly accepted. Over the two weekends of the festival, I welcomed festival guests and sold tickets. I spent time with wonderful festival organizers and other enthusiastic and friendly volunteers. Being a volunteer made it all so much more meaningful. Getting to know festival organizers James Koenig and Flo Niermann and hearing about their experience with the festival over the years added to a much greater understanding and appreciation of the event.

Me along with James and Flo and fellow volunteers Lumme, Jacob, and Carmelo. Image courtesy of Lara McCarthy at SwedesintheStates.com

Compared to other film festivals, this is a small one. But it’s very welcoming and friendly. Many festival goers come for multiple screenings. They hang out in the lobby between films. They chat and enjoy food from the Nordic Café. James Koenig, the festival founder/director, is a constant presence. He greets guests very warmly and often with a hug if it’s a familiar face, and he introduces every film.

For me the festival provides an opportunity to go back to Norway through language and setting or to be an armchair traveler to another region in the area. An unexpected perk of being a volunteer was receiving a festival pass and being able to see whichever movies I was interested in while I was there. Since I was there for many hours over the two weekends, I saw more movies this year than any other year.

I saw four films the first weekend, the very first one being Sweden’s Oscar submission The Square by Ruben Östlund. I was very grateful to see it with my volunteer partner. The movie started out fine and enjoyable, but then it took a turn that left us with many unanswered questions. We both appreciated having someone to discuss the movie with afterwards.

One of my favorite films of the festival was shown in the first weekend, Denmark’s short film The Dolphin by Laurits Munch-Petersen. It was about a mother who wanted her son to be able to finish a swimming course. In 29 minutes, it managed to evoke a whole range of emotions, and the ending, an unexpected one, tied all the pieces together perfectly.

I also saw Iceland’s Under the Tree by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson. This movie seemed to cause very varied opinions among festival goers. It’s about two neighbors’ disagreement over a tree’s shadow. This is a relatable issue; access to sunlight is highly prized in the Nordic countries. What starts as a common neighborly issue quickly spirals out of control, at times comically, other times darkly. I was one of those who enjoyed the film.

I wrapped up the first weekend with Norway’s supernatural thriller Thelma by Joachim Trier. It took place mostly in Oslo but also along Norway’s western coast. I wasn’t sure it would be my type of movie with its supernatural elements, but it worked for me and I enjoyed it.

The second weekend was a little slower for me due to family obligations. Saturday evening I saw another favorite movie of the festival, Sweden’s feature film Strawberry Days by Wiktor Ericsson. It’s about the son of a Polish guest worker and the daughter of a Swedish farmer. They slowly but surely fall in love, but their relationship is not acceptable to either side. It wasn’t clear to me exactly what happened in the end, but the dramatic ending was definitely understandable considering all the issues that were at stake in this situation.

Strawberry Days (trailer) from ArtOfficial Agency CPH on Vimeo.

The last film of the festival for me was Lithuania’s Frost by Šarūnas Bartas. This was an odd experience because it was nothing like descriptions I had read beforehand. I was expecting a movie about a young Lithuanian man’s alliance with two reporters as they deal with the turmoil of war in Ukraine and he is “forced to overcome psychological limits and build strong relationships.” He does meet reporters along the way, but they don’t continue together. Instead, the movie is about this young man’s fascination with war and his desire to understand it. His sullen girlfriend comes along on the road trip from Vilnius to Ukraine. I did not understand the characters’ motivations. And the ending did little to make up for the slow and dull journey. The only interesting part of the movie is towards the end when viewers get a little insight into the Ukrainian war and what life is like for Ukrainian forces holding off separatists. I wonder if the film underwent some major editing after film descriptions were published.

Films that I was unable to see but heard were worthwhile or ones that were highly anticipated included Denmark’s You Disappear and Across the Waters, Iceland’s Summer Children, and Norway’s Late Summer. I’ll have to keep an eye out on Netflix for those movies. If you attended the festival or have seen any of the movies elsewhere, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Next year marks SFFLA’s 20th anniversary. I can’t wait to celebrate and see the next crop of “top films from the top of Europe.”

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2018: A Preview

The first weekend of 2018 welcomes “top films from the top of Europe” at the annual Scandinavian Film Festival Los Angeles (SFFLA). Despite its name, the scope of the festival actually extends beyond Scandinavia. Besides films from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, festival goers can view films from Iceland and Finland as well as Baltic neighbors Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The festival will take place over two weekends, January 6 & 7 and 20 & 21, at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Continue reading

What Will People Say by Iram Haq: An #OwnVoices Immigrant Story from Norway

I seized the opportunity to see What Will People Say (Hva vil folk si) at AFI FEST 2017 in Hollywood this past November. I’ve read a lot of immigrant stories that take place here in the United States, but immigrant stories by own voices in Norway are unfamiliar to me. What Will People Say was a very powerful film about a first generation Norwegian teenager born of Pakistani immigrants in Oslo. Continue reading

Norwegian (and other Nordic) Films at AFI FEST 2017

Norwegian film has not been a stranger to Los Angeles these last few weeks, and its presence continues at American Film Institute’s film festival AFI FEST taking place now. AFI FEST is an annual celebration of international cinema “from modern masters and emerging filmmakers”. It takes place each fall in Hollywood and features nightly red-carpet galas, special screenings, conversations, and tributes. AFI FEST is free to the public.

This year two Norwegian films are on the schedule. The first one is Thelma written by Norwegian duo Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt and directed by Joachim Trier. It is a psychological thriller that takes place in Oslo, Norway. It is Norway’s Best Foreign Language Oscar submission. The second film is What Will People Say written and directed by Norwegian Iram Haq (Norwegian-born of Pakistani immigrants). Continue reading

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2017: A Preview

sffla-header

The 18th annual Scandinavian Film Festival LA is around the corner. It is one of my favorite annual Scandinavian events in the Los Angeles area. The festival takes place over two weekends in January (14th and 15th followed by 21st and 22nd) at Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. I always look forward to seeing what’s being offered and hope there’s a movie that will transport me back to Norway through language and setting or bring alive a part of Norwegian history for me. I also don’t mind being an armchair traveler to other countries in the region. Continue reading

Guide to Norway’s Slow TV on Netflix

netflix-slow-tvIn August 2016, Netflix introduced Norway’s Slow TV to American viewers. I was curious about the Slow TV phenomenon that had enthralled Norwegians and now had arrived in the US.

According to Wikipedia, Slow TV is “a term used for a genre of live ‘marathon’ television coverage of an ordinary event in its complete length.” What I quickly learned was that not all the Netflix Slow TV offerings were true Slow TV. Some of the episodes were actually segments of a much longer original broadcast or documentaries of live broadcasts. I also learned that there are different sub-genres of Slow TV. Some are meditative and relaxing; others are informative and entertaining. Read on for an overview of Netflix’s Slow TV offerings.

Don’t have Netflix? You’ll find links to the programs elsewhere on the internet at the end of the post.

Continue reading