Los Angeles Culture Challenge for January 2018: Scandinavian Film Festival LA & PST:LA/LA

Is one of your new year’s resolutions to explore more of the many diverse cultural opportunities that Los Angeles has to offer? There’s lots to choose from this month, especially with the art initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA that’s going on right now. It’s a collaborative effort from arts institutions across Southern California that explores Latin American and Latino art in Los Angeles. Some exhibitions end at the end of the month. You can sort exhibitions by theme, neighborhood, venue, and media which makes the whole process of deciding what to see where less overwhelming. I have visited three exhibitions (listed below) and found them all interesting and worth the visit.

One of my favorite Scandinavian events returns this month. The Scandinavian Film Festival LA opens this weekend 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. For a look at what’s being offered this year, check out Scandinavian Film Festival 2018: A Preview.

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

* RECOMMENDED PST:LA/LA EXHIBITIONS *

Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in L.A., Central Library, Downtown LA, on display until January 31, 2018. The exhibition celebrates the rich social fabric of Los Angeles through the lens of the city’s vibrant Oaxacan community — specifically, the Zapotec communities which make up one of the largest Indigenous groups in Mexico and Los Angeles. The Oaxacan artist collective Tlacolulokos has created a series of new murals for the Central Library’s historic rotunda that explore language and culture as a key lifeline sustaining the shared experience between Mexico, Los Angeles, and beyond, with a look at how migration and the socio-political environment shape identity and cultural traditions.

Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark‐Making in LA, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, on display until February 25, 2018. See a new body of photographic work by interdisciplinary artist Ken Gonzales-Day examining the mural landscape of LA—from East LA to Venice Beach, from Pacoima to South LA. Featuring over 140 photographs, Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark‐Making in LAconsiders what the city’s walls reveal about its diverse communities.

Cuba Is, Annenberg Space for Photography, Century City, on display until March 4, 2018. Revealing complexities both on and off the island, Cuba Is explores aspects of Cuba not easily accessed by foreigners, and sometimes not even by Cubans themselves. Born from indigenous, African and European roots, divergent politics and limitations in communication and commerce, the Cuba seen in this exhibition goes beyond the folklore and offers new insight into its current reality. Over 120 photos feature subjects ranging from defiant youth known as “Frikis” to the hard-partying children of the 1%, the underground system of sharing digital content—“El paquete”—to Miami’s Chonga girls.

* WEEKEND OF JANUARY 6 & 7 *

Undiscovered Chinatown Walking Tour, Chinatown, Saturday, 1/6, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (Offered every first Saturday of the month). Visit a temple, an herbal shop, art galleries, antique stores, and more when guided to the unique treasures—not to mention great bargains—to be found in Chinatown. 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.

Scandinavian Film Festival Los Angeles (SFFLA), Writers Guild Theater, Beverly Hills, Saturday, 1/6, & Sunday, 1/7 (also weekend of 1/20 & 1/21). This is a yearly showcase of films from northern Europe and its Baltic neighbors. During the course of two weekends, the festival screens not only films submitted by Nordic countries to the Academy for consideration in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category, but also other Nordic feature films, short movies, and documentaries.

Epiphany of the Three Kings, Olvera Street, Downtown LA, Saturday, 1/6, 6:30 p.m. Learn about and experience the celebration of the Epiphany of the Magi (Visit of the Three Kings). In Mexico and other Latin countries, many children receive their Christmas gift on this day. Olvera Street celebrates this tradition with prizes, free champurrado (Mexican traditional chocolate drink), and pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) as well as a piñata filled with candies for the children to break and enjoy. There will be music and a procession on Olvera Street followed by a colorful theatrical production in the Plaza.

Oshogatsu Family Festival – Year of the Dog, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Sunday, 1/7, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Ring in the New Year and the Year of the Dog with fun arts ‘n crafts, delicious food, and exciting cultural activities and performances. Highlights of the day will include a Japanese-style lion dance; two mochitsuki (rice pounding) demonstrations, with mochi samples for tasting; a drawing demonstration and book signing by comic book creator Stan Sakai, famous for his Usagi Yojimbo series; and sample bowls of lucky zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles) to bring good health in the New Year. There will also be a variety of craft activities, book readings, souvenir photos, a koto performance, and more. Visit website for schedule of events and activities.

Festival of India, Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, Sunday, 1/7, 11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Enjoy the beautiful music and dance of India with internationally recognized choreographer Ramya Harishankar’s Arpana Dance Co. along with other invited artists as they perform the beautiful dances of the diverse regions of India. The festival also features a special performance by SADUBAS, aka The Sadhus of Bass, who converges classical Indian rhythms with 70s Bollywood vibes to create psychedelic soundscapes that are one part Trip hop and two parts cinematic south Asia. DJ/producer Ameet Mehta and tabla artist Robin Sukhadia present visuals and sound inspired by Bollywood funk and Indian Classical music. Festival includes art projects, face painting and special Indian sweets.

¡Hoy en Día! (Andell Family Sundays), LACMA, Miracle Mile, Sunday, 1/7, 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. (Offered every Sunday in January except 1/28). Make, look, and talk about art at Andell Family Sundays. This weekly family event features artist-led workshops and friendly gallery tours and activities thematically based on special exhibitions and LACMA’s permanent collection. Drop in anytime between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. During the month of January, sixteen contemporary Latino artists from Latin America and the U.S., plus two-month residencies, equal surprising, playful, and unexpected art. Explore the special exhibition A Universal History of Infamy, then participate in artist-led workshops in bookmaking, mixed media, and performance/dance.

Radical Flags (Kids and Families Program), California African American Museum, Exposition Park, Sunday, 1/7, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Faith Ringgold’s People’s Flag Show Poster and The Judson 3, both on display in We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, express solidarity with the tumultuous times of the 1970s. Create your own radical flag using a collage of words and images that reflect something you feel passionate about in this decade. Suitable for third grade and up.

Kids in the Courtyard: Painting with Music, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Sunday, 1/7, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Celebrate the closing day of the exhibition How to Make the Universe Right by learning about instruments from Vietnam and southern China. After finding inspiration in the galleries, create a watercolor painting while listening to music from around the world—including the very same songs introduced in the exhibition.

* WEEKEND OF JANUARY 13, 14, & 15 *

Family Art Workshop, Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 1/14, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Join instructors for a free family art workshop in a real art studio. Each Sunday a different culture and media are featured. All materials are provided.

¡Hoy en Día! (Andell Family Sundays), LACMA, Miracle Mile, Sunday, 1/14, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. (Offered every Sunday in January except 1/28). Make, look, and talk about art at Andell Family Sundays. This weekly family event features artist-led workshops and friendly gallery tours and activities thematically based on special exhibitions and LACMA’s permanent collection. Drop in anytime between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. During the month of January, sixteen contemporary Latino artists from Latin America and the U.S., plus two-month residencies, equal surprising, playful, and unexpected art. Explore the special exhibition A Universal History of Infamy, then participate in artist-led workshops in bookmaking, mixed media, and performance/dance.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, California African American Museum, Exposition Park, Monday, 1/15, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by surrounding yourself with art, culture, and community. Enjoy an array of vibrant programs and activities for all ages. Bring the kids for art-making activities and food, visit our exhibitions, hear a marathon reading of King’s lesser-known speeches and sermons, and much more—free for everyone! Visit website for schedule of events and activities.

* WEEKEND OF JANUARY 20 & 21 *

Scandinavian Film Festival Los Angeles (SFFLA), Writers Guild Theater, Beverly Hills, Saturday, 1/20, & Sunday, 1/21. This is the second weekend of this yearly showcase of films from northern Europe and its Baltic neighbors. The festival screens not only films submitted by Nordic countries to the Academy for consideration in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category, but also other Nordic feature films, short movies, and documentaries.

Family Art Workshop, Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 1/21, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Join instructors for a free family art workshop in a real art studio. Each Sunday a different culture and media are featured. All materials are provided.

¡Hoy en Día! (Andell Family Sundays), LACMA, Miracle Mile, Sunday, 1/21, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. (Offered every Sunday in January except 1/28). Make, look, and talk about art at Andell Family Sundays. This weekly family event features artist-led workshops and friendly gallery tours and activities thematically based on special exhibitions and LACMA’s permanent collection. Drop in anytime between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. During the month of January, sixteen contemporary Latino artists from Latin America and the U.S., plus two-month residencies, equal surprising, playful, and unexpected art. Explore the special exhibition A Universal History of Infamy, then participate in artist-led workshops in bookmaking, mixed media, and performance/dance.

Kids in the Courtyard: Frame Your World, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Sunday, 1/21, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Explore the black-and-white photographs of Pierre Verger on closing day of the exhibition Africa/Americas. French-born Verger traveled around the world, capturing people, places, and traditional customs through his camera lens. Create and decorate a monochrome frame for your own photographs using Verger’s images as inspiration.

* WEEKEND OF JANUARY 27 & 28 *

Little Tokyo Walking Tour, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 1/27, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Relive history and learn about present-day Little Tokyo with JANM docents. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Weather permitting. Buy tickets in advance. $12 members, $15 non-members. Museum admission is included. Limited to 20 participants.

Family Art Workshop, Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 1/28, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Join instructors for a free family art workshop in a real art studio. Each Sunday a different culture and media are featured. All materials are provided.

Collage Faces: Express Yourself (Kids and Families Program), California African American Museum, Exposition Park, Sunday, 1/28, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Using collage and painting, artist Lezley Saar leads a family workshop to reflect on identities seen and expressed. Fabrics, curious still life objects, and a variety of materials will be provided to fully explore and express your creative self.

Feel free to add events for the current month in the comments below. I also welcome feedback on any events you have attended. If you have suggestions about future events and celebrations to include in upcoming months, please email me the details. Thank you!

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.

This year film enthusiasts have the opportunity to see all the Nordic and Baltic countries’ submissions for Best Foreign Language Film for the upcoming 90th Oscars:

  • Norway – Thelma directed by Joachim Trier
  • Sweden – The Square directed by Ruben Östlund
  • Denmark – You Disappear (Du forsvinder) directed by Peter Schønau Fog
  • Iceland – Under the Tree (Undir trénu) directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson
  • Finland – Tom of Finland directed by Dome Karukoski
  • Latvia – The Chronicles of Melanie (Melānijas hronika) directed by Viesturs Kairišs
  • Estonia – November directed by Rainer Sarnet
  • Lithuania – Frost (Šerkšnas) directed by Šarūnas Bartas

Only Sweden’s submission made it to the shortlist of nine films in the Foreign Language Film category. The documentary Kayayo by Norwegian Mari Bakke Riise, which is also on the festival’s schedule this year, is one of ten films on the shortlist for the Documentary Short Subject category. All Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 23. The 90th Oscars will take place on Sunday, March 4.

At SFFLA’s Opening Gala on Saturday, January 6, at 6:00 p.m., guests can enjoy drinks and a buffet meal with other Scandi film enthusiasts. Gala tickets also include Opening Ceremonies at 7:15 p.m. and Denmark’s feature film You Disappear at 7:30 p.m.

Below you’ll find a list of films by country. Descriptions are taken from films’ websites when possible. On SFFLA’s website, you can view and download a chronological schedule. Please confirm schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published.


* NORWAY *

Kayayo, The Living Shopping Baskets

Short Documentary by Mari Bakke Riise (2016); On Oscars Shortlist for Best Documentary Short Subject; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 12:00 p.m.

In the capital of Ghana, thousands of girls from the age of 6 work as real-life shopping baskets, called Kayayo, carrying heavy loads on their heads. This documentary is about Bamunu, an 8-year-old girl who hasn’t seen her family since she was sent away from home two years ago to work as a Kayayo to support her family. We follow her incessant longing to get away from the harsh markets, her journey back home and what awaits there. (32 minutes, visit film’s website)

Thelma

Feature Film by Joachim Trier (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 5:00 p.m.

Thelma, a shy young student, has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma’s powerful attraction. As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja – feelings she doesn’t dare acknowledge, even to herself – while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures. As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers. (116 minutes, visit film’s website)

Northbound (Mot Nord)

Short Documentary by Jørn Nyseth Ranum (2015); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 11:30 a.m.

Ice, driftwood, foamy waves, and … skateboards? In this poetic short film, four skaters head north to the cold Norwegian coast, applying their urban skills to a wild canvas of beach flotsam, frozen sand, and pastel skies. The result is a beautiful mashup — biting winds and short days, ollies and one epic miniramp. (11 minutes, visit film’s website)

Nothing Ever Really Ends (Ingenting tar noensinne slutt)

Short Film by Jakob Rørvik (2016); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 4:00 p.m.

Marius and Ebba´s relationship is one long struggle, interspersed with failed attempts at breaking up. Nothing Ever Really Ends is a melancholic comedy about love and dysfunction told on New Years Eve, three years in a row. (23 minutes, visit film’s website)

Late Summer (Sensommer)

Feature Film by Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken (2016); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 4:30 p.m.

An elderly Norwegian writer has retreated to a remote villa on the French west coast. A young foreign couple on a motorcycle vacation gets a motor stop just outside her property. It is far to the nearest mechanic, so she allows them to stay overnight, thus setting the stage for a triangular drama based on the pregnancy of the young woman. Gradually, dark secrets surface from the past and the young couple’s arrival does not seem so random anymore. (72 minutes, visit film’s website)


* SWEDEN *

The Square

Feature Film by Ruben Östlund (2017); On Oscars Shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 3:30 p.m.

Christian is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations. Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for ”The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis. (151 minutes, visit film’s website)

Strawberry Days (Jordgubbslandet)

Feature Film by Wiktor Ericsson (2017); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 7:30 p.m.

Set in the beautiful strawberry fields in the Swedish south, this is a story about love between the son of a Polish guest worker and the daughter of a Swedish farmer. It depicts a world full of divergency and prejudice. (93 minutes, visit film’s website)

The Ex-Wife (Exfrun)

Feature Film by Katja Wik (2017); Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 12:00 p.m.

Klara is newly in love and all she wants is to be close to Jacob. Anna times her husband with a stopwatch when he gets their baby’s bottle ready. Vera can’t let go of her former husband. With humour and seriousness, The Ex-Wife tells the story of three relationships, where the Girlfriend, the Wife, and the Ex-wife all come together in a revealing satire of the arc of relationships – from falling in love to divorce. (90 minutes)


* DENMARK *

You Disappear (Du forsvinder)

Feature Film by Peter Schønau Fog; Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 7:30 p.m.

Mia is married to the successful headmaster Frederik, who is caught embezzling from his own school. But did he do this of his own free will – or has his personality been altered by the tumour lurking in his brain? Mia is desperate to uncover what kind of man she is actually married to. If the happiest three years of Mia’s life with Frederik were while he had a tumour in his brain, who was she married to before? You Disppear is a movie about the challenges we face as neuroscience forces us to rethink what we are as human beings. (117 minutes, visit film’s website)

The Dolphin (Delfinen)

Short Film by Laurits Munch-Petersen (2017); Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 12:00 p.m.

Anna takes her 7-years old son Robert to the beach to finish his swimming course, the DOLPHIN, but something is terribly wrong and Anna needs to face reality. (29 minutes)

Across the Waters (Fuglene over sundet)

Feature Film by Nicolo Donato (2016); Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 7:00 p.m.

Enjoying the nightlife of 1943 Copenhagen, jazz guitarist Arne Itkin is seemingly immune to the hardships of war, as the Danish government opts for a compliant relationship with Nazi Germany. He is initially skeptical when his terrified wife Miriam hears rumors of the round-up and deportation of Danish Jews. An overnight raid, however, forces the couple to flee their home with five-year-old son Jakob. Aided by a church pastor and underground resistance, they set out on a journey for the fishing village of Gilleleje, where refugees await passage to Sweden by boat. Amidst lurking danger from the Gestapo and their collaborators, the family puts its fate in the hands of strangers whose allegiance and motives are not always clear. (95 minutes)


* ICELAND *

Under the Tree (Undir trénu)

Feature Film by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 3:15 p.m.

When Baldwin and Inga’s next door neighbours complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbours in the suburbs unexpectedly and violently spirals out of control. (89 minutes)

Summer Children (Sumarbörn)

Feature Film by Gu∂rún Ragnarsdóttir (2017); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 12:30 p.m.

Siblings Eydís and Kári are only five and six years old when their parents’ marriage breaks apart. Following the divorce they are sent temporarily to a children’s home in the countryside. But when the stay turns out to be longer than they had expected, Eydís and Kári take matters into their own hands. (84 minutes)


* FINLAND *

Tom of Finland

Feature Film by Dome Karukoski (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 7:30 p.m.

Touko Laaksonen, a decorated officer, returns home after a harrowing and heroic experience serving his country in World War II, but life in Finland during peacetime proves equally distressing. He finds peace-time Helsinki rampant with persecution of the homosexual men around him, even being pressured to marry women and have children. Touko finds refuge in his liberating art, specializing in homoerotic drawings of muscular men, free of inhibitions. His work – made famous by his signature “Tom of Finland” – became the emblem of a generation of men and fanned the flames of a gay revolution.

Miami

Feature Film by Zaida Bergroth (2017); Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 4:30 p.m.

Angela blows into a small town in the Finnish countryside, dazzling the locals with her exotic dancer troupe, sequined swirls and megawatt smile. After a nasty encounter backstage she leaves town just as fast, only now with her estranged half-sister Anna (21) in tow. Anna gladly exchanges a dreary life in a bakery for an adrenaline-fueled existence on stage. Happy to be closer to her glamorous older sister, she embraces the world of exotic dancing. But none of the champagne bubbles and sparkly makeup can protect her as she tries blackmail to save Angela from the trouble that keeps following her. Dark forces from the underworld test their newly found sisterhood.


* LATVIA *

The Chronicles of Melanie (Melānijas hronika)

Feature Film by Viesturs Kairišs (2016); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Saturday, 1/6, 1:00 p.m.

The film “The Chronicles of Melanie” is based on the life story of Melānija Vanaga, a Latvian woman who managed to survive her deportation to Siberia. It is a truthful account of the miracle of human character, magnitude of the human spirit and the painful destinies, which were a part of the greatest tragedy facing the Latvian nation. It is the story of Latvian women who had to suffer and survive physically and emotionally in order for Latvia to live.


* ESTONIA *

November

Feature Film by Rainer Sarnet (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/7, 1:00 p.m.

The story is set in a pagan Estonian village where werewolves, the plague, and spirits roam. The villagers’ main problem is how to survive the cold, dark winter. And, to that aim, nothing is taboo. People steal from each other, from their German manor lords, and from spirits, the devil, and Christ. The main character of the film is a young farm girl named Liina who is hopelessly and forlornly in love with a village boy named Hans.

The Dissidents (Sangarid)

Feature Film by Jaak Kilmi (2017); Screening: Saturday, 1/20, 2:30 p.m.

This action comedy takes us back to the 1980’s as three young Estonian guys flee the Soviet Union to the West, to get to live an awesome life just as they’ve seen in “Miami Vice” and “Knight Rider.” At first the Swedes welcome them as real heroes, who broke through the iron curtain, but soon they’re regarded as just more tedious immigrants. To put food on the table they have to do something as lame as…work! But the boys are no quitters, so they come up with a plan that should guarantee success in the Western world.


* LITHUANIA *

Frost (Šerkšnas)

Feature Film by Šarūnas Bartas (2017); Submission for Best Foreign Language Film; Screening: Sunday, 1/21, 2:00 p.m.

A young Lithuanian who, intent on understanding war and hence his people, boards a humanitarian convoy bound from Lithuania to the Ukraine’s war-torn Donbass region. Falling in with two war reporters, one a woman, he is plunged into the turmoil of war where the trio will be forced to overcome their psychological limits and build a strong relationship. They do not agree upon anything, except for their wish to be where they are, each of them for their own reasons. (132 minutes)


What festival films look interesting to you?

Los Angeles Culture Challenge for December 2017: Swedish Christmas Fair, CicLAvia, and PST:LA/LA

December offers many special events and activities. I challenge you to explore the richness of where we live. Here are some special events happening in the upcoming month. Mark your calendars, but please check suitability for family members and confirm dates and times before heading out.

A favorite Scandinavian event is here this month, SWEA’s 38th annual Swedish Christmas Fair, on Sunday, December 3. It’s a busy, festive one-day affair which always leaves me with a cozy Christmas feeling. If you go, make sure to time your visit so that you are there for the Lucia pageant at 12pm or 3pm.

A favorite LA event takes place this month as well. CicLAvia returns to Wilshire Boulevard for its Iconic Wilshire Boulevard route on Sunday, December 10. There’s no better way to explore the city than on bike when the streets are closed to cars.

And finally, don’t forget to take advantage of the special months-long art initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an exploration of Latin American and Latino art in Los Angeles, which ends in January (some exhibitions continue later). You can sort exhibitions by theme, neighborhood, venue, and media which makes the whole process of deciding what to see where less overwhelming. Some of the ones I have found most intriguing are listed below.

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

* THROUGHOUT DECEMBER *

DTLA Holiday Lights Walking Tour, Meeting Point: Union Station, Downtown LA, nightly at 6:30 p.m. until December 30. Explore the richness of Downtown LA with the annual DTLA Holiday Lights Tour offered by DTLA Walking Tours. It is a two-hour nightly tour of the festive holiday decorations and traditions in Downtown LA from the weekend after Thanksgiving through the weekend after Christmas. The tour begins at Union Station and highlights include Las Posadas at Olvera Street, Grand Park with its illuminated fountain, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Broad Museum, Candle Cove at California Plaza, icicle sheets in the Old Bank District, and Pershing Square festivities. Adults $17, children 12 and under free. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit website.

Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in L.A., Central Library, Downtown LA, on display until January 31, 2018. The exhibition celebrates the rich social fabric of Los Angeles through the lens of the city’s vibrant Oaxacan community — specifically, the Zapotec communities which make up one of the largest Indigenous groups in Mexico and Los Angeles. The Oaxacan artist collective Tlacolulokos has created a series of new murals for the Central Library’s historic rotunda that explore language and culture as a key lifeline sustaining the shared experience between Mexico, Los Angeles, and beyond, with a look at how migration and the socio-political environment shape identity and cultural traditions. It is presented by The Library Foundation of LA and the LA Public Library as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.

Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark‐Making in LA, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, on display until February 25, 2018. See a new body of photographic work by interdisciplinary artist Ken Gonzales-Day examining the mural landscape of LA—from East LA to Venice Beach, from Pacoima to South LA. Featuring over 140 photographs, Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark‐Making in LA considers what the city’s walls reveal about its diverse communities. It is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.

Cuba Is, Annenberg Space for Photography, Century City, on display until March 4, 2018. Revealing complexities both on and off the island, Cuba Is explores aspects of Cuba not easily accessed by foreigners, and sometimes not even by Cubans themselves. Born from indigenous, African and European roots, divergent politics and limitations in communication and commerce, the Cuba seen in this exhibition goes beyond the folklore and offers new insight into its current reality. Over 120 photos feature subjects ranging from defiant youth known as “Frikis” to the hard-partying children of the 1%, the underground system of sharing digital content—“El paquete”—to Miami’s Chonga girls. It is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 2 & 3 *

Edible Adventures: Little Tokyo Sushi Graze, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/2, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Listen to stories of the neighborhood while grazing on sushi made by Little Tokyo’s talented chefs. $64 members; $80 non-members. Food and museum admission included. Limited to 10 participants. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit website.

Transpacific Borderlands Art Workshop—Paper Flowers from the Camp Archives, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/2, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Transpacific Borderlands exhibiting artist Shizu Saldamando will teach participants how to make paper roses using a flower pattern from the Manzanar concentration camp archives. For ages 11 and up. Limited to 20 participants. Included with museum admission. RSVPs are recommended.

38th Annual Swedish Christmas Fair, Torrance Cultural Arts Center, Torrance, Sunday, 12/3, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The fair features artisans and stands presenting the best of Swedish fine art, handicrafts, 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.

Ancient Greece: Medusa Clay Masks (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 12/3, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Every Sunday art instructors present a free art project featuring a different culture and media. All materials are provided.

Undiscovered Chinatown Walking Tour, Chinatown, Downtown LA, Sunday, 12/3, 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. Cost $20. Buy tickets at their website.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 9 & 10 *

Origami with Ruthie Kitagawa: Holiday Wreath and Cards, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/9, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Get ready for the holidays and make cards and a wreath using origami techniques. $12 members, $15 non-members. Supplies and admission included. Limited to 10 participants. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit website.

CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Sunday, 12/10, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. CicLAvia heads back to Iconic Wilshire Boulevard as Koreatown, Westlake, and Downtown Los Angeles host the country’s largest open streets event. Streets will be closed to cars and open for cyclists, pedestrians, runners and skaters to use as a recreational space. You will enjoy the sights, music, food, and culture that make LA such a vibrant city.

Panama: Molas Winter Lights (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 12/10, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Every Sunday art instructors present a free art project featuring a different culture and media. All materials are provided.

Hanukkah Festival: LA/LA, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, Sunday, 12/10, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Inspired by the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, this year’s festival explores the themes of Hanukkah through the traditions of Los Angeles’s rich and diverse Latin American communities. Program includes music and dance, hands-on workshops, storytelling, exhibitions, dining, and shopping. For more information and to purchase advance tickets (recommended), visit website.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 16 & 17 *

Jewelry Workshop—The World of Washi: Introductory Class, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/16, 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Washi is a traditional Japanese handmade decorative paper that dates back to the seventh century. Unlike machine-made paper from wood pulp, washi is made from the inner bark of plants such as mulberry, bamboo, wisteria, and hemp. The intertwining of fibers results in paper that is strong, durable, washable, and acid-free. Its thin, smooth, soft surface can be printed with vivid colors and complex designs. In this workshop led by Reiko Nakano, learn about the history of washi and how to apply it onto a variety of plumbing hardware like washers to create jewelry. Bring a shoebox or plastic case to hold materials, a pair of sharp scissors, and a lunch or snack. $32 members, $40 non-members. Museum admission included. Limited to 12 participants. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit website.

Las Posadas at Olvera Street, El Pueblo Historical Monument, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/16 – Saturday, 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.

Mexico: Printmaking Otoni Patterns (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 12/17, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Every Sunday art instructors present a free art project featuring a different culture and media. All materials are provided.

13th Annual Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival, Bing Theater and Brown Auditorium at LACMA, Los Angeles, Sunday, 12/17, 10:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Presenting nearly 100 films from around the world—full-length and short animation, live action, and documentary films—the festival is organized for different age groups, from toddlers through teenagers. Select filmmakers and actors are present for Q&A sessions after each screening. Free and open to the public. Program schedule will be available at the NexGen table, located in the Los Angeles Times Central Court.

Kids in the Courtyard: Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Westwood, Sunday, 12/17, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Paper plays a key role in Daoist ceremonies, as families often send petitions to the heavens using written documents that are carefully burned. Learn how to make a paper kite to share your own dreams and wishes for the New Year. Be sure to explore the power of paper in the How to Make the Universe Right: The Art of Priests and Shamans from Vietnam and Southern China exhibition.

* WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 23 & 24 *

Little Tokyo Walking Tour, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/23, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Relive history and learn about present-day Little Tokyo with JANM docents. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Weather permitting. Cost is $12 members, $15 non-members. Museum admission included. Limited to 20 participants. To purchase tickets, please visit website.

58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center, Downtown LA, Sunday, 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 30 & 31 *

Little Tokyo Walking Tour, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 12/30, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Relive history and learn about present-day Little Tokyo with JANM docents. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Weather permitting. Cost is $12 members, $15 non-members. Museum admission included. Limited to 20 participants. To purchase tickets, please visit website.

Feel free to add events for the current month in the comments below. I also welcome feedback on any events you have attended. If you have suggestions about future events and celebrations to include in upcoming months, please email me the details. Thank you!

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).

I’m a great fan of the Scandinavian Film Festival LA which takes place every January in Beverly Hills. As I’ve written before, 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. AFI FEST provides another opportunity to catch films I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Personally, I’m very intrigued by Iram Haq’s What Will People Say. 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 new to me. This film is inspired by the director’s own life.

Scandinavia, and the Nordic countries in general, are well represented at AFI FEST. Films from Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland are also on the schedule. Winter Brothers is Icelandic filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason’s drama that takes place in Denmark. Sweden has two shorts, The Burden and Ten Meter Tower. And Finland is represented by The Other Side of Hope written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki.

Film descriptions provided below are from AFI FEST’s website.

THELMA directed by Joachim Trier

Screening Details & Ticket Reservations: Sat, Nov 11, 9:15 p.m. & Mon, Nov 13, 1:00 p.m.

A gripping psychological thriller, THELMA follows a unique young woman with two overprotective, devoutly Christian parents. As Thelma begins her journey to leave home, her parents become alarmingly nervous. More than empty nest syndrome, they’re experiencing genuine fear for mysterious reasons. Deploying modern horror’s signature tropes while also twisting them anew, the latest work from Joachim Trier features a star performance from Eili Harboe, and is an entertaining, mind-bending allegory about agency, power, gender and sexuality. – Lane Kneedler

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY (Hva vil folk si) directed by Iram Haq

Screening Details & Ticket Reservations: Sat, Nov 11, 4:00 p.m. & Wed, Nov 15, 12:45 p.m.

Sixteen-year-old Nisha lives a double life — the perfect Pakistani daughter to her strict parents, and a normal Norwegian teenager with her friends at school. One night when her father catches her and her boyfriend in her bedroom, Nisha’s two worlds brutally collide. Iram Haq’s sophomore feature is a powerful story of a young woman growing up between two cultures, with no control over her life choices, who must carve out her own path despite a significant culture clash. Lead actress Maria Mozhdah makes an impressive debut, imbuing Nisha with dueling personas. In an equally impressive role, Adil Hussain plays Nisha’s father, delicately balancing his fatherly love with the pressure of a strict society that wants to make an example of his daughter. – Jenn Murphy

WINTER BROTHERS (Vinterbrødre) directed by Hlynur Pálmason

Screening Details & Ticket Reservations: Sun, Nov 12, 6:45 p.m. & Wed, Nov 15, 6:00 p.m.

Living in a remote, snowy area can have a profound effect on the psyche, and working as a miner in this landscape, loner Emil struggles to fit into his hyper-masculine environment. He appears strange and awkward next to his fit and popular brother Johan. When they’re not working, they’re making and selling moonshine, and watching instructional videos on how to fire antique rifles. But when the brothers find themselves competing for the love of the only woman in town, tensions bubble over. Hypnotic, strange and beautiful, WINTER BROTHERS lures the audience in with its depiction of a life dictated by routine, only to then erupt with some of the most striking images captured on film this year. – Lane Kneedler

THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (Toivon Tuolla Puolen) directed by Aki Kaurismäki

Screening Details & Ticket Reservations: Sun, Nov 12, 9:00 p.m. & Wed, Nov 15, 9:00 p.m.

A Syrian refugee stowed away on a freighter, Khaled arrives in Helsinki soot-faced and desperate to start a new life. Meanwhile, Wikstrom is a traveling salesman in the throes of a very deadpan midlife crisis, who wins big at a poker game and decides to purchase a restaurant as a means of starting over. These two interlacing narratives dance throughout THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE in a way that only Aki Kaurismäki can choreograph: with buoyant hope and low-key hilarity. The Finnish auteur has remained remarkably consistent in his minimalist style over the years, and with THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE — which is both classically Kaurismäki and piercingly relevant to global events — he reminds us yet again of his ability to endure. – Beth Hanna

Is there anything here or in the rest of the Film Guide that interests you?

Los Angeles Culture Challenge for November 2017: PST:LA/LA and Norwegian Christmas Fair

Los Angeles is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. I challenge you to explore the richness of where we live. Here are some special events happening in the upcoming month. Mark your calendars, but please check suitability for family members and confirm dates and times before heading out.

Of special significance to me this month is the Norwegian Christmas Fair. It takes place, as it always does, the weekend before Thanksgiving. Interestingly, this is a common tradition all over the world at Norwegian Seamen’s Churches. Christmas decorations, music, candles, and the smell of freshly baked goods set the mood as you wander the booths filled with Scandinavian goods of all kinds. And of course, there’s the café serving traditional Norwegian foods. All are invited to attend. You do not need to be Norwegian or a member of the church.

The special months-long art initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is in full swing. It started in September and goes until the end of January. Many venues around Los Angeles and beyond are participating with a variety of exhibitions. As explained on its website, “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.” You can sort exhibitions by theme, neighborhood, venue, and media which makes the whole process of deciding what to see where less overwhelming. I have made a personal challenge to see as many of the exhibitions at venues close to home as possible. High on my list are Cuba Is at Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in L.A. at Central Library in Downtown LA, and Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark‐Making in LA at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

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

* WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 4 & 5 *

20th Annual Arpa International Film Festival, Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, Friday, 11/3 – Sunday, 11/5. The annual Arpa International Film Festival is a dynamic forum for international cinema. It aims to bridge cultural divides by fostering dialogue among people of diverse backgrounds. It showcases local and international films that explore critical issues such as war, genocide, diaspora, dual identities, exile, and multiculturalism. 34 films from 16 countries will be screened. Visit website to see schedule.

Transpacific Borderlands Exhibition Tour, Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo, Downtown LA, Saturday, 11/4, 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Join exhibition curator and JANM Vice President of Operations/Art Director Clement Hanami for an in-depth gallery tour of the exhibition Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo which examines the experiences of artists of Japanese ancestry born, raised, or living in either Latin America or predominantly Latin American neighborhoods of Southern California. The exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative.

Germany: Grimm Fairy Tale Puppets (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 11/5, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Every Sunday art instructors present a free art project featuring a different culture and media. All materials are provided.

Mexican Day of the Dead Festival, Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, Sunday, 11/5, 11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) at the Bowers Museum. Honor departed ones with music, dance, and art.

Family Jam: Salvador and Samba with Viver Brasil, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Westwood, Sunday, 11/5, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Celebrate Brazil’s cultural and artistic heritage with a jolt of joyful color, thrilling rhythms, and communal celebration. Find inspiration in the Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in an Afro-Brazilian Metropolis exhibition, create your own musical instruments, and learn to Samba alongside performers from LA-based dance company Viver Brasil.

Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival, Hollywood & Westwood, Sunday, 11/5 – Wednesday, 11/8. The Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival is recognized as the most prestigious Brazilian film festival outside Brazil. It showcases the best in new Brazilian cinema. Opening Night Gala is in Hollywood, but festival screenings will take place in Westwood. See website for details and schedule.

* WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 11 & 12 *

Red Nation Film Festival, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica (plus other venues), Wednesday, 11/8 – Sunday, 11/19. Red Nation Film Festival is a showcase for new work by American Indian and Indigenous international independent filmmakers, It brings together decision makers and content creators with the goal of ensuring media representation of American Indian and Indigenous content to the world at large.

AFI Fest, Various Venues, Hollywood, Thursday, 11/9 – Thursday, 11/16. This is American Film Institute’s annual celebration of international cinema from modern masters and emerging filmmakers. It features nightly red-carpet galas, special screenings, conversations, and tributes.

American Indian Arts Marketplace, The Autry Museum in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, Saturday, 11/11, & Sunday, 11/12, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The largest Native American arts fair in Southern California, the Autry’s American Indian Arts Marketplace features 200 Native American artists representing more than 40 tribes. Top Native artists from across the country offer sculpture, pottery, beadwork, basketry, photography, paintings, jewelry, textiles, wooden carvings, mixed-media works, and more. Plus, enjoy a full weekend of food, filmperformancespoetry, informative demonstrations, family activities, and the annual Short Play Festival from Native Voices, the Autry’s award-winning resident theatre company.

JANM Free Family Days: We Love LA, Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo, Downtown LA, 11/11, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. In conjunction with Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo, JANM presents a family-friendly day celebrating the diverse mix of cultures that make up Los Angeles. For more information on activities and schedule, please visit their website.

Kenya: Maasai Animal Masks (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 11/12, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Every Sunday art instructors present a free art project featuring a different culture and media. All materials are provided.

* WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 18 & 19 *

Forced From Home, Parking Lot of Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, Monday, 11/13, – Sunday, 11/19. Doctors Without Borders presents Forced From Home, a free interactive tour that takes you behind the headlines about the global refugee crisis. Guided by experienced Doctors Without Borders aid workers, you’ll travel through a 10,000-square-foot space designed to convey the challenges facing a person forced to flee. You’ll also learn about the humanitarian aid Doctors Without Borders provides along the way. Visitors experience virtual reality and 360˚ video and interact with materials gathered from refugee camps, sea rescue missions, and emergency medical projects around the world. Forced From Home tours are free, fully accessible, and take roughly one hour to complete. Families are welcome, however the content is best suited to children ages 12+.

Norwegian Christmas Fair/Julebasar, Sjømannskirken/Norwegian Seamen’s Church, San Pedro, Friday, 11/17 – Sunday, 11/19. The third weekend in November is the annual Norwegian Christmas Fair at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church. Christmas decorations, music, candles, and the smell of freshly baked goods set the mood as you wander the booths filled with Scandinavian goods of all kinds. There are raffle drawings with wonderful prizes, traditional foods served in the church’s cafe, baked goods for sale in the church’s bakery, and Norwegian Christmas food available in the church’s store. There will also be a children’s Christmas Workshop from 12:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. All are welcome!

The Great Los Angeles Walk, Beverly Boulevard starting in Little Tokyo, Saturday, 11/18, 9:00 a.m. Get to know our city by walking across it. Every year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, hundreds of walkers start the free urban hike on one side of the city and, 9 hours and 17 miles later, end up at the other. It is a low-key event, and you can hop on or off the walk whenever you’d like.

Little Tokyo Walking Tour, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 11/18, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Relive history and learn about present-day Little Tokyo with JANM docents. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Weather permitting. Buy tickets in advance. Museum admission is included. To purchase tickets, please visit website.

27th Annual Mariachi Festival and Community Fair, Mariachi Plaza, Boyle Heights, Sunday, 11/19, 9:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. The 27th Annual Mariachi Festival will be held at the 40-year-old landmark, Mariachi Plaza, in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Local mariachi groups will perform during the day-long program. There will also be arts activities, photo opportunities, art exhibitions, food, and information booths.

USA: Navajo Rug Designs (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 11/19, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Every Sunday art instructors present a free art project featuring a different culture and media. All materials are provided.

* WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 25 & 26 *

Little Tokyo Walking Tour, Japanese American National Museum, Downtown LA, Saturday, 11/25, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Relive history and learn about present-day Little Tokyo with JANM docents. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Weather permitting. Buy tickets in advance. To purchase tickets, please visit website.

Morocco: Mirror Reflections on Gratitude (Barnsdall Art Sundays), Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Art Park, Hollywood/Los Feliz, Sunday, 11/26, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Every Sunday art instructors present a free art project featuring a different culture and media. All materials are provided.

* ONGOING EXHIBITIONS *

Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in L.A., Central Library, Downtown LA. The exhibition celebrates the rich social fabric of Los Angeles through the lens of the city’s vibrant Oaxacan community — specifically, the Zapotec communities which make up one of the largest Indigenous groups in Mexico and Los Angeles. The Oaxacan artist collective Tlacolulokos has created a series of new murals for the Central Library’s historic rotunda that explore language and culture as a key lifeline sustaining the shared experience between Mexico, Los Angeles, and beyond, with a look at how migration and the socio-political environment shape identity and cultural traditions. It is presented by The Library Foundation of LA and the LA Public Library as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a collaborative effort by arts institutions across Southern California to explore Latin American and Latino art in Los Angeles. It is on display until January 31, 2018.

Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark‐Making in LA, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles. See a new body of photographic work by interdisciplinary artist Ken Gonzales-Day examining the mural landscape of LA—from East LA to Venice Beach, from Pacoima to South LA. Featuring over 140 photographs, Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark‐Making in LA considers what the city’s walls reveal about its diverse communities. It is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a collaborative effort by arts institutions across Southern California to explore Latin American and Latino art in Los Angeles. It is on display until February 25, 2018.

Cuba Is, Annenberg Space for Photography, Century City. Revealing complexities both on and off the island, Cuba Is explores aspects of Cuba not easily accessed by foreigners, and sometimes not even by Cubans themselves. Born from indigenous, African and European roots, divergent politics and limitations in communication and commerce, the Cuba seen in this exhibition goes beyond the folklore and offers new insight into its current reality. Over 120 photos feature subjects ranging from defiant youth known as “Frikis” to the hard-partying children of the 1%, the underground system of sharing digital content—“El paquete”—to Miami’s Chonga girls. It is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a collaborative effort by arts institutions across Southern California to explore Latin American and Latino art in Los Angeles. It is on display until March 4, 2018.

Feel free to add events for the current month in the comments below. I also welcome feedback on any events you have attended. If you have suggestions about future events and celebrations to include in upcoming months, please email me the details. Thank you!

CicLAvia: Heart of LA (2017)

CicLAvia returned to Downtown LA for its October edition. At first I was a little unenthused about returning to Downtown LA, but then I learned that this year’s Heart of LA route had a new hub, Echo Park, which I was excited to explore.

It turned out to be a solo event for me, but I was totally okay with that. Going alone allows me to do whatever I please, whenever I please, without complaints, which is a situation I rarely encounter. And, there are actually a lot of other solo riders at these events. It’s a great opportunity to connect with new people. You feel like you’re part of a greater community. Everyone is there for the same reason – to take advantage of the open streets and explore the city from a different vantage point.

Being able to take Metro Rail’s Expo Line to Downtown LA made this an easy event for me to attend. What was tricky this time was that a football game was happening at the Coliseum that afternoon as well, and the train car got really packed with passengers. Having a bike onboard was awkward and difficult. But once all the football fans got off at USC, the cyclists could relax for the rest of the ride.

At the end of the line, I surfaced from the Metro station and made my way to Broadway Hub where I joined the route. This area has the feel of a typical downtown city with buildings side-by-side along the street, but riding gives you a chance to look more closely at the buildings. There are some interesting architectural details and public art along the way.

Once I got to the main intersection of the route and headed out towards Echo Park Hub, that downtown feel quickly subsided. About 1 1/2 miles later I was at Echo Park Lake. I was so surprised and fascinated by this area. It is such a big and serene green space so close to Downtown LA.

I parked my bike and began to walk along a path that circles the lake. It was very peaceful despite all the CicLAvia participants and the regular folks who were there just enjoying the park. At first glance, I saw the fountain in the middle of the lake and the paddle boats and boat house at the edge of the lake. But exploring more closely, I noticed water lily beds throughout the lake, lotus plants at one end of the lake, and a lush wetlands habitat full of wildlife. Looking even more closely, I saw fish, turtles, and a variety of birds.

There was even a cute looking cafe in the boat house, Beacon. It boasts “a chef-driven menu with good-for-you ingredients.” I’ve put it on my list of outdoor restaurants to bring my parents to the next time they’re in town. And I’ll also have to come back at the right time to catch the lotus flowers in bloom. Apparently, this year’s bloom in June was pretty spectacular.

After exploring the park and enjoying lunch from Cousins Maine Lobster food truck, it was time to move on. Next up was Chinatown, but not until I had ridden through 2nd Street Tunnel again. This turned out to be a fun “attraction” for all ages. Adults let their inner child loose while riding through, and there was lots of howling, hollering, and whistling.

I have been to Chinatown before but not by bike, so this stretch I did more to just have done than anything. It was a relatively quick visit.

Finally, I made my way out to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on the east side of the Los Angeles River. This was a new destination for me as well. To get there, we rode through the Arts District with its many wall murals and over the 4th Street Bridge.

After checking out Mariachi Plaza, enjoying some live music, and supporting the local farmer’s market, it was time to make my way back to Broadway Hub and the Metro station to head back home.

It was a full day of pedaling with lots of new sights and sounds along the way – 16 miles and 6 hours total – but one I’ll be eager to repeat next time around. I do believe this is becoming my favorite CicLAvia route. There is so much variety in where to go and what to see, and the riders are spread out on the three spokes so there’s a little more breathing room when riding. There will be no hesitation about returning to Downtown LA next time CicLAvia happens there.

Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books: Metro, Authors, and even some Geocaching

Last year, as luck would have it, I was able to go to the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books both days. On Saturday, I went alone and explored and lingered as I pleased. On Sunday, Sonny joined me for a more intentional day. It was the perfect combination of experiences.

Saturday was a gray, dreary, rainy day, but I didn’t let that stop me. I donned my rain boots and rain jacket, packed an umbrella, and headed to our nearest Metro stop.

Taking the Metro made the excursion so easy. The closest stop was only a short drive away (and now it’s even closer with the Expo extension completed), and the stop at USC was right at the entrance to the festival. There were no hassles driving and finding my way and no expensive parking fees.

Due to the weather, the festival on Saturday wasn’t as lively as in previous years. There weren’t as many people roaming the grounds, and the booths were more closed up with plastic tarps on the sides. It did make maneuvering around more manageable, though. I easily browsed booths and listened in on stages where poets and authors spoke to more intimate audiences.

A highlight of the day was that I was able to get a ticket to a panel, also known as Conversations. I had never been to a Conversation. I had always been somewhat overwhelmed by the selection of offerings. Also, I’ve always been at the festival with family members who haven’t been interested in that aspect of it. This year, I just went to the ticket booth and looked to see what was still available in the next couple of hours. It limited my choices immensely and I was able to easily find something.

I actually had a choice of many open Conversations from which to choose. I selected a young adult nonfiction panel about bringing history to life for young adult readers. Sonny had recently read the young reader adaptations of the nonfiction books Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, which he had really enjoyed. I’m always on the lookout for possible interesting reads for him, and this panel seemed like a potential opportunity for that.

The panel was very interesting even though I wasn’t familiar with any of participants. Four authors of new non-fiction spoke about the process of bringing history to life for readers and then answered questions from the audience. I even bought a book by one of the panelists, Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, and got it signed for Sonny for his birthday later in the month.

That evening I was on a high from my alone time at the festival. I was thrilled to have discovered how easy it was to go by Metro and how interesting panels could be. I looked to see if anything of interest was offered the next day. I found an available panel with middle grade authors, two of whom were favorites of Sonny’s, Stuart Gibbs (Spy School Series and FunJungle Series) and Pseudonymous Bosch (Secret Series and Bad Books Series). Sonny was interested but had his condition: he didn’t want to spend the whole day there. I reassured him it would only be a trip for the panel and food trucks and we’d be back home about 1 o’clock.

Sunday was a beautiful day, and I noticed a change already at the Metro stop. So many more people were headed to the festival. When we arrived at the festival, only about 30 minutes after opening, it was already very festive. Not only were more people there than the day before, but booths were more welcoming and music was playing.

The panel was a popular one with many young readers in attendance. The panelists were engaging and shared insights into their writing lives. It was interesting to match a face, a voice, and a personality with the names we’d seen on book covers for so long. I wished, however, that Q&A time at the end had been limited to children. Their questions were so much better than adults’ questions.

Afterwards we joined many other fans in line to have books signed. And just as promised, we checked out the food trucks and Sonny settled on some gelato.

Then came the unexpected addition to our festival visit. After Sonny and I had agreed on the plans for the morning, I had looked to see what geocaching possibilities were there. I had totally forgotten about that when I was there alone the day before. It turns out there were three geocaches within the festival grounds, and I secretly planned a route to include those spots.

When Sonny heard about my geocaching hopes, he felt a little deceived. However, when it came down to it, he was eager to be the one to make the finds. He makes a good geocaching partner. We found one right in front of a security guard because no one thinks twice about a kid sticking his head up into a statue but an adult would have attracted attention.

A day alone and a morning with Sonny was the perfect way to experience the festival. I felt like I had a chance to take it all in – browse the booths, listen to authors on stage, attend panels, enjoy music performances, watch artists at work, and indulge in some treats from food trucks.

This year’s festival will take place the weekend of April 22 and 23, and once again, it will be at University of Southern California’s campus. The schedule can be found online, and you can reserve free tickets to indoor Conversations ($1 service fee applies to each ticket). A limited number of tickets for each Conversation will also be available at the festival ticketing booth each day — free of service charges — while supplies last. There are also plenty of outdoor Conversations on stages that do not require tickets. And admission to the whole festival is free. I highly recommend you take advantage of this LA event.

Checked Off My California Bucket List: See the Poppies!

My wish to see the yearly California poppies finally came true. Every spring for years, when news of the upcoming poppy season and then pictures of the current bloom (some years better than others) would come out, I would yearn to see them in person. It wasn’t until we recently had a soccer tournament in Lancaster that I realized the poppy fields weren’t as far away as I had thought.

The Lancaster tournament was about a 75-minute drive north, and actually a beautiful drive once we got onto the Antelope Valley Freeway (Route 14). From Lancaster, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve was then only about 15 miles west. Our soccer tournament was too early in the season (end of February) to catch the poppies, but I knew then they were within reach.

We stayed in Los Angeles for Spring Break (first week of April), and I made a vow that we would see the poppies this year. The kids weren’t overly thrilled about the plan. They thought I should just be happy with the random poppies that had popped up around town along the roadsides. I powered through with my wish for the whole family to go, and as luck would have it, a friend of Sonny’s came along for the trip as well which was a nice distraction.

There had been news that poppy blooms were expected to be “moderate” this year and not the “jaw-dropping orange carpets” last seen in 2008 and 2010, but that didn’t stop interested people from making the trek. The park was advising visitors to come on weekdays instead of weekends due to the crowds and congested parking, so we headed to the reserve on a Thursday. The traffic cooperated and we were there in the minimum time anticipated. It was windy, as the park’s website had warned it often is, and cloudy, so we were grateful for sweatshirts we had brought along.

We began our visit at the interpretive center. It has an orientation video, some wildflower and wildlife exhibits, a gallery of botanical watercolor paintings, and a gift shop. Here I picked up a map of the trails. I also received one of the newly arrived park brochures that staff members were very excited to be able to hand out. I asked if they had a route to recommend, and of course they did, and then we were on our way.

Map from brochure by The Poppy Reserve/Mojave Desert Interpretive Association

The reserve consists of eight miles of trails through hills and fields of wildflowers with benches along way to enjoy the views. Our hike was a 3-mile loop on wide dirt paths with gentle to moderate slopes, nothing difficult at all. From the interpretive center, we headed to Kitanemuk Vista Point. Off in the distance, we saw fields of yellow and orange; and along the trail, we saw a wide variety of colorful wildflowers.

poppies and other wildflowers

The most amazing stretch of poppies was after the vista point and along the Antelope Trail Loop (between North and South trails). It was not a long stretch, but the poppies were close to the trail and abundant and beautiful. We felt lucky to have been guided to this particular area because it made the whole trip worth it.

The poppies weren’t as overall abundant and awe-inspiring as we were expecting, but I believe that was partly due to the weather that day. Since it was windy and cloudy and cool, all the poppies weren’t as open as they could be. Poppies curl up in cold weather.

At the reserve, there are strict rules to stay ON the paths and OUT of the poppy fields. Sadly, many people ignored or were unaware of those rules, and new paths had been created upon trampled flowers and grasses. In particular, I was deeply disturbed by two girls taking pictures of each other doing yoga poses in the field. For people who really want to traipse among the poppies, there’s a stretch along the main road leading to the entrance to the reserve where people can just park off the road and head onto land filled with poppies.

The California poppy was named California’s state flower in 1903, and coincidentally, April 6, the day we visited the reserve, is officially “California Poppy Day” (declared in 2010). “On California Poppy Day, all public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to conduct exercises honoring the California Poppy, including instruction about native plants, particularly the California Poppy, and the economic and aesthetic value of wildflowers; promoting responsible behavior toward our natural resources and a spirit of protection toward them; and emphasizing the value of natural resources and conservation of natural resources.”

Here’s some more interesting historical information about California’s state flower from the reserve’s brochure:

From brochure by The Poppy Reserve/Mojave Desert Interpretive Association

Staff members anticipate the bloom to possibly last until late April or early May depending on rain fall. Make sure to check Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve’s website for bloom status updates before heading out or call Poppy Reserve Wildflower Hotline at
(661) 724-1180.

Ideally, while in Antelope Valley, I would have liked to have added a visit to Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland to our outing. The woodland is just seven miles west of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. According to its website, it “protects and preserves an impressive stand of native Joshuas and junipers which once grew in great abundance throughout the valley.” Beautiful and interesting pictures can be seen on the Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park Pinterest page. I’ll keep it mind for my next trip to see the poppies.

Have you seen the poppies?

Southern California’s Annual Scandinavian Festival Returns

The annual Southern California Scandinavian Festival took a hiatus last year, but it’s back again this April for the 42nd time. It’s one of my favorite Scandinavian events in the greater Los Angeles area. We’ve gone as a family throughout the years and enjoyed lots of family friendly activities and great food. And the setting in Thousand Oaks is lovely. But then sports began taking over our weekends making it more difficult to attend, especially since the outing required close to an hour drive each way.

At the last festival in 2015, I chose to spend a day there alone instead of squeezing in a visit by the whole family. First I volunteered at an entrance selling tickets for a few hours, and then I wandered the grounds for a couple of hours more. What I love about the festival is that there is something for everyone, whether you’re there as a family with kids (kids 12 and under are free) or as adults enjoying on your own.

When we went as a family, it was all about keeping the kids occupied and happy, which certainly wasn’t hard. During their many visits throughout the years, my kids have made wooden butter knives, created fish print totes, made braided bracelets, marveled at Viking life, been fascinated by Viking weaponry, dressed like Vikings, fought like Vikings, played Kubb and croquet, played bingo, and climbed rock walls. They’ve eaten Swedish meatballs and pancakes, Danish aebleskiver, and Norwegian lefser.

We’ve always had a great time, but I wasn’t left with much of an opportunity to explore the more adult offerings. During visits with the family, I always spotted out of the corner of my eye the booths that demonstrated Nordic arts and crafts and food, but I never had a chance to really take a closer look. The musical performances on the festival stage I only enjoyed from afar. My perusal of the shopping area was always very quick.

Last year when I went alone, I still looked to see what activities were available for kids. Every third year my children’s elementary school has an International Day and I’m always on the lookout for activities that I can offer to highlight Norwegian or Scandinavian culture. I learned about Viking whipcord braiding, where weighted bobbins (in this case bottles) are swung back and forth to create a braid. It certainly looked like something we could do at our school’s International Day. Also, I saw the butter knife making station was as popular as ever.

Needless to say, I was able to leisurely visit the demonstration booths. I learned more about arts and crafts such as bobbin lace making and traditional Norwegian rosemaling. I visited the food demonstration booth while they were making rosettes.

At the Nordic Shopping Mart, I admired a great assortment of products such as jewelry, linens, woodwork, and other Scandinavian inspired items. I enjoyed food from the food court and performances on stage.

This year promises many of the same fun activities and experiences for all, plus more. Kids will want to pick up a Children’s Passport when they arrive and set out on a quest to complete a trip through the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Each country will offer a hands-on craft, and upon completion, the kids can get their passports stamped. In Norway, they will have a chance to make their own rock troll to take home. In Sweden, they can make straw ornaments, and in Denmark, paper fish are the main attraction. There will also be much happening on the Children’s Stage. The schedule includes songs, games, stories, puppet shows, and more. And of course, kids will also be able to visit Torsten the Troll, play Dala Horse croquet and Viking Kubb, make a wooden butter knife, and visit the Viking Encampment and Sami Village.

New for adults this year is a DNA and genealogy expert who will represent Family Tree DNA. DNA kits will be available for purchase if you wish to see how much Viking blood you have. There will also be local experts from the Conejo Valley and Ventura County Genealogical Societies to give advice and assistance.

The festival opens on Saturday, April 1, at 10:30 a.m., with a colorful parade of flags, along with dignitaries from the participating countries. Many will be in traditional costumes which will add a nice festive touch. The festivities then continue with a full schedule of performances, lectures, demonstrations of crafts and foods, and activities.

There will also be screenings of the documentary Yoik Fever, produced by Ellen-Astri Lundby (2013), both Saturday and Sunday at 12 p.m. It’s about “a young Sámi-Norwegian music major yearning to connect to her heritage through the dwindling Sámi singing tradition of yoiking. Part road trip, this wholly inter-generational journey undertaken by Ylva to master the art of yoik reveals the conflicted and courageous state of Sámi identity today… Filmed in an entertaining cabaret-style mash-up of film styles and genres, the film’s ending will leave you with a serious case of ‘yoik fever!'”

I will be returning to the festival this year again as a volunteer. Sports schedules are not set yet so I don’t know if the whole family will be able to go. Whether I go alone or the family joins me, I’m certainly looking forward to the return of the festival.

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.

Despite my love of the festival, I have a very big pet peeve – the festival’s name. It is not a Scandinavian film festival in the true sense. Officially, Scandinavia is only Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Since its inception, this festival has included films from Iceland and Finland, and a somewhat recent addition has been films from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. It’s too bad the name of the festival doesn’t properly reflect the scope of the festival.

This year’s entries include mostly features (many of them a country’s Oscar entry), a few shorts, and a documentary. There’s comedy, drama, adventure, and mystery. Big news for Scandinavian cinema this year is that three Scandinavian films made the shortlist for an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category – the Danish film Land of Mine, the Swedish film A Man Called Ove, and the Norwegian film The King’s Choice. The Danish and Swedish ones can be seen at this year’s festival, but unfortunately, not the Norwegian one. UPDATE 1/13/17: The Norwegian submission The King’s Choice is coming to the festival after all! It will be closing the festival in the evening of Sunday, January 22.

(If you’re curious about the other shortlisted films and the process of how a country’s entry becomes a nominated film, take a look at Oscars: Nine Films Shortlisted for Foreign Language Prize.)

What festival films look interesting to you? On SFFLA’s website, you can view and download a chronological schedule. Please confirm schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published.

  • NORWAY

THE CROSSING (Flukten), documentary by George Kurian (2015), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 12pm This award-winning documentary takes viewers along on one of the most dangerous journeys of present time. A group of Syrians, including young children, is fleeing war and persecution, crossing a sea, two continents, and five countries searching for a home to rekindle the greatest thing they have lost—hope. (55 minutes)

BIRD HEARTS (Fuglehjerter), short by Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 4:30pm — Benjamin and Maya share a life and an apartment in the center of Oslo. On the occasion of Benjamin’s 26th birthday, Tobias, Benjamin’s younger and more successful brother, comes to visit for the weekend. During a late night dinner party with friends, Maya tells a story about a sexual experience she had in Brazil. As a consequence, Benjamin’s insecurities and vulnerabilities begin to surface. (30 minutes)

alt-det-vakreALL THE BEAUTY (Alt det vakre), feature by Aasne Via Greibrokk (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 5pm — Ten years after their upsetting break-up, Sarah visits David at his summer house. He wants her to help him finish his play, but when he tells her it’s about their relationship, she wants him to abandon it. For decades, the two have been united by a web of paradoxes. Both wanted to be loved by the other, despite their faults, questionable morals, and lack of control. They have been addicted to each other’s company and yet they drove each other crazy. But even after all these years, despite anguish and dispute, they recognize that their relationship is still deeply grounded in humor, respect – and love. (91 minutes)

THE KING’S CHOICE (Kongens nei), feature by Erik Poppe (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 7pm — The King’s Choice is based on the true story about the three dramatic days in April, 1940, when the King of Norway was presented with an unimaginable ultimatum from the German Armed Forces: surrender or die. With German Air Force and soldiers hunting after them, the Royal Family was forced to flee from the capital. They decided to go separate ways, without knowing if they would ever see each other again. (133 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

  • SWEDEN

eternal-summerETERNAL SUMMER (Odödliga), feature by Andreas Öhman (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 12pm — Two young lovers meet in Stockholm and begin a whirlwind romance that sends them on an impromptu road trip through northern Sweden, where their summer adventure turns criminal in this Swedish mix of Bonnie & Clyde with a soft touch of Natural Born Killers. (107 minutes)

GHETTO SWEDISH (Rinkebysvenska), short by Bahar Pars (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 7pm — Aisatou is a black actress who’s been hired to record a voiceover for Stockholm’s top ad agency Måns and Petter. The session starts great, but it’s soon clear Måns and Petter want the ad to be more “gangsta.” Aisatou must chose between keeping her integrity or sacrificing it in order to please her employer’s stereotype. (10 minutes)

a-man-called-oveA MAN CALLED OVE (En man som heter Ove), feature by Hannes Holm (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 7:15pm — Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife’s grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbors. (116 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

A HOLY MESS (En underbar jävla jul), feature by Helena Bergström (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 1pm Simon and Oscar have been a couple for three years and together with their girlfriend, now nine months pregnant, they have bought an apartment outside Stockholm. They don’t know if Simon or Oscar is the father nor have they revealed any news to their families. They invite their somewhat homophobic families to meet for the first time during a Christmas celebration. (108 minutes)

  • DENMARK

land-of-mineLAND OF MINE (Under Sandet), feature by Martin Pieter Zandvliet (2015), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 7:30pm — A group of young German POWs are ordered by Allied forces to dig up 2 million landmines from the coast of Denmark with their bare hands. (100 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

THE COMMUNE (Kollektivet), feature by Thomas Vinterberg (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 6:30pm —  A middle-aged professional couple in 1970s Denmark decides to experiment with communal living by inviting a group of friends and random eccentrics to cohabit with them and their daughter in a sprawling house in the upmarket district of Copenhagen. It is friendship, love, and togetherness under one roof until an earth-shattering love affair puts the community and the commune to its greatest test. (115 minutes)

  • ICELAND

sparrowsSPARROWS (Prestir), feature by Rúnar Rúnarsson (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 1:30pm — This is a coming-of-age story about the 16-year old boy Ari, who has been living with his mother in Reykjavik and is suddenly sent back to the remote Westfjords to live with his father Gunnar. There, he has to navigate a difficult relationship with his father, and he finds his childhood friends changed. In these hopeless and declining surroundings, Ari has to step up and find his way. (99 minutes, Oscar entry)

HEARTSTONE (Hjartasteinn), feature by Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 1pm — In a remote fishing village in Iceland, two teenage boys Thor and Christian experience a turbulent summer as one tries to win the heart of a girl while the other discovers new feelings toward his best friend. When summer ends and the harsh nature of Iceland takes back its rights, it’s time to leave the playground and face adulthood. (129 minutes)

  • FINLAND

THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI (Hymyilevä mies), feature by Juho Kuosmanen (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 4pm — This is the true story of Olli Mäki, the famous Finnish boxer who had a shot at the 1962 World Featherweight title. Everything is set for him to become the first ever Finn to be the world champion in featherweight boxing. His manager Elis Ask, a former boxer himself, has prepared everything for them to reach fame and fortune. All Olli has to do is loose weight and concentrate. But he has a problem – he has fallen in love with Raija. (92 minutes, Oscar entry)

LITTLE WING (Tyttö nimeltä Varpu), feature by Selma Vihunen (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 5pm — Varpu is a 12-year old girl who learns how to drive when her friends steal a car. Meanwhile her mother is struggling with her own failed driving tests. One night Varpu has had enough of her mother’s misery. She steals a car and drives up north to find her father. (100 minutes)

  • ESTONIA

AN EMPTY SPACE (Tühi ruum), short/animation by Ülo Pikkov (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 3:30pm — A 10-year-old girl longed for a puppy as a birthday present, but instead she got a father she had no idea was alive. (10 minutes)

MOTHER (Ema), feature by Kadri Kõusaar (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 4pm — This darkly comic crime mystery set in small-town Estonia centers on Elsa, the full time caretaker of her comatose son, Lauri, and the locals, who are abuzz with rumors about who shot Lauri and why. But in this tight-knit town, where everyone seems to know everyone and everything except for what’s right under their nose, the world’s clumsiest crime may go unsolved. (89 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • LITHUANIA

SENECA’S DAY (Senekos Diena), feature by Kristijonas Vildziunas (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 2pm In 1989, the final year of the Soviet era in Vilnius, a group of eighteen-year old buddies establish Seneca’s Fellowship. Its motto is “Live each day as if it was your last.” A love triangle breaks up the fellowship right at the time the nation experiences an exceptional sense of community via the Baltic Chain. Twenty-five years later, the main character, who appears to be accompanied by good luck at first glance, is disillusioned with himself. He has betrayed the ideals of his youth and become a cold observer of life. Life forces him to open up his own Pandora’s box. (106 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • LATVIA

AWESOME BEETLE’S COLORS, short/animation by Indra Spronge (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 2:45pm — A nearly impossible story, supported by a catchy melody, guides us through the ABCs – from Awesome Beetles to Yellow Zebra. It is an educational film that offers visual, audio, and kinesthetic associations that help kids learn the alphabet. (3 minutes)

DAWN (Ausma), feature by Laila Pakalniņa (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 3pm — This film is based on a Soviet propaganda story about Young Pioneer (the Soviet equivalent of a Boy Scout) Morozov, who denounced his father to Stalin’s secret police and was in turn killed by his family. His life exemplified the duty of all good Soviet citizens to become informers, at any expense. In this film, Janis is a pioneer who lives on the Soviet collective farm “Dawn”. His father is an enemy of the farm (and the Soviet system) and plots against it. Little Janis betrays his father; his father takes revenge upon his son. Who then in this old Soviet tale is good and who is bad? This film reveals that a distorted brain is always dangerous. Even nowadays. (90 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • CLOSING THOUGHTS

Many interesting and intriguing images and themes jumped out at me when looking over these offerings. I loved reading phrases like “an apartment in the center of Oslo”, “summer house” (in Norway, along coast according to poster), “road trip through northern Sweden”, and “remote fishing village in Iceland”. Family relationships, friendships, gender identity, and racial stereotypes are explored. History is examined – Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe, World War II in Denmark, and Soviet rule in the Baltic countries. There is something for almost everyone in this selection of works.

Before an unexpected trip to Norway came on my calendar, it was looking like it would be a busy first weekend for me. I had planned to see Norway’s All the Beauty along with possibly Denmark’s Land of Mine and Iceland’s Sparrows. I also had my eyes on Bird Hearts until I read this article which stated, “If you see one sex-film this summer, make it this one. If nothing else, it will all be over in half an hour, even allowing for a cigarette and a decent scrub-down.” (Though Bird Hearts’ filmmaker Tøndel is apparently “an exciting new talent… barely out of film-school… [who] already commands his medium like an old hand.”) I would have loved to see A Man Called Ove, but I haven’t read the book yet so I wanted to wait anyway. Instead of transporting myself to Norway and environs via the screen, I’ll get to immerse myself in Norwegian language and setting in real life.

I’ll be back in time to catch the second weekend. I may visit a remote fishing village during summertime in Iceland in Heartstone and possibly join a 12-year-old as she drives up north in Finland to find her father in Little Wing.

My biggest disappointment is that Norway’s The King’s Choice (Kongens nei) is not being screened at the festival. I am very happy that The King’s Choice will be at the festival after all and I’ll be able to see it. Barnevakten, a Norwegian website that gives advice about media and children, recommends the movie for kids 9 years and older (though they warn that some scenes could be somewhat disturbing to kids on the younger side). Though the movie would have been a good opportunity for my kids to learn more about Norwegian history, it turns out the screening is too late on a school night. I’ll keep an eye out for it on Netflix.