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?

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.

What I’ve Read: Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) by Roy Jacobsen

Recently, I read Roy Jacobsen’s Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) for my Scandinavian Book Group. I always make a point of reading a Norwegian book in anticipation of (or during) our annual summer trip to Norway to brush up on my Norwegian, but I don’t often read another beyond that. I’m grateful for discovering this book group because it’s given me an added incentive to search out new (to me) Norwegian authors and carve out more time to read Norwegian.

I first became aware of Roy Jacobsen when I was home in Oslo during the summer of 2016. A Roy Jacobsen book, Hvitt hav (published 2015), was on the display of top 10 paperbacks at a local bookstore, and another of his books, De usynlige (published 2013), was on a table of popular books on sale. I was happy to find a contemporary Norwegian non-crime author who wrote novels set in Norway, and I made a mental note to consider him for a future read.

When it came time to pick the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group, the other members of the group were happy to make the next pick a Norwegian one in my honor (it was my first meeting with them). The only requirement was that it had to be available in English, and they preferred a non-crime book. They had already read Jacobsen’s The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles (Hoggerne, published 2005), so I suggested Child Wonder (Vidunderbarn, published 2009). The description and reviews sounded interesting, and it had received the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009 which made it even more promising.

Child Wonder takes place in Norway in the early 1960’s and is about 10-year Finn who lives with his working mother in an apartment complex in a working-class suburb of Oslo. He is a boy who does well in school and enjoys playing outside with his friends. He and his mother get along well. Then their world begins to change. First, they convert Finn’s bedroom into a room that they can rent out, and soon a lodger is staying with them in their apartment. And he brings along a television that ends up in the shared family room. Next, they welcome Linda, Finn’s unknown 6-year old half-sister, into their family.

The book looks at their life together for a little over a year through the eyes of Finn. We see Finn’s relationship with the lodger take shape. We see Finn being a surprisingly mature support and help to his new half-sister. We see his relationship with his mother progress. We see Finn wonder about his worth and place in the family. We also begin to understand that the mother is struggling with something unknown to Finn.

My favorite part of the book is the summer they spend on the island of Håøya, the largest island in the inner Oslo Fjord. The lodger lets them borrow his 6-person tent that is set up on the island. Finn and his half-sister spend a few weeks there enjoying the “green paradise”.

One of the things that makes this book interesting is that Finn is an unreliable narrator. He is young and obviously doesn’t know or understand everything yet. He also doesn’t share everything he experiences. We are left to question and wonder about what we read, in particular about the half-sister (there’s something not right about her), the lodger and the mother’s relationship with him, and the nature of the mother’s struggle. It makes for a good discussion with others who have read the book.

I actually read part of the book in English (the e-book is available through Los Angeles Public Library). Jacobsen’s writing style consisted of very long sentences with very few periods and it slowed down my reading pace, so I had to switch over to English for a few chapters to get through it a little faster in order to finish in time for the book group meeting.

It was interesting to read part of it in translation. It was a British English translation so I had to think twice about some translated words and phrases. In particular, the British word “estate,” used very often, did not suggest the right meaning to me, but I understood what was meant. I found the translation to be consistent with Jacobsen’s writing style. One thing that shocked me, however, was that the translator didn’t just translate, he actually added to the English text. I noticed it in one case, but since I only read a small part in both languages, it made me wonder what other additions or changes the translator may have made in the rest of the book.

I enjoyed the book very much. This was a character-driven story that was both heart-warming and heart-breaking at times and that kept me questioning and wondering, even after finishing the book. I’m open to giving one of his newer books a chance. Norwegian readers, please let me know if you have a recommendation – whether it’s one of Roy Jacobsen’s books or another Norwegian read.

Book Details:

  • Norwegian Title: Vidunderbarn
  • Author: Roy Jacobsen (born 1954)
  • Norwegian Publication Date: 2009
  • English Title: Child Wonder
  • Translator: Don Bartlett with Don Shaw
  • US Publication Date: 2011
  • Awards: Norwegian Booksellers Award (2009)

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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.

Scandinavian Gift Ideas

gift-guide-2016Do you have friends or family with Norwegian or Scandinavian heritage? Or are you looking to open your friends’ and family’s minds to new authors, settings, and cultures? I return with an updated gift guide to help you find gift ideas for friends and family. Here are some of our Scandinavian favorites for you to consider this holiday season. You can’t go wrong with books for both kids and adults, products to promote quality family time, and items to help create a cozy Scandinavian Christmas.

BOOKS FOR KIDS

Here are some of our favorite children’s books related to Norwegian history and culture.

magnus-chase-hammer-of-thorMagnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan: This is the second in a new series by popular children’s author Rick Riordan. You many know him as the author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus, in which Greek and Roman mythology act as the background. In Magnus Chase, however, Norse mythology takes center stage.

The Klipfish CodeThe Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova: Marit, a 12-year-old girl, and her younger brother are sent to a remote fishing island to live with their grandfather and aunt while their parents stay home to help with the resistance movement during WWII. At one point, Marit finds herself in a situation where she decides to take action despite warnings from her grandfather. This story also sheds light on a little known fact about the Nazi occupation of Norway: one in ten teachers were rounded up and sent to concentration camps for their refusal to teach Nazi propaganda to Norwegian schoolchildren.

lokis-wolvesThe Blackwell Pages (Loki’s Wolves, Odin’s Ravens, and Thor’s Serpents) by K. L. Armstrong & M. A. Marr: The Blackwell Pages is a trilogy that takes place in modern day Blackwell, South Dakota, where most people are direct descendants of Norse gods Thor and Loki. Now Ragnarok is coming, and it’s up to the main characters to fight in the place of the long-dead gods to save the world.

 

West of the MoonWest of the Moon by Margi Preus: This story interweaves Norwegian folk tales into two sisters’ quest to immigrate to America in the 1800s. From the author’s website: “After having been separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America.”

Shadow on the MountainShadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus: This is the story of 14-year-old Espen who joins the Norwegian Resistance during WWII. Espen begins by delivering illegal newspapers, then serves as a courier, and finally becomes a spy, dodging the Gestapo along the way. Preus incorporates archival photographs, maps, and other images to tell this story based on the real-life adventures of Norwegian Erling Storrusten, whom Preus interviewed in Norway.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan: This is based on a true story about a group of Norwegian children who smuggled nine million dollars in gold past Nazi sentries during World War II.

Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr: Written by a Norwegian author and translated, this story takes place in Norway and is about the adventures of two best friends, a boy and girl.

Doctor Proctor Fart PowderDoctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbø: This is a humorous 4-book series by popular Norwegian mystery author Jo Nesbø. Both my kids thoroughly enjoyed these books.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS

For English language readers who want to step into the world of Scandinavia, I recommend the following Norwegian authors and their translated books.

the-cavemanJørn Lier Horst is my new favorite Norwegian crime writer. Four of his books from the William Wisting series have been translated into English (Dregs, Closed for Winter, Hunting Dogs, and The Caveman). My first introduction to Horst and his series was Hulemannen, or The Caveman. The main character, Chief Inspector William Wisting, is a very likeable character and you get a get a feel for like in small Norwegian town on the east coast.

The RedbreastJo Nesbø is the author of the popular Harry Hole series about a recovering alcoholic police inspector. The series begins with two books set outside of Norway, but then it continues in Oslo with book #3, The Redbreast (book #1 in the Oslo Sequence). The story in this book alternates between the last days of WWII on the Eastern front and modern day Oslo. The Oslo Sequence contains 8 books for those readers who become hooked.

child-wonderRoy Jacobsen is a contemporary Norwegian author to consider if you’d like to step outside the world of crime. He is a prolific writer of novels and short stories, and many of his works have been translated into English. Child Wonder, winner of the prestigious Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009, is the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group that I’ve recently joined. It takes a look at a Norwegian childhood in the early sixties.

My Struggle KnausgaardKarl Ove Knausgaard is the author of a 6-volume autobiographical series called My Struggle. “Although originally categorized as fiction, the series is an unflinching self-portrait that has Knausgaard as its protagonist and his relatives and loved ones as the supporting cast” (New Republic, April 7, 2014). The first 5 volumes have been translated into English. The latest one, My Struggle: Book Five, was just published in English this past April. I have read the first volume and was surprisingly engaged in his exploration of his struggle with his father. (You can read my thoughts about the first volume here.)

Girl in the Spiders WebAnd finally, there’s the oldie but goodie Swedish author Stieg Larsson. His Millennium Series is a thrilling series about pierced and tattooed superhacker Lisbeth Salander and investigative reporter Mikael Blomqvist and their quests to solve crime cases. The series now continues with The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz.

 

American authors have also seized the opportunity to use Norway as a setting for their writing.

Sunlit NightIn The Sunlit Night, Rebecca Dinerstein writes about two strangers from New York City who meet in northern Norway’s Lofoten area during the season of the midnight sun. I have always been fascinated by that area of Norway and really enjoyed the emphasis on the setting in this novel. The phenomenon of the midnight sun is incredible to begin with, and experiencing it in northern Norway to boot is unique.

 

Norwegian by NightIn Norwegian by Night, Derek B. Miller tells the story of Sheldon, an elderly Jew, who recently moved from New York City to live in Oslo with his granddaughter and her new Norwegian husband. Sheldon is witness to a crime and takes the victim’s son to safety. “As Sheldon and the boy look for a safe haven in an alien world, past and present weave together, forcing them ever forward to a wrenching moment of truth,” the book jacket says. I am currently thoroughly absorbed in this book.

FAMILY FUN

Do you want to facilitate some quality family time? Consider these family friendly gifts.

There are some great looking Norway-themed puzzles out there! You can choose a traditional flat puzzle (go somewhat manageable with a 1000-piece puzzle or go big with a 3000-piece puzzle), but I’ve also discovered 3D and “augmented reality” puzzles.

           

And for families looking to use their Norwegian during family game time, there is a Norwegian language Bananagrams version with the letters æ, ø, and å.

Or to help get the family outside, consider the Viking game of Kubb. It’s a lawn game where you try to knock your opponent’s blocks down followed by their king. All ages can enjoy this game.

Is there a girl in your midst you would appreciate a new addition to their doll collection? Consider a Norwegian Barbie from the Barbies of the World Collection.

                                    SCANDINAVIAN CHRISTMAS

You can’t have a true Scandinavian Christmas without proper lights, baked goods, and chocolate.

candelabra-karin-natural-7          Krumkake      Freia

Window candelabras are a popular sight in Norwegian windows during Christmas time and add a cozy feel to the dark days, and they are a beloved staple in my home, too, during the holiday season. A krumkake iron griddle will help families fulfill the traditional Norwegian Christmas custom of baking seven sorts of baked goods, one of which is a krumake, a rolled up waffle cookie. You can even buy some krumkake mix to go along with is. And of course, there’s nothing like some true Norwegian Freia milk chocolate to sweeten up the holiday season.

Keeping ChristmasFor families with a Norwegian background, they might enjoy the book Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land, which looks at Christmas traditions from Norway and Norwegian America. With “scores of accounts of ancient and modern Christmases, with recipes and photographs, this book reminds Norwegians and Norwegian Americans of their connections to each other and explains how their celebrations differ on this joyous family holiday” (book jacket). I have the book and it comes out every Christmas season. I read a different part of it every year and always learn something new and interesting.

SUBSCRIPTION TO THE NORWEGIAN AMERICAN

the-norwegian-americanAnd last but not least, for your family and friends with a Norwegian background, consider giving them a subscription to The Norwegian American, America’s only Norwegian newspaper. It has been “the voice of Norway in America” for 125 years. I always look forward to receiving this newspaper. I enjoy reading features about Norwegian happenings at home and abroad, Scandinavian food and recipes, history, and travel. I also often get book recommendations from the paper.

For many more of my favorite Norwegian and Scandinavian items, especially English translations of Norwegian books, please check out my online store.

Do you have suggestions for other gifts that would hit the spot with Norwegians and other Scandinavians? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

God jul!

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Volunteering at Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar 2016

volunteering

This year I switched things up and volunteered at the Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar instead of just attending as a guest. My day was all about food which suited me perfectly.

For me, food has always been a main reason for going to the event. I come to eat foods I only eat once a year, to buy freshly baked goods from the bakery, and to stock up on foods and drinks for Christmas time. On this occasion, I was assigned to the kitchen and café, and that was an assignment I appreciated and enjoyed greatly.

My day started out with getting wienerpølser (Norwegian sausages) in a pot for simmering, stirring lapskaus (meat stew), and slicing geitost (goat cheese) for julebrød (sweet bread with raisins). Once the event officially began, I headed out to the café and served cake and sandwiches to eager guests. Continue reading

Norwegian Language Opportunities in Los Angeles

norwegian-alphabet-jana-johnson-schnoor

Norwegian Alphabet by Jana Johnson Schnoor

Norwegian is not in high demand so opportunities to learn and use the language here in Los Angeles are very limited. There are, however, two establishments that stand out as centers for Norwegian language and culture here in the Los Angeles area: Norwegian Church in San Pedro and Scandinavian Center in Thousand Oaks. At both places, you can not only pursue your interest in learning Norwegian, but you can also learn about Norwegian culture and customs. Continue reading

Guide to Norway’s Slow TV on Netflix

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

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

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

Continue reading

Hipp Hipp Hurra for Norge: 17th of May Celebrations at Nansen Field in Los Angeles (2016)

Doobie & SonnyNorway’s National Day snuck up on us this year even though it was on our calendar. We didn’t decide to attend the festivities at Nansen Field until the evening before. The next morning we rallied the troops, dug out our Norwegian flags (and once again remembered we need new ones for next year), and headed down to Rolling Hills Estates, about a 30-minute drive south of Los Angeles.

We arrived just in time. They had just started playing the national anthems and were raising the flags of the United States and Norway. We found a spot next to friends of ours and listened to greetings from Honorary Consul of Norway in Los Angeles, a sermon by the pastor of the Norwegian Seaman’s Church in San Pedro, and the traditional 17th of May speech.

17th of May CeremonyIt didn’t take long for Sonny and Doobie to head off to the open soccer goal on the huge empty field. But it also didn’t take long until they were overrun by little kids and their parents and had to abdicate the goal.

Photo courtesy of Sonny

Photo courtesy of Sonny

Something new to me this year that I really enjoyed and thought added greatly to the festive feel of the day were the musical performances. Continue reading

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2016: Intense and Touching

Scandinavian Film FestivalIt’s that time of year again when the Scandinavian Film Festival takes place in Los Angeles over two weekends (Jan 9 &10 and 23 & 24). There were not a lot Norwegian films on the schedule this year, only the documentary Maiko: Dancing Girl (about a Japanese girl who becomes a star ballerina at the Norwegian National Ballet) and thriller/disaster movie Bølgen (The Wave). Luckily, The Wave fit into my schedule the first weekend, and I was even able to take 11-year-old Sonny.

BølgenI had heard about The Wave before news of its participation in the festival. It had done very well in Norway, and Magnolia Pictures had bought U.S. rights to it and is aiming for an early 2016 U.S. release. Being a disaster movie, and in particular involving a family with younger kids, it wasn’t really my ideal movie to watch. But it was from Norway, in Norwegian, and took place in Norway. I decided I could handle it. I researched whether it would be appropriate for an almost 12-year-old. In Norway, it was rated “15”, which means it’s ok for 15-year-olds and also 12-year-olds and older if accompanied by an adult. I showed Sonny the trailer (which actually included a lot) and he said he was interested in seeing it and that he’d be able to handle it.

Waffles at SFFLAWe arrived at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills with not as much time to spare I would have liked, but luckily they were running a little late. We had time to get some Norwegian waffles, which was a totally unexpected but a very pleasant surprise. We actually smelled them upon arrival when we were buying tickets. Maybe they’ve offered waffles in the past, but this was my first time noticing it. Ida, dressed in a lovely traditional bunad, even offered Sonny the opportunity to go behind the table to help with our waffle. Ida was busy. We had to wait patiently for our waffle. Each customer got a waffle hot off the iron, which is the best kind. Assorted pastries were also available, most likely from Copenhagen Pastry. They were tempting but we had to rush into the theater.

We both enjoyed the movie. The setting was beautiful—how can you beat Geiranger Fjord—until the wave hit. For me, the most difficult and disturbing parts were after the wave destroyed the town. It was an intense movie, but I think it was harder for me to watch since I was a mother who could relate in some ways to what the mother in the movie was going through. Sonny just watched it for what it was, an intense movie. I won’t reveal too much since the movie is going to be released in the U.S. sometime relatively soon and you may be interested in seeing it.

RamsUsually, I just stick to Norwegian films, but this year I ventured out beyond my comfort zone and saw Rams from Iceland as well. My husband and I have been to Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s a beautiful country. I read that this film takes place in a remote Icelandic farming valley. I was intrigued and went with the hopes of seeing some beautiful scenery and getting a glimpse of life in such a community. The movie was enjoyable. The story of the two stubborn brothers and their relationship with their sheep was amusing and touching. The ending was unexpected. What I especially enjoyed was the introduction to the movie by the producer and director. It’s always interesting to hear stories of what goes on behind the scenes of a movie.

Moomins on the RivieraThe festival continues the weekend of January 23 and 24 in Beverly Hills with films from Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Latvia, and Sweden. There’s even a children’s movie this year, Finland’s Moomins on the Riviera, a hand-drawn animation based on beloved Finnish comic strips by Tove Jansson that have become popular all over Europe. It will be screened Saturday, January 23, at 12:30pm.

It’s not too late to catch something out of the ordinary and to expand your cinematic horizons. Venture out and see some of the “top films from the top of Europe” next weekend. See the festival schedule with film descriptions here.Schedule at SFFLA