September 2018 Los Angeles Culture Challenge: Much to offer for Scandinavian enthusiasts!

Just because the lazy days of summer are over doesn’t mean you can’t seize the opportunity to do something new! September offers many opportunities to enjoy some special multicultural events or explore new-to-you areas. And Scandinavian enthusiasts in particular are in for a treat.

One particular favorite LA event, CicLAvia, returns at the end of this month on Sunday, September 30. But this is not a regular CicLAvia event; it’s a special eight-mile street party to celebrate the LA Phil’s centennial season. The route goes between Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA and the Hollywood Bowl, and it will showcase LA’s creative spirit with 1800 musicians, artists, and dancers coming together to perform at the six hubs and along the route. It even includes a free concert at the Hollywood Bowl in the evening (concert details and ticket information here). Celebrate LA!: LA Phil 100 x CicLAvia looks to be an event not to be missed.

For Scandinavian enthusiasts, September has much to offer!

Not only are there two special Scandinavian festivals going on this month, but also Norwegian film, music, and an author are making their way to Los Angeles.

        

Neither of the two festivals are in the local Los Angeles area, but both could make for interesting excursions out of town. During the weekend of September 14 to 16, Solvang in Santa Barbara County celebrates its Danish heritage with the 82nd annual Solvang Danish Days festival. The following weekend, September 22 and 23, you can experience all things Viking and Scandinavian at the Vista Viking Festival in San Diego County.

      

Norwegian thriller “Revenge” by writer-director Kjersti Steinsbø opens August 31 and runs through September 6 at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. Using a false identity, Rebekka sets out to confront the man with whom she shares a dark secret about the death of her sister. She must face the consequences of her actions and decide how far she will to go to seek revenge. It is in Norwegian with English subtitles. The LA Times says, “Come for the chills, stay for the view…

Wardruna, a Norwegian music group, is coming to The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown LA on Friday, September 14. Their music has been featured in the History Channel series “Vikings.” Although Wardruna’s music shares characteristics with music typically labeled as folk, world, and/or ambient, none of these genres really describes their unique style. It truly must be experienced. And now’s your chance! Buy tickets here OR enter my giveaway for a pair of tickets!

Finally, Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård will be in town to discuss My Struggle: Book 6the long awaited final book in the My Struggle series. He will make two appearances. The first one is Saturday, September 22, at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. The second one on Sunday, September 23, at Aratani Theatre of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Downtown LA.

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

August 2018 Los Angeles Culture Challenge: Don’t Miss an #OwnVoices Immigrant Film from Norway

Have you had a chance to try something new or explore a new-to-you area of Los Angeles this summer? Summertime offers some special multicultural events for Angelenos. There’s still time to take advantage!

Some exciting Norwegian film news! What Will People Say by Norwegian-Pakistani filmmaker Iram Haq opens today in Los Angeles. I saw this movie at AFI Fest this past fall and loved it. It’s a very powerful film about a first generation Norwegian teenager born of Pakistani immigrants in Oslo. The movie is about family, culture clash, honor, and shame. There were many gasp-out-loud moments in this film. It’s a thought-provoking and heart-breaking movie. I highly recommend it. It opened my eyes to a world very foreign to me, a world that could theoretically be right next to me without me knowing it. Read my full review here. It is playing at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. Visit Laemmle’s website to see showtimes. Don’t miss it!

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

Little Norway is making a name for itself in the big world!

I love hearing news of Norway’s influence, or Scandinavia’s in general, out in the big world, especially in the U.S. and when it gets close to home here in Los Angeles. The winter Olympics is always a fun time to be Norwegian. Lately, though, Norway is making a name for itself in other areas as well. Whether it’s film, podcasts, books, music, or sports (besides skiing), there’s something for every Scandinavian enthusiast right now. Here’s a round-up of various Norwegian “sightings” outside of Norway and Scandinavia. How many are you already familiar with?

Film

Right now Angelenos can see The 12th Man, a film about Norwegian history by Norwegian director Harald Zwart. It has a limited engagement at Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood (released in the U.S. on May 4). It is a World War II-set thriller based on the true story of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian resistance fighter who was the only one of his 12-member group to escape the Nazis when their sabotage mission failed. The movie follows him as he tries to make his way to neutral Sweden through the Arctic landscape. The Los Angeles Times writes, “World War II-set Norwegian thriller ‘The 12th Man’ has the right stuff.” Catch it before it moves on… There’s even a book, Defiant Courage: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by Astrid Karlsen Scott and Dr. Tore Haug, for those who are particularly curious about Jan Baalsrud’s experience.

Another movie to feature Norway is soon-to-be-released Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Norway’s iconic mountain plateau Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock) in Western Norway is where Tom Cruise does a spectacular stunt. The movie opens in the U.S. on July 27. View the official trailer with a glimpse of the scene at Preikestolen. A hike to the top of Preikestolen is actually on my Norway bucket list so I’ll be eager to see this movie.

Netflix Series

The Rain isn’t a Norwegian creation but rather a Danish one. It’s a brand new original 8-episode Netflix series that was released May 4. It’s about two siblings who, six years after a brutal virus wipes out most of Scandinavia’s population, join a band of young survivors seeking safety and answers.

And just in case you aren’t aware, there’s a relatively new Norwegian series currently available on Netflix as well. Borderliner, released March 6, is about a police detective who covers up a murder case to protect his family, but then his partner suspects foul play. Newsweek writes, “New Netflix series ‘Borderliner’ is the perfect Scandinavian noir gateway drug.

Podcast

Also going on right now is the new podcast Death in Ice Valley. It explores the still unsolved mystery surrounding a female body found in Norway’s Isdalen (Ice Valley), near Bergen in Western Norway, in 1970. Producers hope to solve the mystery with the help of modern technology that wasn’t available back then and with input from listeners from around the world. There’s even a Facebook group where members can view and further discuss the evidence provided in each episode. The first episode was released April 15, and a new episode drops every Monday.

If true crime, cold cases, mystery, and intrigue are your thing, especially with a foreign touch, then this podcast may be of interest. I’m currently listening to it as the episodes drop and am curious to see how/if this case is resolved.

Authors & Books

Norwegian authors are also making a name for themselves outside of Norway.

Music

It’s been a busy time for Norwegian musicians abroad as well! Kygo, SigridAurora, and Alan Walker all played at Coachella Music Festival in April in Indio, California. Coachella was apparently one of the biggest crowds Kygo has ever played for. Kygo is now wrapping up his “Kids in Love Tour” in Canada and Northeastern U.S. After Coachella, Sigrid was a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (watch appearance here). Kygo will be performing on The Tonight Show on May 14, and Aurora will be performing on Late Night with Seth Meyers on May 23.

Sports

Los Angeles’ Major League Soccer club LA Galaxy signed two Norwegian players for the 2018-19 season, Jørgen Skjelvik and Ola Kamara. The LA Galaxy also has Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, so Scandinavia is well represented.

And in case you’re not already aware, in honor of Norway’s Constitution Day (May 17) and the signing of its two Norwegian players, LA Galaxy will be hosting a special Norwegian Heritage Night at Stubhub Center in Carson on Friday, May 25. For more information on this event and how to buy tickets, please visit Los Angeles Culture Challenge: May 2018 (17th of May Celebrations & LA Galaxy Norwegian Heritage Night!).

Norway is also making a name for itself in boxing, female boxing to be precise, with Cecilia Brækhus (5 fast facts you need to know). Earlier this month in Carson, California, Brækhus not only continued her whole career win streak and defeated her opponent keeping her titles, but Brækhus’ match was also the first female boxing match to be aired on HBO in the cable network’s 45-year history of boxing coverage.

I hope you enjoyed this eclectic round-up of recent Norwegian sightings in the bigger world. If I missed anything, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Reflections on Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2018: A Preview

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

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

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

Norwegian (and other Nordic) Films at AFI FEST 2017

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

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

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2017: A Preview

sffla-header

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

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. Continue reading

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2015: Transported Back to Norway

SFFLA headerEvery year I look forward to the Scandinavian Film Festival LA (SFFLA) with an odd combination of excitement and uncertainty. I’m always eager to watch a Norwegian movie or two in Norwegian, but I usually never know anything about the films that are going to be screened. Only one year was I familiar with one of the films. That was 2013, the year when Kon-Tiki had been nominated for a Golden Globe and it was on the Oscar shortlist for best foreign film. That year I attended the festival, even the opening gala and buffet, with great anticipation.

As usual this year, I asked my parents if they knew anything about the Norwegian films, but they didn’t know much. When they go to see movies in Norway, they usually see American ones.

1001 Grams movie posterThere were many Norwegian films in different genres being screened this year: the documentary Optimistene (The Optimists), the movie Eventyrland (It’s Only Make Believe), Norway’s official Oscar submission 1001 Gram (1001 Grams), thriller Pionér (Pioneer), and crime thriller Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance). The only one they had heard anything about it was 1001 Gram. They thought they had heard it was good. That was enough for me to put it on my calendar. Continue reading