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.” (Sign up here to receive e-mail updates on the festival so you don’t miss news about next year’s festival dates!)

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

Kon-Tiki at the Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2013

SFFLA program coverThe Scandinavian Film Festival LA is one of my favorite local Scandinavian events. I’m always eager to see what Norwegian films will be screened at the annual festival and I look forward to absorbing myself in my native language.

Usually, I need to run the list of films by my parents who live in Norway to see which ones they recommend, but this year there was no need for that. I had heard about the movie Kon-Tiki long before I saw it would be at the festival. It had been nominated for a Golden Globe and had made the short list for an Academy Award nomination (and then did become one of five films nominated). Kind of exciting that a Norwegian film gets that kind of recognition. Also, I’m familiar with the topic. I’ve visited the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo several times. I’ve taken out-of-town guests and also my own kids. I certainly wanted to see the Norwegian film that had made it this far in the film world and was now so close to home. Continue reading

Dark Shadows Premiere and After Party

When people think of Los Angeles, what comes to mind is often movie making and movie stars. Along with that comes premieres and after parties. During my time of living in LA, and due to the fact that I married into a movie-making family, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to attend a few movie premieres, the most recent of which was Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, and what an evening it was. Continue reading