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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Lately (December 2018): Reading Challenges Wrap-Up & End-of-Year Reflections

December was all about completing my self-made 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and seeing how much of three other challenges (Reading Women ChallengeModern Mrs. Darcy Challenge, and Read Harder) I could complete before year’s end. I successfully completed my own challenge but unfortunately not the other ones. One thing the other challenges did for sure, though, was help guide my reading when I was looking for my next read because my reading wasn’t just about reading Scandinavian books. The other challenges were an incentive (and they provided great resources) for me to read books I would not otherwise have tried — new genres, authors, and perspectives — and for that I am very grateful.


On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

I needed an audiobook that I would quickly get absorbed in and would eagerly want to return to, and this one did the job. I came across the recommendation at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s post 6 recent audiobooks I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the main character and enjoyed how she dealt with her various problems—flaky boyfriend, new house with disturbing history, parents separating due to father’s midlife crisis, and new love interest. It was a fun book with nothing too serious, a nice palate cleanser.


The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl

(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

Kjell Ola Dahl is a new-to-me Norwegian crime writer, though he’s been writing since 1993. I jumped into this Oslo Detectives Series with book #6 and I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the previous ones. I liked the setting of Oslo and the crime was interesting. However, I was not a fan of the female detective Lena Stigersand. I like strong, smart female characters, and Lena made some dumb decisions with both a new relationship and her work responsibilities. I almost did not finish the book, but I was over half way done and wanted to know the resolution. Also, I needed it for my Scandinavian Reading Challenge. (I do believe this is Lena’s first appearance so maybe previous books in the series are better.)

Reading Challenges:


The Saboteur by Andrew Gross

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in a little-known history event involving people willing to risk everything for the love of their country. This is a historical fiction book about the sabotage of a Nazi-occupied factory in Norway during World War II. A by-product of the factory was heavy water which the Germans needed to continue their atomic bomb work. A group of Norwegians were trained in England to disrupt those plans. This book was especially fun to read since we had visited the site of the factory this past summer. I could visualize the factory and the landscape around it, which plays a significant role in the missions. I was thrown off a little with the fictional characters that were added to the story (like the American!) but the author’s note at the end put those doubts to rest. My 14-year-old son read and enjoyed it, too.

Reading Challenges:


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

(Translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies)

This was a fun and sweet read! It’s been on my radar for a long time (must have been the bookish title and cover), but I didn’t know until somewhat recently that it’s actually a Swedish book in translation. It’s about a young Swedish woman who goes to visit her elderly penpal in the USA. However, her penpal dies right before she arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa. It’s a story about a dying small town, unlikely friendships, new beginnings, and the power of books and a bookstore to make a difference in people’s lives. The audiobook narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King is also very good. I both listened to and read the book and highly recommend both versions.

Reading Challenges:


Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

I had great plans to read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for this challenge prompt, but due to time constraints I opted for this related middle grade book by him instead. Both the book and the author have been on my TBR list for a while so I’m glad I can finally check them off, but I do feel I cheated a little. Odd and the Frost Giants was a quick, enjoyable read which briefly introduces the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Loki and their enemies the frost giants. I will return to both the author and the topic some time in the future. (I gladly welcome suggestions as to which Neil Gaiman book I should read next.)

Reading Challenges:


One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah Death)

This author and book have been on my TBR list for a long time. When I saw that a film had been made based on it (Netflix original July 22 directed by Paul Greenglass), I prioritized it. This is not a quick and easy read. Not only is it 500+ pages but the subject matter is not very uplifting. (As of the writing of this post, I actually haven’t finished it yet, but I am more than 70% through it and determined to finish it and therefore counting it for my 2018 reading challenges.) I am alternating between the Norwegian edition and the English translation. Some parts, such as the political history of Norway, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik’s philosophy, and the bomb and weapon technicalities, are easier for me to read in English while the family narratives are fine to read in Norwegian. The book basically follows three people and their families before, during, and after July 22, 2011. Readers learn about Breivik’s childhood and what drove him to this horrible act. Of the many youth victims, readers get to know native Norwegian Simon Sæbø and recent Norwegian citizen Bano Rashid, a Kurdish refugee, and how their paths led to this political youth camp at Utøya. Stay tuned for more thoughts in another post once I finish the book and have watched the Netflix movie plus another July 22-themed movie which will be screened during the second weekend of Scandinavian Film Festival LA later in January.

Reading Challenges:


End-of-Year Reflections

What am I most proud of from 2018?

What am I looking forward to in 2019?

  • Reading books in translation from more areas of the world
  • My self-made 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge (join me!)
  • Seeing how much of other reading challenges I can complete with books I already own
  • Continuing to read and discuss books with my IRL and Scandinavian book clubs

How was your 2018 reading year?

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

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