Ten years of Nordic films at L.A. Festival

Four Norwegian films featured at festival in mid-January

By Judith Gabriel Vinje
Norwegian American Weekly
The blockbuster "Lange Flate Ballær" (Long Flat Balls II), the sequel to Norwegian director Harald Zwart's hit comedy, was featured during the second weekend at the L.A. festival.

The blockbuster "Lange Flate Ballær" (Long Flat Balls II), the sequel to Norwegian director Harald Zwart's hit comedy, was featured during the second weekend at the L.A. festival.

The 10th annual Scandinavian Film Festival in Los Angeles spanned two mid-January weekends, delivering a payload of riveting drama, zany comedies, haunting imagery – all in the Nordic mode.  Four Norwegian films were included in the festival.

The setting was the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, where the lobby was adorned with colorful posters representing some of the 100-plus films that have been screened at the festival since its beginning.

Drawing together people from all sides of the camera lens – homesick Scandinavian émigrés to third-generation transplants, seasoned cineastes to hopeful actors, and with a good mix of official, community and show-biz heavy weights, the festival lobby, setting for the Nordic Café, was lively with film talk in several languages in between screenings.

Founder/director of the festival, James Koenig, knows many of the regular festival-goers by now, as many attendees have shown up every single year since the festival’s inception in 1999.  Now drawing thousands at the Writers Guild Theater, the Scandinavian Film Festival is clearly making a mark on the film world, having become a veritable institution as well as a gathering place for Nordic film lovers.

The festival has a new site, www.scandinavianfilmfestivalla.com, which has information on all the films screened in the festival’s decade.

“It’s quite amazing,” Koenig noted.  “We’ve seen the work of veterans and neophytes.  In the context of many films, we’ve seen the cream rise. We’ve enjoyed a sense of discovery.  We’ve been inspired and involved and entertained.  That’s why we’re here.”  Koenig pointed out that Scandinavian films are increasingly hitting the mark, with more than 10 percent of films produced in Europe coming from the Nordic lands.

A Norwegian film opened the 10th annual festival in the early afternoon of Jan.10, with the screening of “Peer Gynt from the Streets.”  Based on the fifth and last act of Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” the actors of the film are homeless people in Oslo, Norway.  Originally titled “Gatas Gynt,” the film was directed by Hallvard Bræin, who was educated as a cinematographer with an MFA from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.  The screenplay Christopher Grøndahl creates, as well as the acting by down-and-out Norwegians, formed a perfect fit, adding new significance to the words and quest penned by Ibsen.

Highlighting the festival’s first weekend program were Academy Award submissions from the Nordic countries: “White Night Wedding” from Iceland, “Home of Dark Butterflies” from Finland, “World’s Apart” from Denmark, and “Everlasting Moments” from Sweden.

The second weekend included three Norwegian films.  The blockbuster “Long Flat Balls II,”   (“Lange Flate Ballær II”) is the sequel to Norwegian director Harald Zwart’s hit comedy, featuring the guys in Ed’s Garage and their entanglement in international politics.

“The Kautokeino Rebellion,” about one of the most dramatic episodes in northern Scandinavian history, was a major hit in Norway, outperforming all Hollywood films being shown in the country. The film, “Kautokeino-opprøret” in Norwegian, is directed by Nils Gaup, a descendant of a leader of the 1852 Sámi uprising the film is about.

And the short film “Dead Cold”  (“Iskaldt”) is set in the year 2020, when the Gulf Stream has disappeared, and the northern areas are frozen over.  Erik Smith Meyer journeys to Finnmark through a destroyed civilization to help his family.  But there is warmth in the ending.

Parent organization of Scandinavian Film Festival is the American Scandinavian Foundation of Los Angeles.  The festival sponsor list includes individuals and organizations, such as the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Scandinavian film institutes and consuls general.  That includes, of course, the Norwegian Consulate General in San Francisco, the Norwegian Film Institute, and, speaking of specifically Norwegian sponsors, Sons of Norway.

New to the roster of sponsors this year is a Santa Monica-based non-profit, ELMA – European Languages and Movies in America.  The festival is “peopled” by volunteers, and the Scandinavian gala opening feast is prepared by Norwegian-American David Larson and his “Taste is Everything” catering.

This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on January 30, 2009. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly and to subscribe, email naw@norway.com or call (800) 305-0217.

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