Courtesy of Nordic Lights Film Festival

Nordic film festival sheds light on real-life Scandinavia

By Christy Wolyniak

The Nordic Heritage Museum and the Seattle International Film Festival celebrated their Fifth Annual Nordic Lights Film Festival last weekend, highlighting feature-length, short films, and documentaries never before seen on American soil.

These vast and frigid lands set against the backdrop of any outdoorsman’s dream mystify many. Last weekend; however, Seattle had the opportunity to take a front row seat into the real Scandinavia.

Films from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and this year, Greenland, portrayed daily life rich in culture and often times, survival of extreme elements. All of the films were in the country’s original languages accompanied by English subtitles.

“The Nordic Film Festival is intimate and specific to Nordic countries. Nature often plays a big part in the movies. More than scenery a lot of times, I think that it shows life in many of the Nordic countries that are more dependent on weather or nature,” said Nordic Heritage Museum Public Programs Coordinator, Stina Cowan. Cowan helped organize the first festival in 2009 through a partnership with SIFF.

Now every year American audiences have the opportunity to learn about Scandinavian culture through the talented work of these Nordic film directors and producers.

“The eyes of the world are more and more focused on Greenland, that big piece of ice that’s melting. The ice is melting, but so is their culture,” said Inuk director, Mike Magidson.

The SIFF Film Center was a full house with no tickets to spare on Friday’s opening night for the screening of Greenland’s feature film, Inuk. Through the lens of the modern struggle of Greenland, a troubled sixteen-year-old boy sets out on a journey of self-discovery across the Arctic with local polar bear hunter, Ikuma.

Magidson was accompanied by several of his actors, including polar bear hunting legend, Unartoq, which means “the one that burns from inside” in Kalaallisut, an Inuit dialect of Greenland.

“I feel humble because I’m not Greenlandic but I do feel like Greenland’s now a part of my family. And it’s actually quite moving to have made a film that, for Greenland, is now considered a part of their heritage,” said Magidson.

Originally from San Fransisco, Magidson has been living in Europe for the past 17 years directing films and documentaries. He met up with co-writer of Inuk, Jean-Michel Huctin, who first approached Magidson with the idea for a film on the home for neglected Inuit children in Greenland. All of the actors used in Inuk were non-professional, local Greenlanders: children from the Inuit home and local hunters, amplifying the authenticity of the experience.

“Any occasion to give the public an opportunity to get a taste of another culture, in this case Scandinavian culture, is a good occasion. We’re all so closed in our little world of 49ers vs. the Seahawks, that we tend to forget that there’s a whole vast world out there. It’s important for Seattleites to try to maintain that link through these types of events,” said Magidson.

Foreign films to some, but not to all, perhaps. For those in the audience who are especially close to their Scandinavian roots, watching a film at the Nordic Film Festival might be more akin to having a conversation with grandma, or mormor, in Swedish.

“Nordic film and literature have long been ambassadors of Scandinavia to the world. Both genres of artistic expression are a balance of the uniqueness of place and universal emotions and issues. Because of this, watching Nordic films feels so special and unique and yet very accessible,” said Erin Schadt, Marketing Manager for the Nordic Heritage Museum.

The aftermath of Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption in Southern Iceland left farmers in a desperate fight to save their livelihood. Directed by Herbert Sveinbjörnsson, documentary Ash follows three families over the course of a year who each grapple with the effects of the ash after disaster in very different ways.

“People need to see what is going on in the world. We need to keep reminding people through cinema, art, and literature, that we aren’t that different. Scandinavian cinema can bring that to America,” said Sveinbjörnsson.

Due to economic hardship in past years and government funding cuts, filmmakers in the Nordic countries have had to get creative, often taking on multiple jobs to produce a film rather than hire. Exposure can often be difficult.

The Nordic Film Festival is one way these films reach a broader audience. Finnish comedy, Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything?), recently received an Oscar Nomination for Live Action Short.

Producer, Pancho Kohner, of the Norwegian feature drama film, Victoria, was also in attendance Saturday night for the screening, followed by a question-and-answer session. Writer and director Torun Lian created this romance film as an adaptation of Knut Hamsun’s 1898 novel; set it 19th century Norwegian society.

“Nordic film is as popular as ever and we are excited to continue to bring movies that aren’t as easily accessible to the big screen in Seattle. Our mission at the Museum is to share Nordic culture with people of all ages and backgrounds, and this festival is a prime way in which we deliver on our mission,” said Schadt.

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