The 21st annual Scandinavian Film Festival LA returns to the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills the first two weekends of January. Start the new year with “top films from the top of Europe.” Despite its name, the scope of the festival actually extends beyond Scandinavia. Besides films from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, you can view films from the Nordic countries of Iceland and Finland as well as Baltic neighbors Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.
A highlight of the festival is the opportunity to see all the Nordic and Baltic countries’ submissions for the upcoming Oscars 2020’s International Feature Film category (formerly known as Foreign Language Film). (However, only Estonia’s selection made it to the shortlist of ten.)
- Norway – Out Stealing Horses by Hans Petter Moland
- Sweden – And Then We Danced by Levan Akin
- Denmark – Queen of Hearts by May el-Toukhy
- Iceland – A White, White Day by Hlynur Pálmason
- Finland – Stupid Young Heart by Selma Vilhunen
- Latvia – The Mover by Dāvis Sīmanis Jr.
- Estonia – Truth and Justice by Tanel Toom
- Lithuania – Bridges of Time by Kristine Briede, Audrius Stonys
On Saturday, January 4, at 6:00 p.m., join other film enthusiasts at the Opening Gala for drinks and a Scandinavian buffet meal. Gala tickets (a great deal at only $40 each) also include Opening Ceremonies at 7:15 p.m. and the screening of Norway’s only feature film selection at the festival, Out Stealing Horses, at 7:30 p.m. Buy your gala tickets now!
Below you’ll find a list of films by country. Descriptions are taken from the festival’s website, where you can also find a chronological schedule. Consider purchasing a SFFLA Festival Passport which allows admission to all screenings and the Opening Gala (available for $140), or you can buy tickets for individual films for $12 each online or at the door. Please confirm the schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published. Hope to see you there!
* NORWAY *
Out Stealing Horses (Ut og stjæle hester)
- Feature Film by Hans Petter Moland (2019)
- Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Per Petterson
- Saturday, January 4, 7:30 p.m. (123 min)
67-year-old widower Trond Sander (Skarsgård) transitions to a lonely retirement in the breathtaking but desolate landscape of eastern Norway. As winter arrives, he finds a neighbor who he once knew during the summer of 1948. Trond reflects back on that bucolic and childhood summer, the last one he spent with his father as they rode wild horses and chopped wood.
The Tent (Teltet)
- Short by Rebecca Figenschau (2019)
- Saturday, January 11, 12:30 p.m. (17 min)
A dysfunctional family of four is going camping, and poor communications skills make it a struggle to cooperate when trying to put up a complicated tent. The kids are reacting badly to the increasingly uncomfortable tension, as an underlying conflict between the two parents is slowly forced to the surface – and a shocking secret is finally revealed.
* SWEDEN *
And Then We Danced
- Feature Film by Levan Akin (2019)
- Sunday, January 5, 5:00 p.m. (113 min)
A passionate tale of love and liberation set amidst the ultraconservative confines of modern Georgian society, And Then We Danced follows Merab, a devoted dancer who has been training for years with his partner Mary for a spot in the National Georgian Ensemble. The arrival of another male dancer, Irakli, gifted with perfect form and equipped with a rebellious streak, throws Merab off balance, sparking both an intense rivalry and romantic desire that may cause him to risk his future in dance as well as his relationships with Mary and his family.
The Unpromised Land (Till drömmarnas land)
- Feature Film by Victor Lindgren (2019)
- Saturday, January 11, 7:15 p.m. (88 min)
Sabina has traveled from Romania to the small Swedish town Holmsund with her Roma brothers. They work in a garage and Sabina is looking for a job. Elin, born and raised in Holmsund, is in the church singing at the graduation ceremony. A summer is about to start and Sabina will get to know Elin. Together they will revolt against the old ways and find something new in each other. At the same time the society around them collapses in fear and Elin’s dad becomes insane by sorrow. Because there is a madness in the Swedish idyll.
Se7en Dayz till Payoff
- Comedy Short by Tk Krupka (2019)
- Sunday, January 12, 10:30 a.m. (34 min)
An arrogant working actor of low budget horrors hears about a recurring role as a homeless person on an Emmy nominated cop show that he badly wants to land. His agent is against it, but challenges the actor that if he could show him that he could be homeless for seven days, he’ll get him an audition.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
- Documentary Feature by Mads Brügger (2019)
- Sunday, January 12, 11:00 a.m. (128 min)
Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjöld. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime with even farther reaching consequences.
Greta’s Bed and Breakfast
- Comedy Short by Elisabeth Seth Rippe (2019)
- Sunday, January 15, 4:15 p.m. (30 min)
A successful business woman living in New York decides to go back to her home country Sweden after many years to support her best friend who is newly divorced. They make a trip together to a magical place where they meet odd people that change their lives forever.
King of Atlantis (Kungen av Atlantis)
- Feature Film by Marina Nyström, Soni Jorgensen (2019)
- Sunday, January 15, 5:00 p.m. (89 min)
When a young man who takes care of his schizophrenic father meets a young woman he tries to break free from his father to live his own life.
* DENMARK *
- Feature Film by Paweł Pawlikowski (2013, Best Foreign Language Film Winner 2015, Poland)
- Saturday, January 4, 11:00 a.m. (82 min)
Set in Poland in 1962, it is about a young woman on the verge of taking vows as a Catholic nun. Orphaned as an infant during the German occupation of World War II, she must now meet her aunt. The former Communist state prosecutor and only surviving relative tells her that her parents were Jewish. The two women embark on a road trip into the Polish countryside to learn the fate of their family.
- Feature Film by Mehdi Avaz (2019)
- Sunday, January 5, 2:30 p.m. (117 min)
A married couple, Leo and Olivia, are facing a crisis in their marriage. Their nine-year old daughter, Liv, becomes a messenger between her mother and father. The film explores the break-up of a family and the decisions parents make in trying to find meaning and hope when everything is falling apart.
- Short by Marie-Louise Damgaard (2019)
- Sunday, January 5, 7:30 p.m. (19 min)
It’s the big day of Mathias’ confirmation. The Danish tradition where young people say yes to being a Christian and enters adulthood. Mathias is transgender and just wants to be a normal teenage boy. His mother does everything to protect him, but who is this day really about?
Queen of Hearts (Dronningen)
- Feature Film by May el-Toukhy (2019)
- Sunday, January 5, 8:00 p.m. (127 min)
Anne, a successful lawyer and doting mother, places both her family and career at risk when she becomes involved with her teenage stepson.
The Dead Soldier
- Documentary Short by Jesper Ærø (2019)
- Saturday, January 11, 11:15 a.m. (43 min)
In Afghanistan, the Danish soldier Jacob Panton is shot five times by a sniper, is hit by a grenade and dies in the operation room. Miraculously he is brought back to life and survives the attack from the Taliban that occurred during his very last patrol. Back in Denmark a long and hard struggle awaits Jacob, his wife Charlotte and their daughter Dina. The former tank commander’s injuries are so severe that it is impossible for him to return to the army. Jacob struggles with a feeling of identity loss and is frustrated with the public treatment of injured soldiers. He slowly starts to find a new purpose in life by helping other war veterans get a tolerable existence.
Before the Frost (Før frosten)
- Feature Film by Michael Noer (2018)
- Saturday, January 11, 1:00 p.m. (104 min)
For years, Jens has been fighting to survive on a harsh, unyielding piece of land. The family’s decline in fortune is deeply felt and underscored by the local burghers. The parish priest humiliates them by moving them further back in the church, and Jens is now being targeted by Gustav, a wealthy Swede looking to expand his holdings. With winter coming, Jens must choose between marrying off his beloved daughter or losing his family’s only means of survival.
Daniel (Ser du månen Daniel)
- Feature by Niels Arden Oplev and Anders W. Berthelsen (2019)
- Sunday, January 15, 7:00 p.m. (139 min)
The story of Danish photographer Daniel Rye, who was captured by ISIS in Syria in 2013 and held hostage for 398 days.
* ICELAND *
Little Moscow (Litla Moskva)
- Documentary by Grímur Hákonarson (2018)
- Sunday, January 5, 11:00 a.m. (57 min)
During the Cold War, Iceland was part of the West. They became a member of NATO and the United States operated a military base there. Center right coalitions ran the national government and municipalities all across the country, with one exception: In Neskaupstadur, a town of 1,500 people in the east of the country, socialists ran the show. They came to power in 1946 and maintained control for 52 years.
A White, White Day (Hvítur, hvítur dagur)
- Feature Film by Hlynur Pálmason (2019)
- Sunday, January 5, 12:15 p.m. (109 min)
In a remote Icelandic town, an off duty police chief begins to suspect a local man for having had an affair with his wife, who recently died in a car accident. Gradually his obsession for finding out the truth accumulates and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones. A story of grief, revenge and unconditional love.
* FINLAND *
Stupid Young Heart (Hölmö nuori sydän)
- Feature Film by Selma Vilhunen (2018)
- Saturday, January 4, 4:00 p.m. (102 min)
An edgy, warm, and raw drama about the first love between the skinny and carefree Lenni and the gorgeous and popular Kiira. Not yet in a relationship, nor out of high school, they discover that they are expecting a baby. Lenni has nine months to become a man. Having grown up without a father figure, Lenni finds longed-for adult attention and guidance from an unlikely friend Janne, a member of a right wing group that has recently moved into Lenni’s diverse neighbourhood. After taking part in a scrambled attack on a local Mosque, while Kiira is rushed to the hospital to give birth, Lenni realises that he must learn to be a man in his own way, even though he never had a chance to be a child himself.
Project Rockin’ High
- Documentary by Matleena Saarensalmi-Hintikka (2017)
- Sunday, January 5, 10:00 a.m. (70 min)
The Finnish heavy metal band Ancara wishes to enter the Guinness Book of Records by organizing a rock concert in the mountains, and in order to obtain global coverage, they decide to try and reach Everest Base Camp. However, from the moment they make this decision, everything will start to go wrong and all the contradictions of a crazy and visionary project will begin to emerge.
Maria’s Paradise (Marian Paratiisi)
- Feature Film by Zaida Bergroth (2019)
- Saturday, January 11, 4:30 p.m. (110 min)
The orphan Salome is the servant and devout follower of Maria Åkerblom, a charismatic sect leader. But as Salome befriends a rebellious outsider and starts to have doubts, Maria turns dangerous.
- Feature Film by Hannu Aukia, Jaakko Manninen (2019)
- Saturday, January 11, 9:00 p.m. (86 min)
A tragicomedy set in the true Hollywood where the only spotlight is a malfunctioning streetlight, and the people least likely to make it are the most likely to give everything they got — for a chance to get a shot.
* BALTIC COUNTRIES *
- Documentary from Estonia/Latvia by Ksenija Okhapkina (2019)
- Saturday, January 4, 1:00 p.m. (60 min)
Russian documentary filmmaker Ksenia Okhapkina’s essay portrait looks at the strict order that governs life in a small industrial city in Russia. With her talent for visual composition and perceptiveness regarding local events, she puts together an audiovisual collage of seemingly minor details that enable us to observe a society bound by the regime and political power. Scenes of young girls learning about discipline at ballet school or adolescent boys training for the army are eloquent examples of citizen indoctrination, but the filmmaker avoids psychologizing the participants. Instead she portrays the dangerous ideology without excessive words or narration, thus perfectly capturing its furtive omnipresence and inconspicuousness.
The Mover (Tēvs Nakts)
- Feature Film from Latvia by Dāvis Sīmanis Jr. (2018)
- Saturday, January 4, 2:15 p.m. (90 min)
Based on the true story of Zanis Lipke, a working-class man who worked in German military warehouses during the wartime Nazi occupation of Latvia and as a smuggler of human beings at night, The Mover has been dubbed Latvia’s Schindler’s List.
Journey Home (Kelionés namo)
- Documentary from Lithuania by Ramuné Rakauskaité (2019)
- Saturday, January 11, 10:15 a.m. (56 min)
An upbeat memoir, never before presented in cinema, recounting the unexpected first encounters of American-Lithuanians who traveled back to their Soviet-occupied homeland after WWII. During the war, the heroes of the film were forced to leave Lithuania and became displaced persons (DPs). Their nostalgia created somewhat naïve images of their homeland. Yet when allowed to travel to Soviet Lithuania in the late ‘60s and 70’s, they were confronted with a different reality! This account of returning to their homeland reveals the hope and spirit of the pre-occupation era, the intersection of two different civilizations, colorful heroes and their unique experiences.
Bridges of Time
- Documentary Feature from Lithuania by Kristine Briede, Audrius Stonys (2018)
- Saturday, January 11, 3:00 p.m. (80 min)
A documentary about the “Baltic New Wave”, avant-garde filmmakers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during the 1960s.
Truth and Justice (Tõde ja õigus)
- Feature Film from Estonia by Tanel Toom (2019)
- On Shortlist for Oscars 2020 Best International Feature Film
- Sunday, January 12, 1:30 p.m. (149 min)
Estonia, 1870. Young and staunch Andres along with his wife Krõõt arrive at a farm bought on a loan to establish their new life. Desolate and neglected between the marshes, Robber’s Rise must be transformed into a place that will take care of the family. All they have to do is to break the resistance of the barren land, make his neighbour cooperate, and raise an heir – a son to inherit his father’s life’s work. But when nature refuses to bend, the neighbour turns out to be a roughneck rival, and Krõõt keeps giving birth to daughters, Andres struggles to find the right way. In his desperate search for truth and justice – from the court, the tavern and the Bible, he sacrifices his family, his friends and eventually himself. The beautiful dream of prosperous and nurturing Robber’s Rise gives way to an obsession, resulting in none of the things Andres wanted and everything he was afraid of.
What festival films look interesting to you?
Norway’s Out Stealing Horses is on the top of my list to see. Many others look interesting, but I’m especially intrigued by Iceland’s A White, White Day; Sweden’s The Unpromised Land; and Estonia’s Truth and Justice. What festival films look interesting to you?
A note to Scandi film enthusiasts, this year the festival needs your help more than ever. One of its major funding sources wasn’t available. Please consider helping make up the difference by making a tax-deductible donation. All contributions small and large are welcome. You may donate online or send a check to ASFLA/SFFLA, 3445 Winslow Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90026 (see SFFLA donor brochure). Your contribution is much appreciated!