Looking back at Scandinavian Film Festival Los Angeles, 2010

We’ve just wrapped up the 11th Annual Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. I kept telling the audience– we’ve started a second decade of Nordic film’s annual residency in Southern California! I was really pleased with the festival– we had more films than ever, more audience than ever, and a wonderfully diverse mix of people which I found better than ever. The film industry is really a global industry. It’s only human to be territorial or nationalistic–but I’m more interested in bridges than borders. I always hear questions like “Which Scandinavian country are you from?” or “Are you Scandinavian?” Some, I’m sure, are surprised when I say “No. I’m not Scandinavian except by inspiration and association. I’m an American of Swiss and German heritage and an adopted Finn. The truth is, people end up related to a culture or country or part of the world not only through ethnic heritage, but through life experience– education, travel, fields of endeavor, refugee journeys, various manifestations of love and marriage. The more we as human beings tell our stories and share our life experiences, the more we know and celebrate our common humanity. All the while, not losing identity, but adding to it! It’s the eclectic evolution of our lives. Cinema reflects our journeys. Sharing “cinema culture” crosses borders and division and opens not only our eyes but our hearts.

It was an interesting year– actually a little scary. We are all painfully aware of the state of the economy. Funding from abroad trickled to a halt. Everybody is in a “hold” pattern. Financing a film festival is no “cake walk.” “Maybe next year.” is not a good enough response when you’re concerned about THIS year! But we forged on– with more films than ever. And, thank God, more audience than ever! We’ve always had excellent audiences at the festival from the very beginning. But this year attendance was up by 40%! That makes me VERY happy– because it helps pay the rent! But even more so, it makes me happy to see awareness and audience for the films grow!

I love to share excellent films– and I love the sense of “discovery” when an audience experiences something new– something different, something that evokes a response. And what a wide range of expression there is between films like Klaus Haro’s LETTERS TO FATHER JACOB, and Henrik Ruben Genz’s TERRIBLY HAPPY, and Espen Sandberg’s epic MAX MANUS. And I believe we offer a unique opportunity for an annual full program of films from one part of the world. Some entertain. Some inform. Some inspire. And, as they say– “the cream rises.”

I firmly believe that art builds bridges– I’ve experienced that constantly as a classical singer whether performing in opera, musical theater, concerts, or recital venues for varied audiences in different parts of the world. I also know that teaching builds bridges. I teach singing privately already since graduate school at Northwestern University. I also teach at a wonderful summer program in Florence, Italy– the Bel Canto Institute www.belcantoinst.com . I also see an educational process going on at Scandinavian film festival L.A. Some of our audience takes advantage of the full immersion course seeing nearly every film. Others see films from a particular country. Then they respond– there’s passion, or not, and discussions ensue. There’s an educational and cultural process happening. I always say that the networking and “social” process that happens at the festival is an important component. We’re also happy when we can have wonderful directors like Klaus Haro and Henrik Ruben Genz at the festival to engage in “the conversation.” Our audience also included Iranian, Bulgarian, Mexican, Chinese, Czeck, and Lebanese film makers. That made me happy! Film is best when it brings people together. I supposed you can experience film in isolation. But we have all too much isolation in the world. Certainly we respond to films individually– but it’s nice to have a venue to share response, to keep “the conversation” going.

I know I’ve had strong response to film since I was a little kid– I really believed what I was seeing. So much so that when I was in kindergarten I came home from a Saturday matinee where a cartoon character kept using an umbrella as a parachute. That afternoon I got an umbrella and tried it from the garage roof! Fortunately it was into a sand-pile and I didn’t break anything.” Later, in high school, I’d sneak off across town to the only “art house” theater that screened foreign films with titles like “The Virgin Spring” and “Cries and Whispers.” My relationship with Scandinavian film had begun before I even knew it!

When we experience the “cinema-cultural exchange” of film we engage in an art form that, with varied vocabulary, gives voice to our deepest feelings– the good, the bad, the ugly. And not only do we express our own– we experience other peoples pain and joy and triumphs and follies. Art is the only world in which feelings can’t really be enslaved, or forbidden, or suppressed. Because somebody will pick up a pen, or musical instrument, or a camera and use it to share their story, their humor, their outrage, their response to beauty or to pain.


About Author

James Koenig

ames Koenig is someone whose voice is heard in various arts arenas. He graduated from Northwestern University with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in voice continuing studies in Italy, Germany, and California. As a classical singer he has sung in opera and concert venues around the United States and in Europe. He also enjoys teaching, directing, and writing. He is the founder/director of the eighteen-year-old Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. He says “My life seems to be filled with translations, sub-titles, super-titles, and sub-texts!” As a writer he has written theatrical pieces, articles for Odyssey Classical Music Publications in the U.K., journalistic pieces for a variety of publications, and a novel, as well as choral and liturgical works. He has been a contributor to a number of film publications including Cinema Without Borders. He was decorated by the Finnish government as a Knight of the Order of the Finnish Lion for his musical and cultural contributions.

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