James Koenig talks about 20th Scandinavian Film Festival LA


The 20th Anniversary Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. (SFFLA) will be in residence at the Writers Guild Theater 135 S. Doheny in Beverly Hills January 5, 6, 19 20 with “top films from the top of Europe” featuring “Oscar” submissions and other current films from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and with BalticFilmExpo@SFFLA–Baltic neighbors Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

To learn more about the festival we had an interview with festival’s director and founder James Koenig.

James 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 twenty-years-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 several 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.

Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about the 2019 Scandinavian Film Festival L.A.
James Koenig: Another year begins—2019—and we’re marking the 20th Anniversary of Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. We’re celebrating! But what we’re really celebrating really is the talent and creativity of more than 300 films we’re brought to the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills to share with our savvy audience of L.A. film lovers, industry professionals, ex-pats, and people tied to the north of Europe by interest, heritage, or mere curiosity. We are proud of the accomplishment of 20 years of “cinema cultural exchange” for sure.

BT: How many countries have been covered in 2019? Any new film makers- will be introduced this year?
JK: “Take 5” was one of our early monikers – and those five were the Nordic countries we represent—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. But in recent years we’ve added a Baltic component to the festival. That’s common in northern European festivals—for example Nordische Film Tage in Luebeck, Germany—a major Nordic film event. There has long been a cooperation between Scandinavian film and Baltic film, and so we added BalticFilmExpo@SFFLA to the mix. There were all sorts of reasons for doing this—but primarily we felt that it was an especially important time to reaffirm the Baltic region’s ties with the west. Those ties have long existed—we didn’t create them—but we’re affirming them.

BT: Are there any Scandinavian box-office hits screened at the festival. Any major award winner?
JK: Many of the films have been box-office hits in their respective countries. Many have won awards at Cannes or Toronto or Berlin. I find it very interesting that the opening night film—“The Guilty” from Danish Director Gustaf Möller — incredibly produced, acted, and directed—has been bought for an American remake starring Jake Gylenhall. The film represents excellence all the way around—but American audiences tend to be sadly phobic when it comes to subtitles. Our spice-racks are loaded with all kinds of things, but we haven’t discovered the flavor of languages. Some years back we were the only festival to screen in sequence all three of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series. The remake was good—but certainly lost the cultural flavor and nuance of langue. But arguably one can’t fault them for picking up a good story via concept or script and making it accessible to the masses. We have also seen films picked up for re-makes and the remake never happened. I have sometimes thought that the variation in cultural context just wouldn’t work for a remake in another setting. “The Guilty” has every possibility of being well done in the re-mark.

BT: Will there be any filmmaker guest attending the festival and Q&A?
JK: I’m happy that we’ll have both the director and producer of The Guilty with us on opening night. They’ve been short-listed for nomination for Best Foreign Language film. We’ll have other directors with us as well—Finnish Director Aku Lohimies will be with us his powerful film Unknown Solider. And we’ll have another important historical film—The 12th Man from Norwegian Director Harald Zwart. We had several of Zwart’s other films at the festival in past years. One of the joys of the festival is seeing various films from outstanding directors. We’ve had Harald Zwart, Aku Lohimies, and Finnish Director Klaus Härö with us before SFFLA with outstanding work. Klaus Härö’s “One Last Deal” will close the festival on January 20.

BT: How can international cinema fans attend the festival?
JK: International cinema fans have a great opportunity in our festival to immerse themselves in two week-ends of “Top films from the top of Europe.” All of the Nordic films are fascinating as well as excellent films from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The full schedule is on-line at www.sffla.net. Tickets are also on sale online—(it really saves time to buy on line)—and they’re also available at the theater. On opening night the festivities include an opening gala buffet (5:30) preceding opening ceremonies and the screening of “The Guilty” at 7:30 followed by Q&A.

BT: We have the same question as every year how can you continue to have this challenging festival to happen on annual bases? And how challenging was to arrange 2019 festival?
JK: Fundraising for the festival is a major challenge each year for sure. We have a top industry known venue, and any festival has a lot of expenses. We have become a popular festival in the “awards season” line-up —people expect us to be here in January with our residency of Nordic and northern European films. So we keep trying to live up to expectations and offer a great program of films.

And for the countries themselves—(we represent eight countries)—JUST the Nordic countries account for more than 10% of all of European film-=making. Add to that the three Baltic countries—and we’re offering a nice portion of European film making to our L.A. audience. We share stories with unique cultural perspectives and flavors. And in that exchange, we share our common humanity, and the fact that cinema really is “without borders.”


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

Comments are closed.