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The Scandinavian Film Festival taps into Nordic sophistication

The Nordic countries produce some of the most unique, exciting and sophisticated films…The landscapes and settings…are so exotic and unique, but the themes are universal.”

In the lead up to the Scandinavian Film Festival, festival founder and director Elysia Zeccola heads overseas to scout films for the program; watching up to five films a day in search of the perfect picks. Her job description entails everything from working on the logistics of the festival to rubbing shoulders with directors and actresses.

Zeccola was drawn to Scandinavian film upon noticing the original and potent work coming from the region. Later, she was inspired to develop a festival for its films because nobody seemed to be paying attention to the work that was being produced by Nordic filmmakers.

“The Nordic countries produce some of the most unique, exciting and sophisticated films,” Zeccola says. “These countries have their similarities and their differences. A droll sense of humour seems to be a common link. The landscapes and settings of the films are so exotic and unique, but the themes are universal.”

Zeccola noted that many of the Nordic films screened at Cannes and other film festivals weren’t being picked up for Australian screenings and decided to do something about it – creating the Scandinavian Film Festival in 2014 as a platform to deliver these international works to Australian audiences.

“In the first year we were blown away by the reaction, opening with more than 20,000 admissions. We have now doubled that,” Zeccola says. “I must admit, I did expect this festival to be popular because Nordic films are so strong. Australians are discerning filmgoers and everything Scandi is in fashion, from design to cuisine.”

In the years since its debut, the festival has grown and developed with the film scene, with Nordic trends influencing the range of genres and themes happening within the cinema stemming from the region.

“When we started the festival, gritty Nordic noir TV series had become very popular and crime dramas are a genre the Scandi’s excel in, so those films – like the Department Q series – were the most popular films,” Zeccola says. “Now, I’m starting to see more comedies emerging such as Amateurs, winner of the Best Nordic Film in Goteborg. Immigration remains a topical subject, so each year more and more films explore this complex issue.”

This year, the festival’s offering involves a broad range of films, sweeping from crime and mystery to comedy and drama. Zeccola’s standards are high when it comes to curating the program, spending her nights at home making her way through releases from the past 12 months as well as travelling to Cannes, Berlin and Goteborg Film Festivals.

“Rather than a festival that focusses on many films from around the world, or a festival that focuses on one country, the festival highlights the best films from the last 12 months from five exciting Nordic countries, each with their own distinct voice,” Zeccola says. “The acting and directing across the board is of an exceptional standard and there are some great stories with interesting themes.”

Zeccola recognises that many Australian viewers are turned off by subtitles, making films from English speaking countries a natural fall-back, though she encourages viewers to approach foreign films with an open mind.

“I’d encourage anyone that thinks reading subtitles is hard to give it a go because you don’t notice that you’re reading five minutes into the film and these stories are so engaging and entertaining,” she says.

This year’s festival boasts a slather of choices, with many of the award winning films set to make their Australian debut at the festival. “The title for A Horrible Woman caught my interest and I went in thinking I’d hate it, so I was surprised to find myself enjoying this provocative and entertaining Danish film about a relationship that becomes very dysfunctional. It’s bound to divide people,” Zeccola says.

She describes other highlights such as Thelma as, “a beautifully shot Norwegian supernatural drama,” and Under The Tree as “part absurd comedy, part family drama, with a great script and a punchy pace from start to finish.

Border is a Cannes-awarded highlight about a customs official with an acute sense of smell. This film is a real genre-bending trip,” Zeccola explains. Describing another of her favourites, she says that What Will People Say, is a movingcross-cultural drama about a Norwegian teenager clashing with her traditional Pakistani parents.”

Aside from the obvious region-based differences, what sets the Scandinavian Film Festival apart from other film festivals is Zeccola’s devotion to creating an immersive experience for festivalgoers. Scandinavian Film Festival hosts interactive events, such as their opening night party, which allow attendees to experience the region’s flavours with cocktails and smorrebrod – a Danish delicacy – as well as bringing industry talent to the festival to provide filmgoers with Q&A sessions.

“I think audience engagement is an important part of organising festivals,” Zeccola says. “I hope everyone enjoys a great night out at the movies. Films can transport us to other parts of the world, open our minds, move us, make us think, make us laugh, or all of the above.”

The 2018 Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival will take place from Thursday July 12 until Sunday July 29 at Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Westgarth, and Palace Cinema Como. Tickets are available at the SFF website and all venues.