The Nordic International Film Festival (NIFF) calls for a dual theme of grit and glamour. Grit, of course, is that quintessential factor that gets us through the hard times so that we can celebrate the good times, as guests will do as they walk the red carpet in vintage glam on opening night, Wednesday.
NIFF’s focus seems to be on fashion, but the dress protocol goes deep to meet their commitment to sustainability. Migration, not fashion, is the common thread among the festival’s films. The opening night feature film, Norwegian Dream, like several of the 22 films screening this year, focuses on economic migration.
“As I was setting the official selection together with the programming team, lead by Franca Paschen, the theme humanity became very apparent,” says Linnea Larsdotter, founder of NIFF.
All the films at NIFF 2023 highlight the human experience. They show that we have a need to be our authentic selves, to express, to be heard — and that we all carry complicated emotions that challenge us, she adds.
NIFF is showcasing films with a social theme and manages to connect the red-carpet affair to environmental practices. This year’s “grit to glam” theme fuses elements of Nordic Noir coupled with Hollywood glamour and calls for guests to wear pre-loved, vintage, borrowed, thrifted, or previously owned attire.
The by-invitation-only ticket comes with access to the filmmakers, special performances and other surprises for media and VIP guests at The Box, a modern-day house of curiosities with a décor that straddles centuries of design esthetics without getting stuck in any of them. The venue has so much character that it defies a category of classification – and looks like the perfect location to shoot a Gucci ad. It’s part theatre, with balconies overlooking the lower level, part elegant dining hall, salon, club, or concert venue, with a transformable black box for a stage that sometimes has scantily clad aerialists swinging freely above the heads of audience members.
The opening night events include an exclusive preview of new music from Swedish pop musician Virgin Miri. The festival’s ‘grit to glam’ theme is a match with her seductive, mercurial musical persona, and The Box is an ideal atmosphere to showcase her work. Miri’s new song, Only God Forgives, is directed by her and produced together with GRAMMY-winning artist T-Minus (Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole).
If the new song is anything like the others (Sad B!tch, Stupid Little Party Girl, Stupid Ordinary Basic, Make A Movie featuring Young Thug), Only God Forgives will have a storyline that deals with deception, moodiness and isolation, characteristics common to the Nordic Noir genre (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series of films). The style takes its cue from popular Nordic television/film crime drama. The video for the song Kill Me puts minimalism, vast landscapes and snow in the forefront as this form of storytelling often does. Miri directed and edited Kill Me with filmmaker Andreas Öhman. The song’s video was recently nominated for a 2023 UK Music Video Award.
Norwegian Dream, a Norwegian-Polish-German queer coming-of-age drama from director Leiv Igor Devold examines the search for identity. The driving force behind the move to Norway from Poland for the film’s lead character Robert (19), played by Hubert Milkowski, is work. He has to earn money to pay off his mother’s debts and ends up at a fish factory where the story unfolds. The fish factory where Robert works is accused of practicing social dumping, when employees pay workers lower wages. Jobs are sent overseas to countries that have less stringent labour laws or are subcontracted to local companies that hire vulnerable workers, often migrants.
Matti Johansson’s film Paris, Tumba is also about moving for economic reasons. Saga, the lead character in this Swedish production, has no money and is jobless at the end of a relationship. She returns home to live with her parents in Tumba, a suburban area in Stockholm.
Golden Land, a Finland, Norway, and Sweden co-production from director Inka Achté explores migration as well. Mustafe Hagi believes his prayers were answered by Allah after finding gold and copper on his family property. He decides to return home to post-civil war Somaliland with his family in tow after 25 years of living in Finland. Hagi’s young children are not so easily convinced that the move to Hargeisa is the right thing to do. Golden Land is a documentary with the comic relief, pace and feel of a film with a fictional narrative.
Band, a production directed by Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, about an all-female Icelandic group trying to make it big at middle age, has a similarly smooth quality. The preview of Band recalls humourous scenarios from the fictional American television series Girls5Eva about a girl band trying to make a comeback.
Yawash Yawash from Clara Charrin, USA, is one of three world premieres among this year’s lineup. It too is a documentary. The film examines the trend of migration by Albanian and Kosovar tourists to a small coastal town, Shengjin, in Northern Albania. The quiet seaside resort town has become a tourist hot spot. Since August 2021, the Rafaelo hotel complex, with its blue water swimming pools and low-rise buildings, has become the unlikely home for thousands of Afghans who left their country after the government fell to the Taliban. “American and Canadian organizations have been evacuating Afghan citizens and placing them in Albania (among other countries) while they process their visas. Over 2,500 refuges have found a temporary home in The Rafaelo alongside transient tourists.” Yawash, yawash means slowly, slowly and, in this instance, refers to the wait by hundreds of refugees with “no family, no country, no friends.”
One Minute has a trippy, intriguing storyline and an unusual twist. Directed by Matilde Sköld, the film is about two women who are moving into an apartment. “They spot two people waving to them from an apartment across the street,” who turn out to be “their doppelgangers, seemingly existing one minute ahead in time.” The film’s Hitchcock-style premise is among the Rear Window, or woman in the house across the street genre of psychological thrillers, like the recent movie, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window starring Kristen Bell. (If you like this type of film check out this short story Smoking Guy in Core Magazines.)
There are stories that look at personal and systemic social struggles. Andrés Hidalgo’s film from Ecuador is an example of what happens to poor families with children fighting cancer in Guayaquil, an underserved urban area. Joseph Amenta’s international feature looks at a group of adolescent friends in Toronto’s underground club scene when one of them goes missing. Jade Aksnes’ production from Norway tells the story of a woman, Tara, who is denied help to pay her electricity bill and is told by social services to get a free grill instead. Like Hidalgo’s film Journey, Grill was inspired by true events.
The Nordic International Film Festival runs from Oct. 18-22 with screenings at two other venues. On opening night, The Box (189 Chrystie St., NYC) hosts two red carpet events (6 and 8:45 p.m.) before and after the screening of Norwegian Dream at 7 p.m.
Cover image courtesy of NIFF
Photo credit: Jason Leiva