Lights, camera, Scandinavia!

Eighth annual Nordic Lights Film Festival begins Thursday

The mission of Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum is to “share Nordic culture with people of all ages and backgrounds,” partially through providing educational and cultural experiences, and serving as a community-gathering place.

And what better way to do so than through film?

“We want to be more contemporary and current, and that’s what movies are all about,” said Stina Cowan, the museum’s public programs coordinator. “We are very focused on bringing contemporary Nordic films to a broader Seattle audience, and we have seen a great interest in that.”

That’s the idea behind the museum’s annual Nordic Lights Film Festival, which returns for its eighth year with five days of screenings at the SIFF Film Center (305 Harrison St.) Jan. 12-16. The lineup sports features and shorts from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Sapmi region of northern Europe, along with the Faroe Islands. 

Cowan serves as the project manager for the festival, and called it a “completely unique way” of seeing Nordic film alongside other cinephiles. 

“I think everybody will get something out of it, and I think there’s great variety,” she said. “Comedies, thrillers, there’s sadness, there’s laughter, there’s documentaries, there’s shorts, there’s everything.”

This year, the festival adds a fifth day (Monday), dedicated to Finnish film, as the country celebrates the 100th anniversary of its independence in 2017. 

First held in 2009, and hosted every January since 2011, the festival has grown to show an increasing number of films and documentaries, along with appearances from various actors and filmmakers featured in each year’s lineup.  

“It’s turned into a bigger deal,” she said. 

When it comes to determining just what that lineup is, research is done year-round. Organizers reach out to the film institutes in the various Nordic countries, while in recent years filmmakers have also approached the festival to gauge interest in hosting a screening. 

Cowan said the festival tries to include both bigger budget films and smaller movies that haven’t yet been screened for audiences in the United States.

“We want to strike a balance between up-and-coming and more established filmmakers,” she said.

This year’s festival opens on Thursday at 7 p.m. with “Reverse,” an Icelandic comedy that follows two childhood friends as they drive around the country in reverse to raise money for charity. However, they quickly learn that their idea comes with plenty of pitfalls. Writer/actor/director Gunnar Hansson will be on hand for the screening, as well as a post-film reception. 

Hansson isn’t the only filmmaker to appear for the festival. Finnish director Ville Jankeri will attend the screening of his comedy, “Gold Digger” on Monday, Jan. 16 at 5 p.m., along with the closing reception that follows. 

Cowan said that appearances from various filmmakers adds a distinct element to the festival.  

“Obviously you can get a lot out of a movie without having the director or filmmaker there,” Cowan said. “But it does add a lot to the festival as a whole, because everybody loves to talk to someone who actually made a movie.”

With Hansson and Jankeri bookending their appearances, Cowan also noted that this year’s festival is a bit more cohesive with the opening and closing night offerings. 

Other films in the lineup include, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki,” a black and white feature and Finland’s official Oscar entry, based on the true story of the Finnish boxer and his early 1960s title fight, and “A War,” a Danish film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, about a commander accused of murder in Afghanistan while protecting his fellow soldiers. Those screenings are scheduled for Monday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9 p.m., respectively. 

Meanwhile, Friday includes the popular Nordic shorts series, with five short films spanning 70 minutes, beginning at 9 p.m.

“It’s amazing how much they can fit in one short film,” Cowan said. 

Ultimately, Cowan said, the festival serves as a way to bring people together over a shared interest in cinema. 

“I think this is a completely unique way of getting to see a lot of current Nordic film,” she said, “ and I think it’s a great way to do it together with other people who love Nordic film.”

For more information on the Nordic Lights Film Festival, to see the full lineup, or to purchase tickets, visit