FESTIVAL: FilmFest DC 2017 (Washington DC, USA)

About the festival

What? “For over 30 years, Filmfest DC has sought to keep pace with global cultural and social activities. Today we find ourselves in a conundrum of opposing beliefs and shifting governmental policies, which have often divided citizens and forged a culture of “us vs. them.” As a reflection of our times, this year’s festival has taken on a special focus on issues ripped from today’s headlines in hopes of increasing clarity and civil discourse.”

When? 20 – 30 April 2017

Where? Washington DC, USA

Festival Website: http://www.filmfestdc.org/


Last Men in Aleppo

Directed by Feras Fayyad and Steen Johannessen

The siege of Aleppo has been compared to that of Stalingrad, which is ironic under the circumstances. “Are those Russian planes flying overhead?” wonders one of the heroes of this urgent documentary. It’s not an idle question: as a member of the volunteer Syria Civil Defense, his job is to rescue victims should these particular planes unload bombs on the city. The film follows two rescuers, Khaled and Mahmoud, in their work over the course of a year. For them and for us, the action is existential, exhilarating, and deflating. Extracting children alive from rubble, only to find that their mother has died, is both a reality and a metaphor; Aleppo, the city they love, is dying. Though exquisitely realized, this film cannot have a happy ending. The humanity of its protagonists makes it essential viewing. It won a Grand Jury Prize in the Documentary section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Festival Link

Nordic Film Database

The Commune

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Loosely inspired by Thomas Vinterberg’s own childhood experiences, this is his finest film since The Celebration. Set in the 1970s, it finds architect Erik, his TV presenter wife, Anna, and their teenage daughter, Freja, setting up a commune in the rambling family home Erik inherited. Crucial to this eminently enjoyable movie is that Vinterberg never patronises commune ideas as misguided or doomed to failure; for the most part, the mood is kept light. Even when things darken, focusing on the tensions between freedom, self-determination, and shared responsibility, Vinterberg favours engrossing, psychologically astute drama over a social comment. The performances are excellent, with Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen especially impressive as Anna and Erik. Dyrholm has the more dramatically complex role, and Thomsen provides a supremely subtle, often funny study of a man trapped in a constant state of quiet and barely concealed confusion.

Festival Link

Nordic Film Database

Across the Waters

Directed by Nicolo Donato

Enjoying the nightlife of 1943 Copenhagen, guitarist Arne Itkin (David Dencik) is seemingly immune to the hardships of war as the Danish government opts for a compliant relationship with Nazi Germany. He is initially sceptical when his terrified wife, Miriam (Danica Curcic), hears rumours of the round-up and deportation of Danish Jews. An overnight raid, however, forces the couple to flee their home with 5-year-old son Jakob (Anton Dalgård Guleryüz). Aided by a church pastor and underground resistance, they set out on a journey to the fishing village of Gilleleje, where refugees await passage to Sweden by boat. Amidst lurking danger from the Gestapo and their collaborators, the family puts its fate in the hands of strangers. Based on true events, Across the Waters is directed and co-written by Nicolo Donato, whose own grandfather was among the courageous Danish fisherman to ferry war refugees to safety.

Festival Link

Nordic Film Database


The Good Postman

Directed by Tonislav Hristov

A tiny village on the eastern edge of Bulgaria has been resisting foreign invaders since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Now its electorate of 38 Bulgarians is facing a tough decision. “The Great Gate,” as the village has been nicknamed for centuries, is in the middle of a European crisis: every night, Syrian refugees cross the border into Turkey. Ivan, the local postman, runs for mayor to bring the dying village back to life by welcoming refugees. His opponents want to shut the border, however. This quietly cinematic film exposes seismic divisions over immigration and what it means to be European in an age of global displacement and shifting political systems. With dry humour and remarkable sensitivity toward its beguiling ensemble of characters, Tonislav Hristov’s documentary plays like a scripted narrative, with the postman as the film’s grounding hero.

Festival Link

Nordic Film Database


The Oath

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Acclaimed filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur (whose work includes big-budget fare such as Everest, Contraband, and 2 Guns) both directs and stars in this gritty Nordic thriller, a blend of domestic drama and Taken-style action. The accomplished Finnur always has things under control. Whether under the lights of the operating table or at home with his family, things remain in order. When his oldest daughter, Anna (Hera Hilmar), begins to show signs of excessive drug abuse and potentially physical abuse, Finnur methodically starts plotting a way to dispose of her threatening, drug dealer boyfriend. Against the backdrop of chilly Iceland, the surgeon and loving father goes to drastic lengths to protect his daughter in this complex, taut, psychological thriller.—Various sources

Festival Link

Nordic Film Database


The King’s Choice

Directed by Erik Poppe

Shortlisted for this year’s Oscars® for Best Foreign Language Film, Eric Poppe’s perfectly realized World War II drama looks at a seminal moment in modern Norwegian history: the days in 1940 when King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen, perhaps best known to North American audiences for playing the shadowy Mr. White in three recent Bond films) faced the momentous decision about whether to cooperate with the invading German army. Threatening to abdicate if the government chose cooperation, he advocated all-out resistance, placing himself and his family in great danger and guaranteeing his place in the annals of Norwegian history. Poppe’s impressive historical epic is part chamber piece and part battle painting. It is also an anthem to those who exhibit dignity and courage in the face of oppressive political circumstances. In this expertly crafted film, Poppe captures a story for the ages with clarity and impressive attention to detail.

Festival Link

Nordic Film Database Link

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.