Nordic Lives: Aims, Crafts and Human Connections

A Review of the Shorts Presented in Nordisk Panorama’s Nordic Lives Section


Audiences used to watching films in cinemas would probably raise their eyebrows when learning about a screening held in a public library. However, film festivals are about experiences and I could not have imagined a better place to show those five documentary shorts selected to the Nordisk Panorama’s Nordic Life section. The five pieces differ in terms of quality, topics and feelings, but, in each of them, the narrative is centred round aims, crafts and human connections. Determined characters set out on a journey to accomplish their mission in the North whatever that means. They do it because they imagine another world for either themselves or all living being on Earth.

Karolin Axelsson’s The Last in a Line of Fishermen (Den Sista Hummerfiskaren) invites the viewers to attend lobster-fishing lessons with the director herself. After a decade abroad, Karolin decides to come home to Sweden and is planning to take over her father’s business and become a fisher(wo)man. As her father Kenneth says, ‘We’re all old now, no one comes after’. Although Kenneth has never talked to his daughter(s) about the profession, as she is a girl, with time, Karoline has arrived at a crossroad. Karolin’s 10-year plan is to acquire all the knowledge she needs to succeed against all the odds, so she accompanies her dad during fishing season. This genuine, mainly humorous but sometimes emotional Swedish short is simply fascinating. The camera lingers on the dad and the daughter and captures their intimate moments, and shows the shifts between dad and fisherman as well as daughter and apprentice. The Last in a Line of Fishermen documents the beginning of a new chapter’s in Karolin’s life while also referring to previous ones. The director uses voice-over and archival footage to offer a glimpse of their past in addition to the scenes where father and daughter reminisce about the past. Considering the premise of the short, namely to present the life of fishermen, not so much room was given to experience with the cinematography but the necessary camera moves there and that suits the story. Karolin Axelsson tells a personal story but audiences worldwide could relate to it. Not only because of its family aspect but also because of the fear expressed regarding the disappearance of traditions, which is certainly a universal phenomenon. The final frame leaves the audience with the image of the moving boat and question what happens next. But until we have such determined individuals like Kenneth and Karolin, the future of them is definitely less uncertain.

Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge Rønning’s short Line uses the technique of film within a film to tell the story of Line, a young girl with Down syndrome, whose dream is to make a film. The documentary starts with showing a group of children with disability during their dancing sessions but within minutes viewers are guided behind the scene to witness how a film is produced – from the birth of the idea through casting to the post-production phases. Despite the fact that Line is shooting a film, with a few exceptions, Line stays in the centre of attention, and the camera keeps following her. Similarly to Karolin, a strong, determined young woman takes over the screen. At the end of the film, Line’s meticulously composed debut short In the Name of Love, made with the participation of her friends from the group, is shown. Whether it’s a feature or short, every documentary film’s success relies much on the main character(s). The Norwegian piece manages to engage the audience by presenting such a gritty young woman. Greenberg and Rønning have also succeeded in visualising the topic of disability as a side note/added detail only as well as creating a feel-good documentary that will inspire people. Line is a film that makes people think and laugh, and it contributes to the on-going discussion on representation. It matters what is shown and how – and the Norwegian film nailed it. Its music also deserves some praise.

On a related note, the subject of Ninja Strååt’s Noratanten is also a strong-minded woman called Sabine. She is 81, was born in Nazi Germany and found refuge in Sweden decades ago. Remembering the horror of her youth, she takes the streets and demonstrates against the Nazis marching in the streets of Sweden. Sabine’s message is clear: Love is a million times stronger than hate. Even if the short is only 5 minutes long, it gives an insight into the current state of Sweden where the more visible and aggressive form of racism, intolerance and discrimination are on the rise again – similarly other countries in Europe and the world. Despite the seriousness of the film, a few smiles are guaranteed due to Sabine’s delightful personality. She enjoys talking to immigrants to help them learn Swedish but everyone must go when Vem vet mest?, the popular Swedish game show based on the British Fifteen to One, is on. The music heard suits the images perfectly and plays a role in producing the humour of the film.

They say the best conversations take place at the kitchen table. Finnish director Minna Suoniemi sat down with his dad to talk about his upcycling skills. The film Practical Ecology was shot from the director’s point of view and her dad is shown in a medium close-up and medium shot while telling the stories of his products made of waste materials. The short starts out as an observational documentary but at some point the director asks a question. Shooting chiefly from one angle surely serves the purpose to keep the focus on the main subject(s) of the film but largely challenges the audience who consequently become the conversational partner of the director’s dad. This way, Practical Ecology comes across as an educational film that teaches viewers about environmental protection.

Fighting the odds, the Icelandic cheerleader team Valkyrjur gather together before every football match to practise their choreography. While Valgerður Júlíusdóttir’s short takes us to the group’s training sessions, it also maps out Head Cheerleader Ósk Tryggvadóttir’s life – how she was able to get back on her feet with great determination. Her and her group’s story is indeed interesting but the technicality of the film, thinking especially about the camera angles chosen during the performances, and how the story unfolds leave a lot to be desired. Of course, this might be the result of constraints the director had to face. Notwithstanding this minor disturbance, she proves to have good eye to pick subjects for a documentary film.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.