September 17-27 2015: The Helsinki International Film Festival


Gold Coast Guldkysten

The film is told through the eyes of Wulff Frederick Wulff (Jakob Oftebro), a young idealist who is sent to Danish Guinea (also known as the Danish Gold coast, or today’s Southeast Ghana) to establish a new coffee plantation. Wulff’s anti-colonial idealism is soon put to the test when – after striking a deal in order to repel attacks from an indigenous tribe – he discovers a web of conspiracy and exploitation.

Scenes in which Wulff explores the natural beauty of his new surroundings (…) are replete with lingering shots of the majesty of nature and echo Wulff’s amazement at the world in which he finds himself. Later on these moments of wonder turn into something more oppressive as Wulff finds his idealism being challenged in an atmosphere dank with heat and sweat.

Men and Chicken / Mænd og høns

Beginning with the glowing good cheer of a fairy tale, but quick to reveal the sinister social satire (…), Men & Chicken presents two brothers, Elias (Mads Mikkelsen, stripped of all sex appeal) and Gabriel (David Dencik), who have nothing in common but their generally disheveled appearance (…). [A] hilariously ill-framed home video suggests that the boys were taken in after failing to live up to their biological father’s demands – a claim that naturally sends them off to the remote island where their real dad is said to be holed up.

Silent Heart Still Hjerte

The Elite Eliten

  • Dir: Thomas Daneskov
  • Program: Nordic Excellent / HIFF Link

Having made a splash with his first (»miserably pubescent») novel, Carl finds the weight of expectation a considerable yoke across his broad shoulders when working on the follow-up – a project which shares its title and themes with Daneskov’s film. Over-stimulated by the capital, Carl withdraws to his family’s castle-like, lakeside mini-mansion where he’s able to live on what’s evidently a very generous inheritance. He’s joined by a quartet of young, photogenic pals: musician Danny (Casper Morilla) – whose guitar-strumming provides intermittent diegetic score – poet Michael (Mads Reuther) and photographer Sara (Shelley Levi). Fictional communes in cinema are, of course, near-invariably a recipe for friction and disaster (…). And so it duly proves here, the collapse hastened by the arrival of Carl’s drug-dealer Joakim (Sivandi) and then the numbing impact of a booze-fuelled tragedy (a crucial scene which Danesov handles with aplomb.)

Warriors of the North / Krigerne fra Nord

  • Dir: Søren Steen Jespersen
  • Program: Against the Grain / HIFF Link

The name Al-Shabaab means “The Youth” in Arabic, and like other extremist organizations its ranks are fueled by young recruits, many of them hailing from immigrant communities in Europe. One such case is explored in the Danish documentary Warriors From the North, featuring interviews with parents and friends of several men who decided to wage war back in their native country. While there’s nothing groundbreaking here for anyone who reads the news, the film nonetheless offers up a rare and intimate account of what exactly drives such youngsters to action.


Special Program: The Finnish Film Week

Please click here to see a full list of Finnish films screening as part of this program

Special Program: Finnish Indie Films

Please click here to view a full list of Finnish films screening as part of this program

Machine Soul

  • Dir: Tero Vuorinen
  • Program: Good Vibrations / HIFF Link

Machine Soul is a documentary film about Finnish Electronic musicians. It is a glance at the methods, rituals and philosophy behind the music, but most of all at the burning passion that drives the artists forward year after year. Electronic music is discussed from the point of view of the artists. What are their early influences? How did their style develop? What has been the role of their environment? It is a form of music that is often perceived as cold and lifeless by outsiders, but in the eyes of the artists it is a multifaceted and soulful way of life.

The movie is not an overview of the Finnish Techno scene nor a chronicle. Many of the artists are virtually unknown in Finland, but have a large fanbase outside their home country. Machine Soul is a homage to the pioneers and newcomers of the Finnish Electronic music scene.


  • Dir: Ville Suhonen
  • Program: Nordic Excellence / HIFF Link

Martta Koskinen was a seamstress who lived in Helsinki during the Second World War. She was one of the post-civil war (in 1918) generation for whom the war had meant a disappointment in the system and failure in unity of the Finnish nation. The legacy of the civil war had left systems of persecution in place for those with socialist ideals. Martta and her fellow revolutionaries were determined to continue the resistance movement although they knew that at worst it could cost their lives.


  • Dir: Peter von Bagh
  • Program: Spotlight Section / HIFF Link

Divided into 18 chapters (…) von Bagh’s 68-minute piece is an intelligent (…) collage of images of films which, in a grand statement in the fine-print of the final credits, are said to have »testified to a century of socialism». With its compact and precise power (…) [i]t’s certainly a feast for cinephiles, who could thank von Bagh (…) for putting them in touch with underrated gems worthy of more attention (…).

Swing Game

Swing Game

  • Mikko Peltonen, Pasi Riiali
  • Program: Nordic Excellence / HIFF Link

Young filmmakers from the city of Kotka are dreaming of creating a mobile game, laughing all the way to the bank and making a film about their story of success.

But the road to success is long and paved with difficulties. The game markets are in transition and conquering the world is everything but easy. If you’re short of money, inventiveness and strong will can take you a long way. The three guys travel around the world, meet professionals and get valuable and inspiring feedback. But the greatest challenge lies in these very advices; the most dangerous thing is to lose oneself and forget for whom and why the game is made. It becomes clear that success can be measured in many different ways.

Temples of Dreams

  • Dir: Jouko Aaltonen
  • Program: Nordic Excellence / HIFF Link

Temples of Dreams tells beautiful and funny stories from old and new cinemas. Watching films in cinemas is loaded with strong feelings and powerful memories, erotic encounters, laughter, anger and sorrow – any possible human emotion is only ordinary in these temples of dreams.

The film also tells about experiences of old projectionists and cinema owners in the era when film changes into digital bytes. This is a documentary about the common viewing experience, as told by a mixed group of people who feel passionate about film.

The Visit

  • Dir: Michael Madsen
  • Program: Nordic Excellence / HIFF Link

What if an alien invasion really happened? Danish essay documentarian Michael Madsen (Into Eternity) answers that question with this “simulation,” in which real-life experts imagine their responses to a visit from another world. Filled with sleek and often surreal imagery, The Visit is served at a cool temperature (…).

Tech contributions ensure that all of this is a fluid, slightly lulling mix. The frequent use of sterile-looking, hyper-clean locations gives even Earth an otherworldly sheen.

They Have Escaped

A boy and a girl meet at a custody center for troubled youth. The boy has come to serve is obligatory civil service. The girl is one of the youths in custody, and she is constantly in trouble, inside her a fire, a lust for life that can’t be quashed, or controlled. The boy becomes infatuated with the girl. He is a quiet one – a stutterer. But there is a fire inside him as well.

Rules, laws, punishment, the shackles of the hostile environment with no understanding around them can be broken. They steal a car and flee together. Thus begins a journey with endless escape.

They Have Escaped is a film about fragile love, childhood dreams and the violence of reality.


  • Dir: Elmo Nüganen
  • Program: Gala Films / HIFF Link

By far the most expensive movie production ever made in independent Estonia, 1944 deals with a national trauma by means of war film. The people from the country that situated on the trail of two armies – the Soviets and the Nazis – were enlisted into both. They ended up to the fronts, shooting at each other.

The bombastic war epic from the Estonian director Elmo Nüganen takes us to the center of the feverish horrors of war. The absurdity of it all is made all the more poignant by the fact that the protagonists are fighting for ideologies alien to them and do not share the armies’ convictions.


Life in a Fishbowl

  • Dir: Baldvin Zophoníasson
  • Program: Nordic Excellence / HIFF Link

Each of the three central characters leads a double life, and each must make some difficult changes in order to find redemption. First we meet pretty Eik (Hera Hilmarsdottir), the very young mother of a diabetic 8-year-old. She can’t make ends meet as a nursery-school teacher, so she moonlights as a high-end prostitute. Eik’s path begins to intersect more and more with that of ragged, bearded Mori
(Thorsteinn Bachmann), a poet and novelist who has been a raging alcoholic since a tragic incident 20 years earlier. Meanwhile, Solvi (Thor Kristjansson), a former soccer star recruited into the snake pit of international banking, wants the rights to Mori’s property in order to facilitate a major downtown development.

Paris of the North

  • Dir: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
  • Program: Nordic Excellence / HIFF Link

Thirty-seven year-old Hugi (Bjorn Thors) is a schoolteacher, but the former fishing village where he lives and works is so tiny that he’s only got seven pupils to teach. As a former alcoholic, he’s probably content with the way his professional commitments structure his life, but as the film starts, it’s the last day of school (…).

In another sign of just how tiny the community is, the local AA meetings are attended by just three men: Hugi, the middle-aged Svanur (Sigurdur Skulason) and Hugi’s friend, Richard (Jon Pall Eyjolfsson), though they’ll see a whopping 33-percent increase in attendance when Hugi forces his own beer-loving father, Veigar (actor-rocker Helgi Bjornsson), to attend when he suddenly shows up from an extended period in Thailand and the walls of Hugi’s booze-free pad rapidly start to disappear behind mountains of beer cans.


Although they have not spoken to one another for 40 years, Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) and older brother Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) live on neighboring farms against a harsh and majestic northern landscape (…). Both men breed sheep from the same ancient pedigree, and each year they are rivals in a valley-wide competition for best ram.

When Kiddi’s flock shows signs of scrapie (BSE), an incurable and highly contagious virus (…), the veterinary authorities decree that all the sheep in the valley must be destroyed. It’s a devastating blow for the local farmers, but the order hits hard-drinking, unruly Kiddi and quiet, thoughtful Gummi particularly hard, and they rebel against the rules in their own distinct ways.

Virgin Mountain Fúsi

Fusi (Gunnar Jonsson), the hero of Icelandic director Dagur Kari’s fourth feature, is, to quote the cliche, a mountain of a man. Indeed, he is the virgin mountain of the title: Fat, 43 and still living with his mother (…).

Fusi has created a safe, unchanging, extremely limited world for himself. Working as a baggage handler at the airport, he returns home to re-create the battle of El Alamein on his work table with the help of his only friend, Rolf (Arnar Jonsson).

Fusi absorbs rejection, bullying and ridicule as his norm, while genuine acceptance produces shock, uncertainty and a blind wait for the other shoe to drop. He seems fated for an absurd life of Kaurismakian pathos, or the sudden receipt of some kind of miraculous makeover. Against all odds (…) Fusi manages to meet a vivacious blonde and begins to do for her what he could never accomplish or even wish for himself.

Special Program: Wondrous Iceland

Please click here to view the selection of shorts


Special Program: From Norway, Shortly

Please click here to view the selection of shorts

1001 Grams

  • Dir: Bent Hamer
  • Program: Nordic Excellence / HIFF link

In 1001 Grams, [Bent Hamer] delves into the chilly emotional life of Marie (Ane Dahl Torp), one of the designated keepers of the national kilogram prototype (…) which must be handled with the utmost care when removed from its vault at the Norwegian Institute of Weights & Measures. Marie’s existence is marked by a similar blend of precision and fragility.

Things begin to change when Marie’s ailing father, Ernst (Stein Winge), a respected scientist in the same field, suffers a serious heart attack, requiring her take his place at a kilo seminar held by the Intl. Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Paris, where all global prototypes will be recalibrated against the international standard.

Bear Island / Bjørnøya

  • Dir:  Edda Grjotheim, Inge Wegge
  • Program: At Full Speed / HIFF Link

After we made the documentary and web series North of the Sun in 2011, I was more than ready for a new adventure. This time it was me and my brothers, Markus and Håkon. We wanted to explore new waves and nature and it was the Bear Island, south of Svalbard, that tempted and challenged us. This expedition was more extreme, but for us it was important to focus on the good life one can have in harmony with nature. Our goal was to follow a dream. The surfing was our main motivation for going there, but we also wanted to have the opportunity to wake up each morning and do exactly what we felt like. And on a place like that it is the weather that decides what to do. To give something back to the island we collected all the trash we found on all the beaches we camped on.

We were on the island from April to June. We tried to capture every moment that was important for us and the story. There is a lot of sports and adrenaline, but more importantly we captured our thoughts and meetings with ourselves and nature.

Ida’s Diary

  • Dir: August B. Hanssen
  • Program: Sprains and Strains / HIFF Link

Ida is a young Norwegian woman, struggling with a very turbulent emotional life caused by emotionally unstable personality disorder (borderline). For the last eight years, Ida has kept a video diary in order to ease her mind and structure her thoughts. In her diary we get a unique insight into a world of fear and anxiety, but also precious moments of everyday victories and self-discovery. Most importantly we get to witness her powerful struggle towards self-acceptance and a genuine appreciation of life. Ida’s Diary is a film about hope, about finding your own identity and daring to live.

Louder Than Bombs

Out of Nature / Mot Naturen

First seen (and, always, heard) speculating about the boring lives of people he spies from his office window, Martin (Ole Giaever) doesn’t know what he wants – just that whatever he’s got already isn’t enough. This encompasses not only a dull job and frivolous co-workers, but also his home life, with his marriage to Sigrid (Marie Magnusdotter Solem) having settled into a rut, and the easy rapport she shares with their young son eluding him. Neither appears the least concerned when he reminds that he’s off on one of his solo expeditions this weekend – clearly they can, and do, get along fine without him.

With just a daypack, fit Martin jogs into local mountains, his mind wandering as it will in incessant soundtrack voiceover. Where it goes is not at all original – the conjugal bed having apparently gone cold, he has sex on the brain a lot – but it’s precisely the fussy, ordinary, even banal nature of his preoccupations that lend them amusement as well as a certain pathos.


Flocking / Flocken

  • Dir: Beata Gårdeler
  • Program: Against the Grain / HIFF Link

The action picks up in a small, God-fearing Swedish town during a boisterous wedding. Fourteen-year-old Jennifer is among the guests, and like many, she has a bit too much to drink. But days later, after she accuses the popular Alexander of rape the good nature and good will from the wedding evaporate. She does the right thing from start to finish and tells the right people. Though we don’t witness the crime, things seem cut and dried.

Oddly, the police and the courts are not the knuckle draggers here. It is the tight knit community that rallies around Alexander, not Jennifer, and that refuses to believe any such thing could happen in their idyllic town. Slowly, Jennifer becomes the perpetrator. She’s dubbed a “whore” and alienated from who she thought were her friends.

From the Depths of My Heart / Från djupet av mitt hjärta

  • Dir: Magnus Hedberg
  • Program: Sprains and Strains

From The Depth Of My Heart is on one level a thriller, but it is also an experience similar to that of being in the wilderness. People have always been mesmerized by nature and it can have a very strong effect on you. One of my goals with the film was to convey just that feeling. A sensation of freedom, peace and being in an almost dreamlike state where all the pressures of our everyday lives seem distant and small.

That was one of the main points of interest for me, to have something horrifying and tragic happen in a place of such beauty and calm. The characters in the film are deeply affected by their surroundings, first in a positive way and then in a more dark and destructive way as nature turns against them.



  • Dir: Mikael Marcimain
  • Program: Nordic Council Film Prize / HIFF Link

Opening around 1978 in Stockholm, the first scenes introduce the main dramatic personae through the eyes of narrator Klas (David Fukamachi Regnfors), a pretty if passive young man with literary ambitions. He is befriended by dashing Henry Morgan (David Dencik, best known outside of Sweden for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), a charismatic polymath who’s a boxer and a jazz pianist among many other things that only a character in novel would do all at once. Henry invites Klas to move in with him into Henry’s massive, family-owned apartment where they spend their nights carousing with Henry’s circle of eccentric friends, and their days – when not boxing, playing piano or writing – searching for buried treasure in a system of caverns beneath the building. Like you do.

My Skinny Sister / Min lilla syster

  • Dir: Sanna Lenken
  • Program: The Dawns and Dusks of Life / HIFF Link

Adolescent schoolgirl and competitive figure skater Katja (Amy Deasismont) is pretty, slender and confident. But her 12-year-old little sister, Stella (Rebecka Josephson), is still something of an ugly duckling (…). Born from a dawning curiosity about sex, romance and boys, Stella has self-conscious
anxieties about her prepubescent body, which her older sister exploits for cruel comedy. Which is ironic, because Katja is the one with the real problem, secretly suffering from anorexia and bulimia (…). Even when Stella figures out Katja has an eating disorder, her elder sibling pressures and blackmails her into keeping their parents (Annika Hallin and Henrik Norlen) in the dark, with catastrophic consequences.


A Swedish-Finnish actor and feminist comic known domestically for her satirical YouTube clips, Bianca Kronlöf stars as 23-year-old Dino, one of thousands of young Swedish émigrés scrabbling for work in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. The background to Underdog is the see-sawing power balance between Scandinavia’s two biggest economies, with longtime poor cousin Norway becoming hugely rich on North Sea oil revenue in recent years while neighboring Sweden has suffered financial slump and spiraling unemployment. This has triggered the largest wave of Swedish emigration in modern times, even bigger than the exodus of farm workers to the Midwestern US in the late 19th century.

Special Program: From Sweden, Shortly

Please click here to view the films selected for the program



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.