Last year’s BFI London Film Festival saw Nordic filmmakers win two virtual LFF audience awards. Best film went to Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round (which went on to win the Oscar for best international feature film) and Benjamin Ree won best documentary for The Painter and the Thief – proof both of the breadth of Nordic creativity, and also of LFF audiences’ enthusiastic and ever-evolving appetite for this work.

Our programming journey this year has been a little unusual, as has that of the filmmakers and artists whose work we’re showcasing. Thanks to their resilience we’ve ended up with an incredibly strong and diverse programme. Nordic directors, actors, writers, artists and locations feature in so many different combinations across the programme.

Clara Sola (2021)

The Dare strand includes two Nordic debut features, both from female directors. A defiantly female vision of the past is presented in As in Heaven from Danish writer-director Tea Lindeburg, creator of the Netflix smash series Equinox. Centred on a teenage girl living at the end of the 1800s, the film has already received strong reviews from Toronto and San Sebastian film festivals, with some seeing Lindeburg as a natural successor to canonical Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer. In Clara Sola, Costa Rican-Swedish writer-director Nathalie Álvarez Mesén crafts a unique physical and aural film world to explore aspects of difference in rural Costa Rica. Rooted in actor-dancer Wendy Chinchilla Araya’s sensational physical performance, the film is a rallying cry for acceptance and freedom. 

In Flee, screening as our BFI Flare presentation, a refugee’s experiences of friendship, love and home in Afghanistan and Denmark are sensitively rendered through frank testimony and vibrant animation. 

We’re also delighted to welcome Norwegian writer-director-producer and all-round wunderkind Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken back to the festival – following Go West in 2017 – for the world premiere of his new film The Outlaws in the Love strand. A beautiful tale of two down-on-their-luck drifters in the 1920s, the story falls historically between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and its sumptuous visuals echo both films. Deep-focus cinematography and a poetic Badlands-style voiceover hint at a desire for love, or, at the very least, a world-weary wish for something better. 

The Worst Person in the World (2021)

The Love strand also highlights other Nordic stories and talent, with LFF favourite Joachim Trier (Thelma, 2017) returning to the theme of love (or something like it) in contemporary Norway in The Worst Person in the World, featuring knock-out performances from both Renate Reinsve and Trier’s regular collaborator Anders Danielsen Lie. Danielsen Lie can also be seen at the festival in Mia Hansen-Løve’s English language debut, the Sweden-set Bergman Island, and he’ll be taking part in one of our Screen Talks this year too.

Elsewhere in Love, the Danish documentary Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest charts an amazing tale of record-breaking, friendship, Gyruss, Donkey Kong and retro-gaming arcades. Compartment No. 6 sees Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, LFF 2016) transport us to Russia for the icy story of a Finnish trainee archaeologist journeying to Murmansk. Somalia-born Finnish writer-director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s The Gravedigger’s Wife, set in Djibouti, tells a deceptively simple story of love in desperate times. And the documentary When a Farm Goes Aflame uncovers intimate family histories across Denmark and Nigeria. 

Family life takes on a phantasmagorical twist in Lamb, screening in the Cult strand. It’s a weirdly fantastic Icelandic tale co-written by frequent Björk collaborator Sjón and featuring Swedish actor Noomi Rapace (Rapace was born in Sweden but spent most of her childhood in Flúðir, Iceland and is fluent in Icelandic).

Cop Secret (2021)

Over in Reykjavik, the buddy movie/police drama/romantic comedy Cop Secret may just end up serving us a new genre: Nordic neon. If you’ve ever found yourself giggling at the bombast of many strait-laced thrillers, this gem in the Laugh strand is for you. 

We’re delighted to welcome back Linda Hambäck (Gordon and Paddy, which was in LFF 2018) to the festival with her Family strand animation The Ape Star. It’s a sweet and tender story for all ages, with an expressive voice cast that includes seasoned Swedish actors Pernilla August and Stellan Skarsgård.

Nordic artists take a step into a new dimension of storytelling in the Expanded immersive art and extended reality (XR) strand, including Swedish artist duo Lundahl & Seitl’s Eternal Return; Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s Liminal Lands; Finnish collective HNV’s Atomic/Ghost in the Atom, and Hanna Haaslahti’s participatory artwork Captured.

So, whether you’re already planning to come back to our screening and XR venues or negotiating the wealth of online content, I hope you’ll find something in this year’s programme to make you smile, gasp or giggle.

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