Scandinavian Film Festival Bridged Cultures With Rare Films

As part of our 40th anniversary celebration, we’re looking back at our past programs. The Scandinavian Film Festival brought rare films to Seattle – a city rich with Scandinavian heritage.

Humanities Washington is celebrating our 40th anniversary with 40 Years of Washington Stories. Each week on Spark, we’ll offer a snapshot from our past, sharing stories that have helped shape the humanities in Washington state.

When Humanities Washington first sponsored Seattle’s Scandinavian Film Festival in 1998, the lineup featured a wealth of feature and short films from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. The festival kicked off with Hamsun, starring the famous Swedish actor Max von Sydow in a film about the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. Other treasures included series of hard-to-find short films by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki and a chance for audiences to meet Ghita Nørby, the prolific Danish actress.

Around 1,800 people attended the 1998 festival. When it was held again in 2000, it received support from the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the Consulate General of Finland, and the Consulate General of Sweden. Screenings were held for both festivals at the King Cat Theatre and the Broadway Performance Hall. The events featured guests and speakers with ties to Scandinavia’s cinema culture.

The 2000 festival program featured the following quote from Humanities Washington’s former program director, Lyall Bush:

“Needless to say, none [of the films] are available on video, and few will come to theaters near you any time soon.”

With the easy availability of Netflix and other media-sharing services, this quote seems amusingly out-of-date. At the time, however, the festival provided unique access to films that were previously unavailable to most of the audience. Many of Seattle’s residence have Scandinavian ancestors, and this festival was an exciting opportunity to connect with Scandinavia’s contemporary culture when not many of those opportunities were available.

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