The best of Nordic pop culture in London’s East End

Nordic film festival featuring The Bridge. Pic: Carolina Romare

Nordic film festival featuring The Bridge. Pic: Carolina Romare

“Christmas jumpers wouldn’t have come back into style if it hadn’t been for Sara Lund,”confirms Jon Sadler, organiser of the UK’s only Nordic fiction and film festival.

The event will be taking place in Tower Hamlets at the Old Truman Brewery this weekend, and Sadler has little doubt of the impact Scandinavian drama has had on the UK.

Sadler said: “On one level it is a matter of exoticism. We didn’t know much about Danish culture and for many years, very few movies came out of Denmark and Sweden, so what we are seeing now with these extremely popular TV-drama series is a sort of resurgence of Scandinavian cultures.”

This recent interest in Nordic culture led Arrow Films, of which Sadler is managing director, to establish the UK’s first Nordic fiction literature and film festival, Nordicana, in 2010. A festival focused on “how we learn about culture through drama”. Last year it attracted hundreds of “Scandi-geeks” eager to exploit the customs of the dark and cold North, and this weekend will offer them another chance.

The festival focuses on a wide variety of Scandinavian TV-series and films such as Borgen, The Bridge and newcomer The Heritage, the event will satisfy the most enthusiastic Nordic-drama-fan.

Through a number of panel-debates and autograph signings with lead actors and authors of the Nordic hit-series including Borgen’s fierce female Prime Minister, played by Danish Actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, and The Bridge’s lead actors Swedish Sofia Helin and Dane Kim Bodnia, Nordicana sets out to offer a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the successful industry, and the culture that fostered it.

But the event is not only a tribute to the onscreen Nordic achievements, as the TV-industry owes much of its prosperity to a particular Swedish novelist, if you ask Sadler: “The surge in interest has mostly got to do with timing. There’s been a build up ever since Stig Larssons successful trilogy, where almost every person on the tube would be seen reading ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. Scandinavian drama really owes much of its success to Larsson.”

Celebrating the best of Scandinavian popular culture. Pic: Nordicana

Celebrating the best of Scandinavian popular culture. Pic: Nordicana

Also the Swedish drama-series Wallander that was broadcast in its original Swedish version and also as an English remake on BBC a few years back in the time-slot that The Killing would eventually overtake, is highlighted by Sadler as one of the early drivers of Scandinavian film and culture.

And then there is the thing about the strong female characters. Sadler said: “In terms of what makes these dramas so compelling, I think it has to do with strong female protagonists, Sarah Lund, Lisbeth Salander and even Birgitte Nyborg, and that dark undercurrent of race, sexuality and deviant crime.”

The Scandinavian heroin, however twisted and dark, does seem to appeal to Britons, with high-street stores such as H&M adopting the unorthodox gothic look of Lisbeth Salander, and Save The Children UK using Sarah Lund as the front figure of their Christmas Jumper Day campaign.

Also Scandinavian foods have entered the culinary vocabulary of Britons, which before only included “the two B’s”: bacon and beer. Now cinnamon buns can be bought at the local bakery and Danish butter biscuits are standard stock in Pound Land and IKEA.

Accordingly Nordicana also features culinary experiences, as visitors can bake their own pastry by partaking in “A Great Scandinavian Cinnamon Bun-Off” or indulge in other Nordic treats such as liquorice, Danish cheese and Swedish rye-bread to mention a few.

Enough to keep even the most enthusiastic “Scandi-geek” happy until next winter when Christmas allows us to once again pull out the Sarah Lund-inspired woollen jumper. Until then BBC has announced another Nordic purchase with 1864, a historical drama series set to air in the coming year.

Nordicana is open from Saturday, February 1, to Sunday, February 2, at the Old Truman Brewery on Ely’s Yard near Brick Lane, Tower Hamlets.

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