Nordicana 2014

An audacious experiment, the first Nordicana was rapturously received by an audience which never expected to have the opportunity to see in person the shining lights of Scandinavian drama. Despite being an undoubted success few could have predicted a second event would be staged within months, let alone one that boldly expanded its canvas offering a veritable smorgasbord of Nordic screen talent, key literary figures, a celebration of cuisine, and a UK film première.

The rapid expansion of its fanbase forced the organizers to seek out a building large enough to house the many aficionados clamouring for the opportunity to attend. Bidding farewell to the Farmiloe Building, Nordicana upped sticks and relocated to Spitalfield’s Old Truman Brewery and then promptly set about trying to fill every inch of available floor space with entertaining talks, screenings, and demonstrations. Offering a more varied schedule than the previous event, it placed greater emphasis than before on Scandinavia’s rich legacy of crime literature whilst simultaneously celebrating the current crop of TV favourites and offering an intriguing glimpse of the future for Nordic Noir with a preview of The Legacy which will air on Sky Arts later in the year.

Neither a convention or an expo, Nordicana was an experience requiring attendees to throw themselves fully into the spirit of active participation alongside celebration.

A varied schedule enabled attendants to dip their toes into areas of Scandinavian culture that previously might have been alien to them. Neither high brow or restrictive, Nordicana set out to be inclusive and emphasised a playful spirit of spontaneity. Ostensibly set up to commemorate Scandinavian film, TV, and literature it was also a valentine to fans who have been carrying the torch for several years, knowing that they were privy to a secret about some of the finest fiction being produced within the last fifteen years.

Held over the same weekend that BBC Four screened the sensational finale to The Bridge‘s second season, Nordicana enabled several thousand enthusiasts to join together in the act of expressing their affection for the series and, in some instances, to discover for the first time what it means to share so passionately a love for a show with others who are equally committed in their appreciation. An entry point into fandom, the dining area became an vital part of the Nordicana weekend as devotees bonded over coffee whilst discussing a show, panel, or item they had purchased. For others it was the chance to meet again for the first time since the last event and share life stories in addition to debating plot points or opinions of panels. Harmonizing and facilitating, Nordicana brought together admirers from across the continent, enabling new friendships to blossom and cementing existing ones.

The multitude of series, films, and authors being lionized raises the possibility that a section of patrons may have visited Nordicana expecting to witness a single talk and were subsequently so swept up in the enthusiasm they stayed for longer and found themselves appreciating something that they’d either never seen before or erroneously thought might not be to their taste.

A two-way process, the amazement experienced by fans at seeing their favourite writers or performers on stage was matched by the oft expressed amazement by guests at being greeted by an enthusiastic audience equal in size and intensity to a pop concert. Glorifying and educational, the panels afforded the gathering the opportunity to see Sidse Babbet Knudsen sing a few lines from West Side Story‘s Somewhere, be stunned at how glamorous Sofia Helin is in comparison to Saga Noren, witness Emma Kennedy and Adam Price sample cakes, learn about the rules in place within post Dogme95 Danish cinema, and be entertained by Barry Forshaw’s good natured grilling of Arne Dahl and Håkan Nesser.

The only event of its type in the UK, Nordicana deserves high praise for bringing so many talented people to London for the benefit of a few thousand fans who otherwise would never ever get to express their thanks and enthusiasm.  We look forward to doing it all over again in 2015.

Advertisements

Nordicana – A Review

Exactly when the first convention occurred is still very much open to debate. Written records dating back to the 1930s prove the existence of a creatively active fan network long before the age of DVDs and Twitter. In 1935 two struggling young would be comic book professionals premiered an embryonic version of Superman in a mimeographed fanzine three years before the character made its first appearance in Action Comics. What we consider to be modern fandom may have been born in the 1960s when American enthusiasts came together to launch a letter writing campaign in an attempt to save Star Trek from cancellation.

Despite a substantial amount of evidence demonstrating its history in terms of being a vibrant and dynamic social network the press has displayed a tendency to stigmatize fandom through the use of words such as ‘geek’ or by portraying fan behaviour as abnormal.

William Shatner famously appeared on the American comedy show Saturday Night Live telling fans to ‘Get a life’. More recently, in an episode of The Sarah Silverman Program Christopher Eccelston played a character called Dr. Lazer Rage which parodied his Doctor Who screen persona and ,via a direct to camera address, characterised fan behaviour as abnormal and social destructive. Negative stereotypes such as these have very little basis in reality and as the Nordicana event showed, fans of Nordic Noir have active lives, are creative, celebratory, erudite, and inclusive in terms of welcoming newcomers into the accompanying social network.

Nordicana was a two day convention specifically designed to commemorate Scandinavian culture. The first event of its kind, this expo was sponsored by Arrow Films, Danish Arts Council, Film Institute Denmark and Danish Broadcasting Corporation in association with English and Danish PEN. What Nordicana represented was a bold initiative that demonstrated how in a relatively short space of time Nordic Noir has gone from being an under explored literary curiosity to a visible brand with an ever growing fanbase that is warm and welcoming.

Housed inside the Farmiloe Building, a venue that in the 1980s was the base of operations for the Clerkenwell Crime Synidcate it has more recently been featured in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. That the Batman connection was not mentioned in pre-event publicity suggests that perhaps Scandinavian literature, films and TV shows have enough recognition factor within the commercial marketplace to not need propping up via being directly connected to an American owned intellectual property.

Covering so many areas of Scandinavian culture the event could all too easily have been a scatter gun affair in which the various elements were just thrown out into the arena for consumption but instead it was an acknowledgement that both Nordic Noir and a fascination with Scandinavia means has a multitude of meanings for the many sectors of fandom. As this is not a fan community that fetishises specific authors, movies, or series and condemns others this remarkable openness was built into the event’s schedule and the choice of exhibitors. With so many activities slotted into the weekend two separate and unconnected fans may have very well come away convinced that they had experienced entirely different events.

Emphasizing active engagement and celebration Nordicana enabled fans to interact directly with authors, actors, and exhibitors. For many, this would have been the first time that they would have the opportunity to meet the Scandinavian actors and writers whose work they had seen on BBC Four, DVD or in print. Contact was not restricted to the panels or autograph sessions as the organisors had taken great care to foster an atmosphere in which the guests and the attendees were united in expressing their enthusiasm. Here was an event in which fans could chat with guests in the bar area and meet the people from Arrow Films who take great care and attention in sourcing the finest Scandinavian films and TV shows for the benefit of our ever enlarging DVD collections.

For two days it really felt as though one Victorian building had been transported to Scandinavia. With so much high quality food and drink on offer as well as live music from some very talented performers in addition to screenings and talks the convention was elevated from being a question and answer event into a simulation of a Nordic summer arts festival. The playful and creative selection of events and exhibitors led to an exuberant atmosphere in which Twitter friends met face to face for the first time and found that they had even more in common than their online profiles suggest whilst complete strangers could meet in an autograph line or queuing for a drink and become social media buddies. Nordicana was testament to how swiftly Nordic Noir has gone from a little known subgenre to a fully fledged cultural phenomena and an opportunity to reward long term enthusiasts and welcome new ones.

Fans of Nordic Noir frequently find themselves simultaneously gazing in multiple directions; on the one hand attention is firmly focused on what new books, shows, and films will be coming to the UK within the next few months and on the other curiosity may lead them to engage in finding tantalising hints of information about those titles which up until now haven’t managed to secure distribution within English language territories. Prior to Nordicana this information was fragmentary but for the first time fans of Nordic Noir and media professionals were presented with a two day window in which they could pool their collective knowledge banks and suddenly we were given detailed facts about Sidse Babbet Knudsen’s career choices prior to Borgen, Marie Askehave’s latest series, how David Howson translated The Killing from TV into a cracking book, why Arne Dahl introduced the cleaner into the TV adaptations of his novels, Adam Price’s dual role as chef and writer of Borgen, etc…

In film and literature, Nordic Noir existed long before BBC4 screened The Killing or UK publishers printed Steig Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy. When Ian Ousby’s The Crime and Mystery Book was first published in 1997 it was quite rightly regarded as an excellent overview of the genre. One that managed to weave a coherent historical narrative account despite having to accommodate disparate schools of crime writing. Texts such as this are provisional, it is impossible to produce a permanent record as new perspectives and/or discoveries necessitate revision. In 1997 when Ousby’s book was first issued Scandinavian crime fiction ma\y have been regarded by the critical community with little more than mild curiosity. The book devotes a single paragraph to Swedish fiction and does not consider the cited authors to be the vanguard of a new movement. With so few titles available to us back then it was practically impossible to predict that Nordic Noir would become a commercially viable mode of fiction with an appreciative audience large enough to warrant a two day convention let alone define it’s generic parameters.

Despite the dual modes, literary and visual, Nordicana showed that fans of Nordic Noir are not divided. This was an event in which the very act of attendance was a statement that expressed an emotional attachment for all forms of Scandinavian drama. Nordicana was an instance in which the participation was an opportunity for fans to show how the act of being an enthusiast has brought meaning to their lives, given them access to a an incredible social circle, and led to a desire to learn more about and directly experience Scandinavian culture. Nordic Noir may still be a relatively young subgenre but those who attended Nordicana may very well testify that they were enhanced by it and would be very eager to attend another convention. Being a fan is an amazing thing. Being a fan of Nordic Noir is Scandi-tastic.