Linnea Larsdotter Mikkelä & The Nordic International Film Festival

When Nordic stars align

By Cindy Clarke

From her first foray into stage acting as a teenager in Sweden to her musical theater studies at the New York Film Academy, her debut on the big screen and her starring role as filmmaker and founder of the Nordic International Film Festival (NIFF), Linnea Larsdotter Mikkelä has followed her heart – and art. Along the way she has written scripts, partnered with screen writers, produced documentaries and premiered a host of worthy films at festivals far and wide. She’s had wins and misses, fan favorites and personal picks, and auditions and opportunities that have opened doors to a world of movie-making magic, both for her and the filmmakers whose dreams she helps to fulfill.

She lives by the poetic, prophetic words her grandmother and mother would often recite to her as she was growing up in Sweden. Translated from the Swedish poem by Stig Johansson, it reads: “All these days that came and went, I didn’t realize that they were life” – but Linnea does and she hasn’t wasted a single moment of hers.

“It’s a reminder for me to work towards the things I want and be the human that I want to be,” she shared. “I often recite this for my team too. Two years ago as we were working on one our festivals, everyone was feeling a little fatigued. I acknowledged that it takes a lot of hard work to put on the festival but I said, think about it. We get to do this. We get to make these filmmakers’ dreams come true. And thanks to us, in a few days some of them will call themselves award winning filmmakers. We make a difference. Yes. it’s hard work, but it’s also all about heart and passion. Doing what you love is a very rare gift, indeed. And to be a part of helping people do what they love makes it even better.”

With Venü being NIFF’s official media partner, we were delighted to chat with Linnea about NIFF, learning more about how her passion for acting evolved into the filmmaking festival she founded ten years ago. Today NIFF is recognized as the largest Nordic film festival outside of Europe and is renowned for its independent screenings of both Nordic and International films. The festival is known to attract the highest quality films, including Oscar nominated filmmakers, Nobel prize winners and star-studded casts.

The festival was born from a screenplay her co-founder (Johan Matton) wrote after graduating from the New York Film Academy. With a small budget that was not enough to attract a production company, they decided to produce the feature themselves. Linnea, a talented actress with a promising resume, put down her lines and got behind the camera, putting in motion a new career in film making. Through that world, she told us, they were soon introduced to the film festival circles and very quickly realized that they would be a good voice for the untapped Nordic independent film industry.

“We had niche knowledge about the Nordic industry, but also being filmmakers ourselves, we knew what was important to a filmmaker at a festival. Over the past ten years, we’ve finetuned our craft, not only catering to those things people want in a movie, but also finding our distinctive way to do it,” she explained. “The festivals are spectacular and give us the opportunity to network with people who make the film industry work. It’s a magical feeling to be in a room and every single person there shares a similar dream and passion.”

As president of the non-profit festival and a film producer, Linnea receives a lot of scripts from hopeful filmmakers. The ones that she responds to are the ones that move her from reading their story on paper.

“If it evokes something in me on some level and also is relevant to social issues today – is it diverse, how many layers does it have, does it have people of different sexual orientations, is it engaging, does it start a discussion, does it deal with things that the film industry has been struggling with – I am happy to help put the film out there,” she said. “I want both my films and my audience to be as diverse as our society is and I also want to make sure everyone feels welcome.”

A showcase of cinematic excellence for close to a decade, the New York-based festival accepts submissions in six different categories. They include a category for international shorts, a documentary category that is open to filmmakers from all over the world, and three Nordic categories designed to specifically recognize filmmakers from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

“Our mission is to build bridges between the Nordic region and the international film community. Our long-term goal is to become the Nordic Film Market in North America, to encourage filming in the Nordic region and create a platform for Nordic filmmakers to sell and show their films in the US.”

“We have an incredible team of creative people behind us who work tirelessly all year long to put the festival together, including our programming team that meticulously reviews each submission and considers titles I have found out in the world. From there, we make the selection of which ones actually get to compete,” she shared.

“Early on, we set a rule for ourselves. We never commit to a certain number of films because we want to make sure the quality of the films we deliver stays the same. We want to make sure our audience knows what kind of film quality to expect and view at our festivals so they come back each year. We receive many great films that are fantastic on their own, but they might not fit the arc of our entire program. In those cases, we may arrange private screenings for them outside of the festival. The arc of our entire program, from conception to execution, is what sets us apart.”

The festival has also adopted a sustainable focus that puts it in a class of its own.

“From my research, we are the first festival in the entire world to carbon compensate for every filmmaker flying into New York. We also encourage everyone who comes to our red carpet event not to purchase anything new to wear. We suggest that they either reuse a gown or a suit, buy one at a thrift shop, rent one or borrow one or wear one of the ones we have on hand. We have chosen to run a plant-based festival for environmental reasons, offer plant-based menus, and use recycled paper and the like,” said Linnea. “Our goodie bags also reflect our commitment not to be wasteful and contain items people will actually use and not throw away.”

She mentioned the sustainable, cruelty-free vegan hair care products that Swedish brand Maria Nila provided for their goodie bags for the last few years, saying how much the recipients have enjoyed their good-for-the-people-and-our-planet gifts.

Long-term partnerships with Nordic organizations and companies are important to the festival as well in its quest to help promote the Nordic region as a whole. The acclaimed 126-year-old Swedish crystal brand, Orrefors, designs and produces the stunning crystal awards for the festival winners, sharing its mission to celebrate the heritage and forward-thinking vision of Nordic artists. Other sponsoring partners from the region include luxury furniture maker Duxiana, outdoor clothing and equipment manufacturers, Fjällräven, baseball cap maker Stiksen, Smygehuk Lighthouse, Film i Skåne, along with Thompson Central Park New York Hotel, the New York Film Academy and now, Venü magazine.

With her successful 2023 festival and its 22 participating films in the rear mirror, what’s on the horizon for NIFF?

“We are planning our first-ever fundraiser in May, holding screenings in Los Angeles, California, and Sydney, Australia, and reviewing submissions for our 10th festival to be held in New York from October 17 – 20, 2024,” she replied, excited to see what the year brings.

There was one more question we had to ask. Is NIFF headed to the Oscars?

Time will tell, Linnea told us, but if her passion and professional experience in premiering buzz-worthy films rooted in countries regarded as the happiest in the world due to its quality of life, mutual trust and respect for one another, gender equality and social consciousness, then the Nordic International Film Festival gets our vote for best in show in all categories.

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