Nordicana is back – and it’s needed more than ever

Nordic Noir is growing up. The phenomenon, built around crime drama from Scandinavia but loose enough (once you’ve added the qualifier ‘and beyond’) to include subtitled dramas from France and Belgium, has burst away from its 9pm Saturday home on BBC FOUR. New book titles arrive daily and if you’ve got the cash and the stamina there seems to be a seminar or festival almost every weekend, from Reykjavik to Bristol. Nordicana is the most accessible of these, and it takes place this Saturday and Sunday, in East London.

Kim Bodnia at Nordicana 2014
Kim Bodnia at Nordicana 2014

Nordic Noir, is of course, a marketing term, as a label for Arrow Films, as well as the title of Barry Forshaw’s book. It has attracted a fandom as an overall genre and various Facebook sites and Twitter communities attest to its continuing popularity. Unlike other fandoms there can be no real canon: the most accessible entry points are TV’s Borgen, The Killing and The Bridge (or Britain’s Shetland, Hinterland or even, arguably, Broadchurch), together with writers such as Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson, but where you go after that is entirely up to you.

The critic Barry Forshaw can create a tour for you, and his guides, including Nordic Noir and Euro Noir, are essential reading. But there are tensions (as with any cultural phenomenon) between the manufactured and the organic, and between entry-level fans attacted by the hype and the real conference hardcore. (Though I would observe that the self-styled Scandifans tend to favour the hygge in comparison with the constant infighting of, say, the Whovians. Nordic Noir tends to be inclusive, and if all you know about Borgen is that the prime minister is a woman and she cycles to work, no one other than me will be rude enough to point out that Birgitte Nyborg is either prime minister (for 19 episodes) or cycles (10 episodes) or takes a helicopter (1 episode), but never both.)

The last Nordicana climaxed with a screening of the final episode of The Bridge II, followed by Q+A with Sofia Helin, and in many ways that was the high point of the genre. Since then, other channels have fought BBC FOUR for transmission rights, so Nordic Noir has become broader and, perhaps, shallower. Sky brought us the excellent The Legacy and its own, uneven, Fortitude. BBC FOUR is currently giving us the unmissable 1864, and The Bridge III is on its way – though without the brilliant Kim Bodnia. More4 and ITV Encore have offerings coming up too. This weekend’s Nordicana will help us answer the questions what to watch and what to read, with plenty of screenings and panel discussions. For obvious reasons, I’m looking forward to hearing Camilla Hammerich talk about her experiences producing Borgen – look out for a report on this site in due course. And I’ll also be in the crowd for the panel talk ‘The Origins of Nordic Noir’.

What we need right now is ‘some good advice’ (Madonna) or ‘perspective’ (Ratatouille’s Anton Ego). Hopefully we’ll get both at Nordicana this weekend. See you there.

Nordicana takes place 6-7 June at The Troxy, London. Here’s the official site.

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