Tacoma’s Normanna Men’s Chorus doesn’t usually sing outside in a blizzard. But other than that, they do share a few things — camaraderie and hearty Norwegian tunes — with the men’s choir from Berlevag, Norway. So it’ll be highly appropriate Monday when the Tacoma choir sings live at the Sister Cities Film Festival — this year at The Grand Cinema — to open a film about the Berlevag choir, “Cool and Crazy.”
Dark and violent it definitely isn’t.
“A lot of people consider recent Norwegian films to be a bit shocking,” said Abby Wigstrom-Carlson, a member of the Sister City committee for Aelsund, Norway, and herself of Norwegian descent. “We wanted to find a more feel-good film for a broader audience.”
Tacoma has had sister cities since Gunsan, Korea, came on board in 1978, and has screened a film series featuring those countries for 15 years. But this year sees a first for the festival: A move to The Grand Cinema every Monday through May 29.
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“I’ve inquired about doing Sister Cities (Film Fest) at The Grand for a number of years,” says executive director Philip Cowan. “It’s a natural fit for us. We are the only theater in Tacoma that plays foreign films, so … we match naturally to draw crowds for these films. We’re very excited to have it and hope it has found a permanent home at The Grand.”
Cowan points out that the move solves some of the technical difficulties the festival has had at other venues, like the University of Puget Sound: bad sightlines (especially for subtitles), limited sound and projection capabilities.
About half of the films were chosen by the sister city committees, with Cowan making recommendations for the rest.
And with another sister city being considered in Croatia, the series is even bigger this year. The 13 films screen Monday nights, beginning March 6 with “Sweet Bean,” a tale of romance in a Japanese pancake stall. Other films include dramas about a baker and an opera singer from Croatia, a young Chinese urbanite sent to live with Mongolian herders, and a father and son living off a coral reef in Mexico. There are films from France, Korea, the Philippines, South Africa and Cuba. There are comedies, dramas and romances. Most films are family-friendly, and all have some kind of cultural entertainment by local groups before the movie screens.
Then there’s the Berlevag men’s choir, which opens it film trailer by singing lustily, hunched in heavy coats, in a driving blizzard. It’s a dramatic way to illustrate the friendship and commitment singers have for choirs, especially from their own culture.
“I’ve always had a passion for connecting with my heritage,” says Wigstrom-Carlson, of why she serves on the Aelsund sister city committee, and why she sought out the 129-year-old Normanna Chorus to perform. “It’ll be a fun night.”