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Swedish Cinema — Problems and Solutions

Since the establishment of the Swedish Film Institute in 1963, Swedish movie-making industry has been mostly government funded. Although the statute of the Film Institute stated that films striving for a »certain artistic quality« would benefit from the support, this quite soon proved not to be the case. Between 1970s’ and 1990s’, most of the films produced were trying to follow the American commercial filmmaking formula. Of course, there were several exceptions to the rule, such as Ingmar Bergman and Bo Widerberg, but even high-profile artists such as these were not able to work continuously. However, Swedish cinema would soon be swept by a wave of change coming from the neighbouring country, Denmark. The turning point in Denmark came with the appearance of the enfant terrible Lars von Trier on the national scene and the formation of the movement called ’Dogme-95’.

The hype that soon surrounded Dogma-95 turned it into an excellent opportunity for promotion, both of films and filmmakers. Observing the rapid transformation of Danish film industry from an almost nonexistent film production into a tremendous success in just a couple of years, Swedish filmmakers started to think of the ways to keep pace. The 1990s’ were marked by fierce debates over the Danish wonder and Sweden’s failure to create a respectable film production. One of the reasons for stagnation was said to be the Swedish Film Institute. During the 1980s’ and early 1990s’ the Institute was run by a succession of dull politicians with no real interest in film. Some of the guilt was also assigned to the National Film School, which seemed to have a split personality.

On the one hand, the school was striving to find new Ingmar Bergman, while on the other hand, it was trying to educate filmmakers who would produce blockbusters on the grand scale, taking up the commercial competition with the American cinema. The results were disappointing. Film distribution was also one of the problems since distributors centered their activities on Stockholm and on the distribution of feature films, disregarding other film forms, such as documentaries, animated and children films. All these issues, and many more, got the debate going during the 1990s’. As a result, the Film Institute has modified its regulations and, in an attempt to provide a determined leadership with a personal attitude, Swedish government appointed Åse Kleveland to the job, former Norwegian minister of culture and a very strong personality. Under his leadership the emphasis was put on changing the Institute’s image through various activities, seminars, workshops and free screenings organized around various themes.

The National Film School started to enrol students from different cultural and social backgrounds. A parallel development has taken place outside Stockholm, where a number of regional film centers have been established. There, young filmmakers could find support for their first productions, in terms of financing, script development and technical guidance. Some of these local centers made an impact on the national scene, especially »Film i Väst«, a center located close to Göteborg, on the west coast of Sweden. Some new producers and young filmmakers were promoted. After having made several blockbusters, Fares and Moodyson became the new heroes of Swedish cinema and the leading figures of the so-called New Swedish Film Wave.

The phrase was coined in response to the ’Danish Wonder’. New feature films, along with a number of important shorts, documentaries and animations, have opened up Swedish film to the world. Although Swedish film production is still developing, things are definitely going in the right direction. The scene is still very much occupied with the concerns of the international cinema — many young directors simply want to make American films! However, in light of recent developments we are led to believe that Swedish film industry is taking a turn toward more personal films thus raising the quality and general awareness of cinema as an art form.

Adam Marko Nord

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