Swedish film

Contemporary Swedish film is treading into untried genres. If international audiences used to anticipate healthy portions of nudity, introspection and childhood reflection, today they might just as well come across crime syndicates, zombies and runaway 100-year-olds.

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Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl. Photo: Universal Pictures

Swedish film

Contemporary Swedish film is treading into untried genres. If international audiences used to anticipate healthy portions of nudity, introspection and childhood reflection, today they might just as well come across crime syndicates, zombies and runaway 100-year-olds.

New genres bring new audiences

The widening of genres has helped create an increased interest in Swedish film beyond the northern European countries. Besides mainland Europe and the US, South Korea has recently grown into the most important export market for Swedish film with 16 films screened at cinemas in the past five years (compared with the Netherlands, which screened 70 Swedish films).

The most viewed Swedish films of late cover widespread genres such as comedy (The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared), documentary (Searching for Sugar Man), drama (Force Majeure), thriller (The Hypnotist) and action (Easy Money).

Awards and festivals

Major international film festivals play a big role when it comes to showcasing Swedish film. In 2016, Sweden was represented by nine films at Berlin (plus five co-productions). Two of the ten competing short films at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival were Swedish. At the 2015 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, a record-breaking ten Swedish films appeared, and the Swedish–Finnish co-production Don Juan by Jerzy Sladkowski won the award for best feature-length documentary.

Sweden’s own film awards, the Guldbagge (“Golden Beetle”) awards, have been around since 1964 and are presented in 19 categories. The big multiple award winners in 2016 were Drifters (Tjuvheder, five awards) by Peter Grönlund, closely followed by The Here After (Efterskalv, three awards including Best Film and Best Directing) by Magnus von Horn and Flocking (Flocken, three awards) by Beata Gårdeler.

Gender equality in Swedish film

Sweden is sometimes mentioned as a role model when it comes to gender equality in film. Within Sweden, however, the consensus is that much still remains to be done. Since 2013, a requirement for Swedish film support through the Film Agreement (see below) has been that funding from film commissioners shall be divided equally between women and men in the key positions of director, screenwriter and producer. So far, the agreement has been kept; however, looking at all film funded in other ways, the numbers drop.

In 2015, there was a noticeable increase in gender equality. Of the feature-length fiction films released during the year, a record-breaking 36 per cent were directed by women. The most frequented film of the year, A Holy Mess (En underbar jävla jul) was furthermore directed by Helena Bergström, proving once more that women directors are every bit as commercially viable as men.

New funding deals

In 2017, the Swedish Film Agreement will be replaced by a new national film policy still under development. The current policy is a series of agreements between the state, film industry, cinema owners and television companies that establishes how film support is allocated and administered by the Swedish Film Institute.

The goal of the new policy is among other things for support to become more technology-neutral (read less reliant on cinema distribution). Perhaps in the future more Swedes will follow the lead of director David Sandberg and turn to crowd-funding. Sandberg found a way around the Swedish funding system by setting a Kickstarter record with his martial arts comedy spoof Kung Fury (2015). With USD 630,000 pledged by close to 18,000 backers, Sandberg was able to produce a 30-minute film and release it online for free.

What he may not have planned on was being included in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Or that it would reach close to 25 million views on YouTube. Kung Fury won a Guldbagge Award for best short.

Moving online

The film industry is moving online, not just when it comes to funding but also distribution and viewing. Of all films watched in Sweden, 49 per cent is accessed online (13 per cent illegally). The breakthrough of new digital media and the ability to crowd-fund have helped create more opportunities for the production and dissemination of films in more genres.

David Sandberg is not the only one to turn to an online audience. Many Swedish YouTubers are attracting millions of subscribers with content varying from humour and gaming to makeup and fashion.

Since 2014, Sweden has had an awards ceremony for YouTubers, Guldtuben (‘The Golden Tube’) with cash prizes in categories such as Vlogger, Gamer, Action and Comedy. For internet-savvy Sweden, the line between home screens and the silver screen is already becoming blurred.

Swedish actress Tehilla Blad in Beyond.

Photo: Nordisk Film

An eye for directing

Spearheaded by the visionary giant Ingmar Bergman and the internationally renowned Lasse Hallström, it is first and foremost the directors who are steering Swedish film into new genres – and in the process leaving their own personal mark. Trends point less towards social conformity and a sense of order, and more towards expressiveness and reduced respect for authority.

After the success of Easy Money (Snabba Cash) in 2010, Daniel Espinosa turned to directing international productions such as Safe House (2012) and Child 44 (2015). In 2017, his sci-fi thriller flick Life, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, was released. Espinosa is next set to direct a classic Swedish story, The Emigrants (Utvandrarna), based on a novel by Vilhelm Moberg about a family leaving Sweden for the US in the 19th century.

Pernilla August is an actress turned director who had a breakthrough role in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander) in 1982 and later starred in two Star Wars films. In 2010, her feature directorial debut Beyond (Svinalängorna, 2010) generated critical acclaim and several awards, including two at the Venice Film Festival and one at Filmfest Hamburg. After directing a 2014 Danish television series, August returned to feature films in 2016 with an adaptation of Hjalmar Söderberg’s classic Swedish love story A Serious Game (Den allvarsamma leken) starring Michael Nyqvist. August is still highly active as an actress.

Ruben Östlund is perhaps Sweden’s most acclaimed director at the moment. He made his feature debut in 2004 followed by two prizewinning fictional shorts and the feature Play (2011) – which won the Nordic Council Film Prize, along with the Best Director Award at the Tokyo Film Festival and Coup de Coeur in Cannes. Force Majeure (Turist, 2014) won the Jury Prize of Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2014. In 2017 his feature The Square — a film with utopian undertones about shared responsibilities starring Dominic West and Elisabeth Moss — won the Palme D’Or in Cannes. His films often mix serious with comedic.

Hannes Holm has a firm footing in comedies but is not afraid to jump between genres. Before his comedic drama A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove, 2015) became a box office as well as critical success, some of his best-selling films included both dramas and family films. Close to 1.7 million cinema-goers have seen A Man Called Ove to date, making it one of the biggest Swedish box office hits in history. Holm is next set to direct a biopic about Swedish singer Ted Gärdestad, who rose to fame in the 1970s but whose life ended in tragedy in 1993.

Lisa Aschan directed her first feature film in 2011. She Monkeys (Apflickorna), about two competitive adolescent girls, won Swedish film prizes as well as Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival and a Crystal Bear in Berlin. Her follow-up, White People (Det vita folket, 2015), about people waiting in a prison-like environment to be deported, was nominated for five Guldbagge Awards.

Roy Andersson made a name for himself in 1970 with A Swedish Love Story (En kärlekshistoria), about teenage love. Giliap (1975), was crushed by the critics, and it was not until 2000 that perfectionist Andersson completed his third feature, Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger från andra våningen) – a major success. You, the Living (Du levande, 2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron, 2014) follow in the same theme and imagery – the latter won a series of prizes, including the Golden Lion in Venice 2014.

Many of Ella Lemhagen’s films target a younger audience, such as The boy with the golden pants (Pojken med guldbyxorna, 2014). She has won several international prizes, including two Crystal Bears from Berlin, for The Crown Jewels (Kronjuvelerna, 2011) and Tsatsiki (Tsatsiki, morsan och polisen, 1999). In 2015, her first non-Swedish film came out — All Roads Lead to Rome, a romantic comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

Alicia Vikander receiving an Academy Award for for best actress in a supporting role (The Danish Girl) in 2016.

Academy Award winning Swedes

When Alicia Vikander received an award for best actress in a supporting role (The Danish Girl) at the 2016 Academy Awards, she did so as the first Swedish actress to win since Ingrid Bergman picked up her third award for Best Supporting Actress (Murder on the Orient Express) in 1975. Ingrid Bergman’s two previous Oscars were for Best Actress (Gaslight, award in 1945, and Anastasia, in 1957.

While Ingmar Bergman only received one personal Academy Award, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1970, three of his films won Best Foreign Language Film (The Virgin Spring, in 1961, Through a Glass Darkly, 1962, and Fanny and Alexander, 1984. The latter took home four Academy Awards out of six nominations.

They also received an Oscar

Other Swedes who have received Oscars include Arne Sucksdorff (Best Short Film for Symphony of a City, in 1949), Olle Nordemar (Best Documentary Feature for Kon-Tiki, 1951), Greta Garbo (The Academy’s Honorary Award, 1955), Sven Nykvist (Best Cinematography for Cries and Whispers, 1974, and Fanny and Alexander, 1984), Anna Asp and Susanne Lingheim (Best Art Direction for Fanny and Alexander, 1984), and Malik Bendjelloul (Best Documentary Feature for Searching for Sugar Man, 2013).

At the 2013 Oscars, Paul Ottosson (Zero Dark Thirty) and Per Hallberg (Skyfall) shared the prize for Best Sound Editing. Both had been awarded previously, Ottosson for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing (The Hurt Locker, in 2010), and Hallberg for Best Sound Editing (Braveheart, 1996, and The Bourne Ultimatum, 2008).

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Last updated: 17 August 2017