French films a hit for Stockholmers

The winner of this year's Stockholm's French Film Festival was François Favrats' debut film Le Rôle De Sa Vie (The Role of a Lifetime) starring Agnès Jaoui and Karin Viard. It grossed the highest box office sales from the festival and received TV5's audience-based prize.

Going into its seventh year, The French Film Festival is well on the way to becoming a permanent part of the Stockholm cultural scene. The Local met Olivier Guerpillon, the founder and driving force behind the festival.

Why have a French Film Festival in Stockholm? Olivier laughs: “It’s a good question.” With between ten to twenty French films already being commercially released in Sweden, how does the French Film Festival add value?

Olivier Guerpillon states simply, “We think it is interesting just to have a French Film Festival once a year whose focus is solely on French films. Many good French films are not being released, distributed or even screened at film festivals.” It is such films that the partners and sponsors of The French Film Festival target: they fill in the gaps where other cultural events stop short. It gives Stockholm a good taste of French film culture in concentrated form.

Unusually, the festival runs over a month at Sture, one of Stockholm’s beautiful arthouse cinemas. As a cultural entity, the festival started out as the brainchild of Olivier seven years ago. At the time he was working at the French embassy as its “Audio-visual Cultural Attaché” with ties to the French Institute.

Already in his first year, in 1999, he organized a cooperative venture between the French embassy and French Institute, Triangelfilm–known for its cutting edge film selection–and the arthouse cinema Sture. The festival has been going strong ever since; it is the only one of its kind in the Nordic countries.

At the end of his four-year mandate as an Attaché, Olivier founded dfm fiktion, and continued producing the festival while expanding the role and offerings of the festival itself. Always willing to try something new and not necessarily having to be related to French culture, Olivier has worked with the Goethe Institute this year to bring a Fassbinder evening as part of the festival.

Generally, though, Olivier says “the focus is on French films, and French speaking films.” He then adds “to have a French-Canadian movie night each year with a guest is a good idea.” This ability to envision a common meeting ground focused around French film culture explains why this year alone, Germany’s Goethe Institut, Sweden’s Cinemeteket (a Swedish flagship of arthouse films) and the Canadian embassy were all involved in various events or theme nights.

“It’s all right to have a culture program for people that might be interested in something else (other than a blockbuster film)… We see that the festival audience keeps coming back and that the festival is appreciated” say Olivier Guerpillon. In many ways, the Swedish film-going audience is interested in “French auteur films, films marked by a single person with something unique, something personal in the way of filming, and in the way of telling a story…”

That’s not to say the festival only runs arthouse films.

Olivier states, “The films we choose are kind of middle of the road so we have a very small program with about 10 films. We try to have films that we think are good and representative of French films.

“We don’t select French blockbusters, comedy or action films or things that we don’t think are really interesting for a Swedish audience. We try to have a fair balance between broader films, and then one or two films that (focus on a) smaller audience but still interesting for non-Francophile audience.”

Indeed, it is this combination that has made the festival an interesting event in the otherwise quiet month of May. Perhaps Stockholm is slowly inching its way to becoming a capital city with cultural events all year round for its inhabitants.

As this year’s festival winds down, we can look forward to another French Film Festival in May and June of next year, and if the previous years are any indication, this one promises to be even better than the last.

Howard Suhr-Perez


How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic

A front-line Swedish nurse is getting some Covid downtime with a week of private screenings of the Gothenburg film festival, in a former lighthouse off the country's west coast.

How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic
Competition winner Lisa Enroth.

More than 12,000 candidates from 45 countries applied to watch the festival's films in almost near isolation on an island 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Stockholm.

The prize is a week viewing as many of the festival's 70 premieres as they like in a hotel in the former Pater Noster Lighthouse. But they will be in isolation and will have no access to their own computer or laptop.

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The bright-red lighthouse, built on a tiny island off Sweden's west coast in 1868, is surrounded by a scattering of squat, red buildings originally built to house the lighthouse keeper's family. It can only be reached by boat or helicopter, depending on the weather.

After a series of interviews and tests, festival organisers chose emergency nurse and film buff Lisa Enroth for the prize, in keeping with the 2021 festival's theme, Social Distances.

Before boarding a small speedboat out to the island on the clear, chill winter's morning, Enroth said she had applied not only out of her love for the cinema, but also to seek respite from her hectic work as an emergency nurse during the pandemic.

“It has been hectic, so it's a nice opportunity just to be able to land and to reflect over the year,” she said.

Months working amid Covid crisis

Sweden, which has taken a light-touch approach to the pandemic compared to its neighbours, has been facing a stronger than expected second wave of the virus. So far, more than 11,500 people have died from Covid-19 across the country.

Enroth works in the emergency ward of a hospital in Skovde in central Sweden. Since the start of the pandemic, her hospital's work caring for virus patients on top of their regular workload has been intense.

Lisa Enroth on her way to the remote festival location. Photo: AFP

“We had a lot of Covid cases during this year and every patient that has been admitted to the hospital has been passing through the emergency ward,” she told journalists.

The organisers said they were surprised by the numbers of applicants for the prize but were confident they had chosen the right candidate — not only for her love of cinema.

“She has also dedicated this past year in the frontline against the Covid-19 pandemic,” the festival's creative director Jonas Holmberg said to AFP.

“That's also one of the reasons we chose her”. 

Isolated screenings

Boarding the boat dressed in a thick survival suit, Enroth sped over the calm, icy waters, jumping off in the island's tiny harbour and disappearing into her lodgings.

A screen has been set up in the lantern room at the top of the windswept island's lighthouse, offering a 360-degree view of the sea and coastline around.

Another wide screen has been set up in one of the island's buildings.

Enroth will also have a tablet and headphones if she wants to watch films elsewhere on the island, which measures just 250 metres by 150 metres.

With only one other person staying permanently on the island — a safety precaution — Enroth's only contact with the outside world will be through her video diary about the films she has viewed.

The festival's films will be shown online and two venues in Gothenburg itself will allow screenings for just one person at a time.

Holmberg, the festival's creative director, said he hoped events like these would maintain interest in the industry at a time when many screens are closed because of pandemic restrictions.

“We are longing so much to come back to the cinemas and in the meantime we have to be creative and do the things that we can to create discussion,” he told journalists.