Extreme politics and Gus Van Sant in focus at Stockholm Film Festival

The 21st Stockholm International Film Festival opens this week and The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson has had a look at some of the juiciest cinematic morsels on offer, taking more than a cursory glance at this year's twin themes – arthouse director Gus Van Sant, and the topic on everyone's lips – extreme politics.

Extreme politics and Gus Van Sant in focus at Stockholm Film Festival

It is no secret that Swedish actors, film, and filmmakers have been making a splash of late among American audiences and over the next eleven days in Stockholm, the film world and Sweden stand to get a closer look at each other.

Swedish movies such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Snabba Cash and Let the Right One In are being remade into English language versions, while their directors and stars are starting to emerge in international films.

Noomi Rapace, who played hacker-heroine Lisbeth Salander in the films of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, has landed a role in Sherlock Homes 2 and is hotly tipped to follow in the beaten path set by Greta Garbo, Lena Olin, Stellan Skarsgård and others to Hollywood success.

However, Sweden is also starting to make a name for itself in more hard hitting work such as Videocracy by Sweden-based director Erik Gandini, and Metropia, starring Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis.

This recent success of the Swedish film industry provides the backdrop as the Stockholm International Film Festival comes of age at 21. But the festival has no intention of resting on its laurels and with the invitation sent out to hip US arthouse director Gus Van Sant and a spotlight theme focused on extreme politics, organisers have shown that they have their finger on the pulse of the cinematic discourse.

Van Sant, who has made a name for himself with films such as My Own Private Idaho, Elephant and Milk, visits Stockholm this week to receive the festival’s Visionary Award.

”Gus Van Sant is the most important portrayer of the lost American youth in our contemporary society. The unseen are seen, the unheard are given a voice, and the forgotten are remembered,” reads the citation for the award which has in the past been bestowed upon the likes of Todd Solondz, Wes Anderson and Terry Gilliam.

Van Sant is also a producer of the movie Howl, which is also screening at the festiva. The experimental film explores both the Six Gallery debut and the 1957 obscenity trial of 20th century American poet Allen Ginsberg’s noted poem Howl.

This year’s spotlight on extreme politics places the Swedish discourse in a global context, coming less than two months after the far-right Sweden Democrats stormed into the Swedish parliament.

The festival has selected ten ”audacious” films from around the world which discuss the origins and consequences of extreme politics.

”The films show a strong trend within film this year where films from the whole world depict how marginalization encourages people to extreme movements and actions – regardless of whether they are terrorists, Sweden Democrats, Christian monks or anti-fascist clowns,” the festival explains.

Among some of the films on offer are Chris Morris’s terrorist satire Four Lions adressing the subject of the 7/7 London bombings. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu and Draquila – Italy Trembles look at how whole populations can be brainwashed by the abuse of the media and restrictions on freedom of speech. Jahmil XT Qubeka’s A Small Town Called Descent looks at the xenophobic legacy of apartheid.

The Swedish experience is represented by Moa Junström and Ingrid Holmberg’s film, Thank You, Goodbye, Go Home, which follows the 2010 election campaign of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.

”Every argument has been refined and the media keeps swallowing their bait like a pack of hungry wolves. The conditions are better than ever; the party candidates have spotless records and the campaign budget leaves little to wish for,” reads the prophetic prose to the film which covers an election campaign which resulted in the Sweden Democrats claiming seats in parliament for the first time.

While on the subject of documentaries, the early talk of the festival is Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here, which follows the actor Joaquin Phoenix during a purportedly turbulent year in his life.

The festival programme is divided up into a slew of categories to assist audience navigation. Northern Lights focuses on Nordic films and Made in Sweden brings the genre even closer to home. American Independents, Asian Images, Collage and the Twilight Zone are further featured themes.

The festival is more than a feast of film however, with a series of seminars on offer, some in English, which focus on subjects such as ”Swedes on the International Scene”, film production, and ”Found: Female Directors!”.

Furthermore, Face2Face gives fans the chance to meet all the directors, actors and filmmakers visting the festival.

The festival’s film highlights are too numerous to mention here, but it is safe to say that with 180 films from 50 countries showing over the 11 day calender, there will be a plethora of nuggets for all avid moviegoers to enjoy at some of the city’s most charismatic cinemas.

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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.

READ ALSO: Decision on stricter restrictions for foreign travellers to be made quickly

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.