Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Johnson studied film in California. But after a few visits to Sweden in recent years, Johnson found himself wanting to come back on a more permanent basis.
After ten years in Los Angeles, Johnson last year vowed to move to Sweden, finally making the jump earlier this year.
He found himself drawn to Sweden’s west coast, and aspects of it that reminded him of the west coast of the United States.
Johnson was particularly enchanted with the town of Smögen, a fishing-village turned summer tourist destination popular with Swedes as well as foreign visitors, and serves as a gateway to Sweden’s stunning west coast archipelago.
His time there inspired him to create a film, “Summer on Smögen”, which had its premiere in Gothenburg this summer.
The Local: What is your film about?
Meng Johnson: It is a film that captures the essence of the Swedish summer on the island of Smögen. The story is a portrait, a collection of moments from the lifestyle on Smögen told in a five minute film.
TL: What inspired you to make a film like this?
MJ: I began research about the culture on the west coast of Sweden, and I was particularly interested in how Swedes passionately yearn for summer. Since they experience such long winters, I made this film with them in mind. I hoped that the film could give a sense of the summer feeling they love.
TL: Who are the actors in the film?
MJ: The people in the film were discovered in Smögen, locals from the west coast, or visiting the island. I lived on the island, shared in the experiences, and presented the film idea as an opportunity to capture a few of their summer moments and lifestyle.
TL: Like making a documentary?
MJ: There is a hint of documentary style, but it’s more about capturing a feeling. Swedes have a passion for summer like I have rarely seen. I felt that it was important to capture the ephemeral beauty of the setting, such as the Nordic sunset, along with the personal moments that people share.
TL: Is this a filmmaking technique you use a lot?
MJ: For me, a fundamental goal in filmmaking is to capture and convey moments of truth. As a director, I make a great effort to make the person in front of the camera feel completely comfortable. This creates an atmosphere where genuine moments, beautiful moments, can happen. And those moments I love.
TL: How did you end up in Smögen?
MJ: My friends have a summer home there, and for years they have been encouraging me to visit.
TL: And what drove you to come to Sweden in the first place?
MJ: Swedish culture and Norse mythology have always fascinated me. I really enjoy the people, the history, and the epic nature. When I am in Sweden, I am always inspired creatively.
TL: What sort of films have you done in the past?
MJ: After earning my masters in film at the University of Southern California, I made a documentary on American high school football, cinematic commercials, and other projects.
TL: How would you describe what you do?
MJ: I am a storyteller. As a director and screenwriter, film is the medium that I use to tell stories. I also direct and create commercials. I think the best commercials, the most powerful, are those that are made like films, such as Ridley Scott’s epic Apple 1984 ad.
TL: What is it about film that you like?
MJ: I love how film can touch deep human emotions, inspire, and make a powerful impact on the viewer that can last a lifetime.
TL: What is your goal with the film and what are you doing now?
MJ: The initial screening went very well, and next it will be launched online this fall. It would be great if Swedish people find some value in it, or look at this film and say “That is MY summer.” I hope it gives them a good feeling through the dark winter months, and that it will be enjoyed for years to come.