Experiencing the Stockholm Film Festival: Volunteering and watching

The Stockholm International Film Festival, which ended this weekend, was an important event not only for filmmakers from around the world but also for international students here. NFGL member Diana Imamgaiazova shares her impressions and speaks with a student who volunteered at the festival.

Experiencing the Stockholm Film Festival: Volunteering and watching

"Window to the world"

This year the Stockholm Film Festival was celebrating its 25th anniversary –  which makes the event relatively young compared to the other major European film competitions. However, the festival's youth can be seen as a great advantage of the Stockholm festival. The event is dedicated not only to praise of the masters, but also to opening the door for young independent directors from all across the globe.

The last international film festival I visited was in Venice, where the festival competition featured 20 films, including 12 from European countries and four from the United States. Thus, there were only four films representing the "rest of the world" in the main programme, along with a half-dozen screenings in the additional categories.

In contrast, the Stockholm festival presented a more varied program focusing not mainly on Scandinavian films (as I expected it would be), but also highlighting creative works from other regions. There were entire sections for movies coming from Asia and Latin America ('Asian Images' and 'Latin visions') as well as films created in Somali (Fishing Without Nets) and Morocco/Qatar (The Narrow Frame of Midnight).

For my personal programme I chose movies only from Sweden, USA, Russia and South Korea, but I have an overall impression that the festival was a truly cosmopolitan event. The director of the festival, Git Scheynius, called it 'the window to the world' because the event encourages us to learn more about the other cultures. Stockholm Film Festival promotes international and non-commercial movies which otherwise can hardly be spotted among the flow of Hollywood's blockbusters.

"Behind the scenes"

IQko Muhammad has just come to Sweden from Indonesia for master studies at Stockholm University, and decided to try his hand at organization of the Stockholm film festival. I asked how it worked for him.

Diana: How did you learn about the volunteer's programme at the festival and get involved?

IQko: I just spotted the announcement in Kulturhuset in October. I had some experience in event management before, and I thought that I could really develop my skills by volunteering at this big international event in Stockholm.

I sent an email to the volunteers coordinator and was invited for an interview. I had some doubts about the required language skills, but it turned out that Swedish language was not necessary for all the departments there. Of course, you have to be able to speak Swedish if you want to get into the event department, for instance. But there are other positions open for international participants as well. Taking into account my university schedule and my interests and skills, I decided that the public department would be the best option for me.

Diana: What were your responsibilities during the festival? Was it hard to combine them with studies?

IQko:In the public department your main job is to meet the audience at the film venues, explain what the movies are about, answer the organizational questions in order to create a positive and smooth experience for the guest of the festival.

Talking about the schedule, I just could not apply for a position which would require a full-time workload. The coordinator helped me to find the best occupation in order to avoid clashes with my studies. Mainly I was working at the evening screenings and on the weekends. Of course, it's already not so easy to manage, sometimes I could not get enough sleep during the weekdays… But I enjoyed the experience a lot and I want to take more responsibilities at next year’s festival.

Diana: What opportunities does the festival provide for the volunteers?

The volunteers get some benefits including free entrance to the film screenings, and invitations to Gala Opening and the other parties during the festival.

However, the most valuable advantage for me was the practical experience of the event management. Within our department we had small group meetings and training events helping us to learn about our job, but it was just the beginning.

Participating in the event organization section, you cooperate with the others and can understand almost the whole managerial structure. I've learned about the other departments and their responsibilities, how they maintain the services at the different locations…

This film festival is a very complex organism since there are many events happening parallel at the different venues with hundreds of people involved. And I need to say that everything worked very smoothly thanks to the professional management. For instance, I've learned that the venues for all the events are arranged in advance of two years. It was definitely a great team to join!

"And the winner is…"

The winners of the Stockholm International Film Festival were announced on Friday evening at the award show in Södra Teatern. The prize for the best film was awarded to 'Gilrhood' by Céline Sciamma (France). 'A Girl At My Door' by July Jung (South Korea) was recognized as the best first film at the festival.

The event also proved to be important and inspirational for the international students in Stockholm, who were invited not only to witness it, but to become the part of the story.

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IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

IndiskFika are a group of Indians in Sweden with a shared passion: dance. Two of the group's leaders tell The Local how they came to be finalists in Talang, one of Sweden's top TV talent shows.

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

“We’ve been very passionate about dance from childhood,” says co-founder Ranjithkumar Govindan, who shortens his name to Ranjith. “I’ve been dancing from childhood, like first grade. So once we got into our professional lives and career, I wanted to continue my passion.”

“Like Ranjith, I have been dancing since the age of three, ” adds Aradhana Varma, who joined the group in 2020. She’s been competing in and winning dance competitions back in her hometown of Mumbai ever since. 

With just a handful of members back in 2019, the group now numbers over 50, including dancers, videographers, choreographers, editors, and production crew, and they are still growing.

Listen to Aradhana Varna from IndiskFika on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Govindan says started by dancing at various events in Stockholm alongside fellow Indian dance enthusiasts before the idea came to form the troupe. “Then, one fine day, me and one of my friends, Vijay [Veeramanivanna], said ‘why don’t we do a cover song?'” he remembers. 

“He’s very passionate about camera work, cinematography. I’m very passionate about dance,” Govindan says of the collaboration. 

Their initial idea was to take advantage of their location in to shoot dance routines out in Swedish nature, in the same way that Bollywood movies sometimes shoot routines against European scenes such as Swiss mountainsides or Italian plazas. 

“Indians are very famous for movies, like Bollywood, so we wanted to do a cover video of a particular song from a movie which was going to be released. Since we are living in Sweden, we have plenty of opportunities to cover good locations and nature, so that was an idea,” he explains.

The name ‘IndiskFika’, (“Indian fika”, a fika being a Swedish term for a coffee break in the middle of the day) came from Govindan and Veeramanivanna’s wish to combine Swedish and Indian cultures. 

IndiskFika performing in the Talang talent show. Photo: TV4

“We started with five to seven people in 2019, that was the first thing we did, and we did a shoot and edited everything, then we realised that if we wanted to release it, we should have a name,” Govindan says.

“So we started thinking ‘what name should we pick for this team?’. We came up with the idea IndiskFika. Everyone knows about fika in Swedish, right?” 

Their videos, some of which have over a million views, became popular both among Indians at home and among members of the Indian community in Sweden, whose interest helped the group grow further.

More and more Indians living in Stockholm started asking to join, and soon they were doing live performances:  one at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and another at the Diwali celebrations held by the Västerås Indian Association. 

When the pandemic hit, IndiskFika didn’t let it stop them. They started planning a digital one-year anniversary for the group, and began looking for other groups to collaborate with. 

That was how Govindan began collaborating with Varma, who had been performing with a different dance team. “I had been performing at various events like Namaste Stockholm with a different dance team based in Stockholm since 2017, but during pandemic, everything had come to a halt since it was a tough time for all of us,” she explains.

When new people joined IndiskFika, it gave the group a new impetus. “That’s when the boost started,” Govindan remembers. “We became stronger and stronger. So, so many things happened.”

IndiskFika first came to the attention of ordinary Swedes with an article in Ingenjörenthe members’ magazine for engineering union Sveriges Ingenjörer. Many of the group’s members are IT engineers or students at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “They did an article about us, about the engineers continuing their passion for dance, so that reached a more Swedish audience,” Govindan says. 

This led to more in-person performances, which in turn caught the eye of the producers responsible for Talang at Sweden’s broadcaster TV4.

“The Talang people said ‘we read about you and we’ve gone through all your YouTube videos, why don’t you come and participate in Talang 2022?’. The rest of the story you know. We participated in Talang, and we got a golden buzzer from David Batra in the prelims, so we went direct to the finals.”

David Batra, a Swedish comedian with an Indian father, is known for comedy series such as Kvarteret Skatan and Räkfrossa, as well as Världens sämsta indier (“World’s Worst Indian”), a series where he visits India, alongside public broadcaster SVT’s India correspondent Malin Mendel, and tries his hand at living and working in the country.

Batra is also one of four judges on Talang, whose golden buzzer meant that the dance team were awarded one of eight places in the final – four are chosen by votes and four are chosen by the Talang judges.

The group were among the top eight teams in the finals on March 18th, but for Indians in Sweden, reaching the final was a win in itself. They were invited for a fika with India’s ambassador to Sweden, where they were treated to both traditional Indian and Swedish treats.

The IndiskFika troupe on stage at TV4’s studios. Photo: TV4

Many of the group’s members work full-time alongside dancing, which can be difficult at times.

“It’s not easy to be so dedicated by spending extra effort after office hours, with hectic weekend schedules for rehearsals especially when everyone in the team has a full-time job,” Varma says. “There’s a lot of things that take place in the background from logistics to costumes, hall bookings, co-ordinating everyone’s availability, social media activities and so on.”

Like many foreigners, though, Govindan and Varma have taken their time adapting to life in Sweden. 

“All I knew about Sweden was that it was one of the cold and dark countries,” Varma says. “Eventually you start liking it, and you know, everything is worth it for the summers that you get here. The fika tradition, the amazing work/life balance, the nature, that’s the best part that we have here.”

“I didn’t have much of an idea about Sweden,” Govindan agrees. “The temperature, where I come from, throughout the year is between 25 to 40 degrees. In terms of temperature, nature, the people, everything is different.”

“India is very rich in culture, right?” Varma says when asked about the differences between Swedish and Indian culture. “We have a lot of colours and a lot of different flavours and you know, that’s the kind of performance we gave. That was the plan: to give a very energetic, powerful, and colourful performance.”