‘Don’t move to Sweden just looking for a job, move for the whole experience’

Not many people can say that their time in Sweden started with being in the same room as Paul Simon, First Aid Kit, Yo-Yo Ma and Swedish royalty, but that's exactly how Georg Bungard's move to the Nordic nation got under way, with his now wife Mia Salazar eventually following.

'Don't move to Sweden just looking for a job, move for the whole experience'
Filmmakers Mia Salazar and Georg Bungard in Stockholm. Photo: Personal

Originally from Cologne and Barcelona respectively, Bungard and Salazar have the dream jobs of producing videos for a living. Yet neither were in that industry when they first met in the Catalan capital, where the German had befriended some Swedish filmmakers. It sparked a chain of events that would eventually lead to music royalty, real royalty, and Stockholm.

“My friend who had moved back to Stockholm called and asked me to come and film something with him here, behind the scenes at the Polar Music Prize. I said sure, booked a flight for a week, and in my second day in Stockholm in 2012 I ended up at Marie Ledin’s house – the daughter of Abba manager Stig Anderson – with Yo-Yo Ma and Paul Simon,” he laughs.

“We got to be backstage at Konserthuset, the King and Queen were there. It was a very idyllic, intense experience. Amazing. We also got to know First Aid Kit, I was sitting with my camera somewhere at the top of the Konserthuset filming their performance and got goosebumps, I’ll never forget it.”

After returning home, he excitedly told Salazar that he wanted to move to Sweden. She wasn't so keen to abandon her beloved Barcelona at the drop of a hat, however.

“He told me Sweden was amazing, he got to know it in the summer, and with all that stuff happening he thought it was the best place ever, so he decided he wanted to move here. Which I campaigned against because I love Barcelona,” she recalls.

“Then I came to visit in the summer and thought ‘OK, this is nice’. When I finally moved it was winter here of course, which was horrible.”

Salazar was previously a musician in the Catalan city, but wanted something new in life, and ultimately the move to Stockholm proved to be the right option:

“I had quit music in Barcelona and needed a change. I decided to change my life radically, move to Sweden and start working in film and challenge myself.”

In Stockholm, the duo soon got involved in forming filmmaking collective Nuet, which led to the completely different challenge of renovating a new work space – finding an office isn't easy in Sweden's capital, where space comes at a premium.

“We had been working together in different projects as freelancers and we found this crazy big warehouse space in Örnsberg. It was a run-down building from the 1960s in this area that’s being gentrified, and one of the last rough buildings there. We decided to renovate it. We spent four months on that,” Bungard details.

“We literally tore everything down and turned it into a new place. We built a dark room, a sound studio, a place for painting, photography. It was such a nice place. A lot of people tell us they miss it so much,” his partner adds.

Bungard flying a drone in Norway. Photo: Personal

“Nuet was the place where we started to feel like real locals, that we’re from Sweden now. It was multicultural but everyone became Swedish too, I started to feel like a part of Sweden and began working with beautiful people,” she continues.

The collective eventually grew, so they decided to move on and leave the space, with Salazar and Bungard now going it on their own through new company Bungard Film, but the members still work together occasionally on different projects. Nuet helped them a great deal in their growth as filmmakers, they believe, as well as though the challenging first couple of years in the Swedish capital.

“It's definitely tricky to get in the door at the beginning. You meet a lot of people wanting to get into film here, and it’s hard for everyone. In the first two years we managed to get investment, and after those two years we started to see a return. But it was a risk,” Bungard notes.

“We basically said yes to any job that came our way. That included events, business videos. I even filmed a training video at a prison once!” he adds.

The spirit of collaboration also continues in the way the duo work on their projects: jobs are alternated depending on the budget and needs. So for example, while one person edits one project, they may also direct a different one.

“I'm usually involved in the creative part, but according to the production budget we balance things. So in Cuba for example four of us got to do a little bit of everything here and there,” Salazar explains, referring to a new documentary on Cuba, directed by Maceo Forst, that they are particularly excited about.

Then there is another documentary, this time on Norway, which they’re also desperate to show the world.

“That's about a musician from a well known band in Spain called La Habitación Roja. One of the guys lives in Norway leading this double life – he tours during the summer in Spain, and spends the winter in Norway working in a hospital where people go to die. We’ll publish that documentary in a couple of months,” she reveals.

As for Bungard, one project he remembers fondly was working on Eurovision in 2016:

“We made postcard films, travelling to eight different countries like Slovenia, Belarus, Croatia, Bosnia. That was so cool.”

Looking to the future, Salazar has recently been given the title of creative assistant to director Pablo Maestres, who is based back in her home city of Barcelona.

“He makes these incredible music videos, and I write treatments with him. I help him with the writing of treatments for adds, music videos, he’s a genius. Anything he makes is gold and I’m so happy to be involved,” she beams.

Not quite Barcelona weather. Photo: Personal

She and her husband also have the goal of making more films together, in particular on social issues:

“We want to do more work together with just the two of us. We're both very interested in politics for example, are constantly reading and taking in information, we really want to make a political film. Hopefully we can do that”.

The plan is to stay in Sweden for the time being, but when asked if they would recommend aspiring filmmakers come to the Nordic nation to pursue their dream, Bungard points out that it’s no walk in the park.

“I've seen people fail here before, it’s really tough. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody, you have to be very hungry. You can't just send e-mails, you have to turn up at different places and advertise yourselves. Swedish people like to speak in person, but if you write e-mails it doesn't work. Freelance filmmakers here really work their ass off.”

“I wouldn't recommend people to move here just looking for a job. I’d recommend you move here for the whole experience, to challenge yourself. Move here if you’re ready to take on what it takes to do it,” Salazar concludes.

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”