Filming the gutter
The festival honors Stefan Jarl, the Robin
Hood of Swedish film
|Stefan Jarl (left) and Lukas Moodyson
In 1968, fresh from studies at the Swedish Institute of Film, a
young man named Stefan Jarl made a feature documentary with fellow
student Jan Lindqvist about two Stockholm "Mod" hippies. "They
Call Us Misfits" was intended to allow teenagers to see themselves.
The film not only succeeded in that, but – after some trouble with
censors over sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll – it become a reference
point for Scandinavian film.
Jarl went on to make two more films about misfits Kenta and Stoffe
in 1979 and 1993. In the sequels, restlessness and pot smoking give
way to family trouble and heroin overdoses – plus the paradox of
yuppie offspring. The films bare the unattractive underbelly of the
Swedish welfare state.
From Gothenburg to Thessaloniki
More than three decades later, Jarl remains a documentary warrior,
whether focusing on the imperiled reindeer hunters of the north ("Threat"),
or those arrested at the 2001 Gothenburg protests. Jarl co-directed
the latter film, "Terrorists: The Kids They Sentenced",
with talented newcomer Lukas Moodysson ("Lilya 4-Ever").
The two directors say of the film: "Two years ago there was
a EU summit meeting in Gothenburg. We've done a film about some of
those who were there, some of those who were sentenced to prison
afterwards. We wanted to hear their voices, see their faces. We wanted
to take part in their version of what happened in Gothenburg. We
wanted to hear their thoughts." They interview some of the 60
|They Call Us Misfits
will attend the 2004 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival-Images of
the 21st Century, which will present him an award and screen nearly
a dozen of his films. Included are several of Jarl’s environmental
films, such as bleak modern farming tale "Nature’s Revenge" (1983)
and recent biography "The Bricklayer" (2002), about well-known
Swedish actor Thommy Berggren.
Being Robin Hood
Jarl was born in southern Sweden’s Skara in 1941.
Luckily his father was a photography buff who shot 16mm films.
Jarl picked up a camera
and did the same at age 12, often inspired by nature. Much later,
he mastered the craft by working with filmmakers Arne Sucksdorff
and Bo Widerberg.
A documentary filmmaker today needs to be like Robin Hood, explains
Jarl in his inspiring essay "Manifest on the Subject of Documentaries".
He suggests that filmmakers trick those with the money – especially
government agencies- into funding films. A respectable filmmaker
never makes the film they promised to produce, but instead films
something criticizing the hand that feeds her or him. The only
way to not end up in jail, Jarl notes, is to make a very good film.
It’s for the best of causes. Jarl writes that filmmakers must use
their wily ways to bring those who are ignored and silenced to the
big screen. It’s a waste of celluloid, in his opinion, to make films
that mirror "the values and hierarchies of the powers that be".
Only the fearless need apply. "It’s a blessing," he writes
in the essay, that documentaries have been relegated "to the
gutter", as the "lumpenproletariat of the art of film." That’s
where documentaries belong, he feels.
|"Terrorists: The Kids They Sentenced"
feels that documentarians must find stories in places others avoid: "dirty
factories, retirement homes, Sarajevo, mining galleries... the
homes of the hungry and the unemployed, with vagrants
and the outcasts, in the dark passages and neighborhoods, on the
park benches, in prisons, with the downtrodden and the oppressed,
the abused, the unjustly rewarded, and with those whom we have
deprived of everything and alongside people without a voice - the
the unheard. In short, documentaries should cover the backyard
of society, the home of the guttersnipe."
But filmmakers shouldn’t fool themselves, writes Jarl, about getting
at some accurate reality. They are always looking at things from
their perspective and manipulating audiences. There is nothing wrong
with either, according to him. Jarl is frank about his intentions: "I
make movies because I want to influence others". He wants
viewers to see what he sees.
Good allies are vital to the Robin Hood business. "A good documentary
is only as good as the rapport between the people in front of the
camera and the people behind it," Jarl believes. Finding like-minded
colleagues is just as important. In the 1970’s Jarl and his "band
of thieves" set up a filmmakers’ union, a non-profit
distribution company called FilmCentrum, a commercial chain of
as Folkets Bio and a magazine.
Jarl competes with Hollywood escapist images by using 35mm film
and Dolby Stereo sound, by diverting "the rules" yet
always sticking to his own laws.
(Environmental Filmmaker: A look at the films of Stefan Jarl)
Swedish Film Institute