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“It's time to celebrate, dance and fall in love”

Industry Report: Film Festival Trends

Jonas Holmberg • Artistic director, Göteborg Film Festival


We talked to the artistic director of the Swedish festival about the upcoming digital edition – and remote islands

Jonas Holmberg • Artistic director, Göteborg Film Festival

With its 44th edition moving online, the Göteborg Film Festival is still bound to surprise – also by sending one viewer to a remote lighthouse island, where they will be able to experience this year's programme. And hopefully, they’ll also remember that it's bad luck to kill a sea bird. We caught up with the festival’s artistic director, Jonas Holmberg.

Cineuropa: Most festivals are warming to the idea of having their own streaming platform these days. But thanks to Draken Films, you were already ahead of the game.
Jonas Holmberg:
We started it in 2013 because we were worried about the situation of arthouse cinema in the online environment. The big streaming players had a limited number of the kinds of films that we love at the festival, and they weren't getting the visibility we were hoping for. It has been a long and winding road, but now we have been a leading streaming service for arthouse cinema in Sweden for a number of years. Once the pandemic hit, the subscription base exploded. And now, as we have been preparing to launch a digital film festival, it has been a huge advantage.

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Would you say that thinking about a digital edition influenced the whole programming process?
Yes. We had a great response from the rights holders and the filmmakers, and we certainly did worry about that, but the biggest change is that we are presenting a smaller number of films. We wanted to give them love and care, and the attention they deserve. When you arrange a festival online, you can't just put the films out there; it needs to be a different experience from logging into your Netflix account. Every film has a fixed slot, and we will also have physical screenings at the Draken Cinema for one person in the audience. When possible, we will also invite the filmmakers from Sweden and its neighbouring countries to introduce their movies from there: it will be the physical heart of that digital experience.

You showed quite a sense of humour by coming up with these physical initiatives, culminating in the idea of sending one viewer to an isolated island. Aren't you scared? We have all seen The Lighthouse.
During the pandemic, many have turned to films for company. They wanted to feel good. People talk about this new genre, “comfort movies”: films that you return to, that you feel safe with. When you are on your own, and you watch a film with a big party scene or strangers hugging each other, it's such a different feeling to see all that now. We talked a lot about how this isolation has affected our film experiences, and we wanted to experiment with that. We decided to present a special focus that we called “Social Distances”, as we will be screening films dealing with the pandemic, and all of the social and emotional issues that have been on our minds, but we also decided to take it to the extreme: by isolating a person on an island, accompanied only by 60 film premieres. This place is perfect – it's far out in the sea, just a small rock: very dramatic and very beautiful. I am curious as to how this person's experience will differ from that of the rest of the viewers.

You advertised it rather bluntly: “No phone, no family, no friends.”
You are not even allowed to bring a book! It's just you, the festival and the sea. Nothing more. But we do have a psychologist on board.

With Ruben Östlund as this year's recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, what other online encounters are you planning?
The films will be introduced by the filmmakers, and us, so there will be plenty of conversation. It will include Q&As, but we will also be launching a daily podcast. We will use all of our platforms, every channel we have, to create meaningful experiences and to celebrate, because that's what I think is important. We need to celebrate these films, make it an event and make it fun. That's the problem with the online world – it's difficult for the films to get the attention, to be cherished. At a film festival, we need to create this moment.

As for Ruben, he is one of the greatest filmmakers active in the Nordic region right now. He has made so many great movies, and he is completing a new one [Triangle of Sadness]. Last weekend, I watched all of his films, including the shorts and documentaries, and it was just so interesting. He has such a unique cinematic vision.

What you said about “comfort cinema” was very interesting. Was this on your mind when choosing Zaida Bergroth's Tove [+see also:
film review
interview: Zaida Bergroth
film profile
as the opening film? After all, we all grew up with the Moomins.
It was important to open the festival with a film that gives hope. Sometimes you open with these very depressing features, you know? But this one spotlights creativity: it's full of life, encounters, love and energy. This energy was very important to us when we selected it: we wanted to open the festival on that note. It's time to celebrate, dance and fall in love!

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