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Stig Björkman • Director

“Usually you get a retrospective when you die, so at least I get to enjoy it”


- Cineuropa caught up with the hero of this year’s Göteborg retrospective, director Stig Björkman, who decided to come to the interview barefoot – even despite the weather

Stig Björkman  • Director
(© Camilla Lindberg)

Celebrated at this year’s Göteborg Film Festival with a retrospective of six films, starting with his 1968 debut, I Love, You Love, Swedish film critic and director Stig Björkman will also present an exclusive preview of his upcoming documentary The Writer – With Joyce Carol Oates. We caught up with him for a chinwag.

Cineuropa: You are being celebrated at the festival with a retrospective. How did that come about?
Stig Björkman:
It was their idea! They decided what to show, too, and the Cinemateket in Stockholm will do the same in February, adding two more of my films. I tell everyone it’s so nice – usually you get a retrospective when you die. At least I get to enjoy it.

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When describing your first film, I Love, You Love, they opened with a rather triumphant quote: “Björkman proved that collective filmmaking is possible.” Would you agree?
This one certainly was. It was made for no money at all, during Saturdays and Sundays, whenever people were free. It’s divided into four sections, reflecting the seasons, and it tells the story of a couple expecting their first child. But it wasn’t supposed to be like that! My main actors, who also lived together, called me up one day, saying: “We’re sorry, Evabritt [Strandberg] is pregnant!” So her character became pregnant as well.

You always wrote about cinema and filmmakers, and then you started to make documentaries about them as well. Was that your intention all along?
No, I wanted to make fiction films. With Lars von Trier, for example, I knew him before. He was in my film, made to celebrate 100 years of cinema [as part of the Century of Cinema documentary series]. Then, when he was making Breaking the Waves, there was another filmmaker who started working on a documentary about him. Lars didn’t like his ideas, and there was a conflict, so he asked me to step in. After my book Trier on von Trier, we knew each other quite well. He knew he could trust me. And so I continued, coming up with Tranceformer – A Portrait of Lars von Trier.

You are showing a preview of The Writer – With Joyce Carol Oates, which will follow your last documentary: Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words. You have been making it for quite a while now.
I never thought I would make a film about Ingrid Bergman, but then I went to Berlin for the Ingmar Bergman exhibition with Harriet Andersson. Isabella Rossellini was the president of the Berlinale jury. She wanted to meet Harriet, and in the middle of our conversation, she turned to me and asked: “Shall we make a film about mamma?” Ingrid saved everything. Letters and diaries written in Swedish. I didn’t know she was making these home movies, starting in the late 1930s. That was some really fantastic material.

With Joyce, I have been filming her in six different locations, mainly in Princeton, but also in Bilbao, where she won an award. The film was almost finished in October last year, but we had to take out some scenes that we weren’t allowed to use in the end. There was this university, and they just said no; I don’t know why. I interviewed Joyce for a book, and we became friends, but she kept telling me: “Stig, I am not good in front of the camera, no!” When she finally agreed, we started right away. It will be shown in the spring.

One gets the impression that your books sometimes serve as foreplay, of sorts.
My fascination with her work started after I read Blonde [inspired by Marilyn Monroe]. We met for two hours, and then I just wanted to continue our conversation. Within a year, I had read 25 of her novels. She is happy to discuss her work, but not that open once more personal subjects are involved. That’s what the film is going to deal with as well. She has such an interesting background, coming from a small place next to Niagara Falls. Her father worked in a factory, her mother was a housewife, and she went to a school that had only one classroom for all the children, regardless of age. That’s where they spotted her talent.

When the news broke that this would be your next project, it immediately brought to mind 1972’s Georgia, Georgia, with a screenplay courtesy of the late Maya Angelou – the only one she ever wrote.
I was in Cannes with my first movie, which luckily was shown on the night before they closed down the festival thanks to Godard, Truffaut and co showing solidarity with the protesters. I met an American manager who was working with Eartha Kitt. He wanted to make a movie with her. I wrote an outline, and he gave it to Maya. By that time, I think she had already published her first novel. Then Eartha Kitt couldn’t do it, so we found Diana Sands, but the funniest thing was that after my first film, I was quite used to improvising. So that’s what we did, and at one point I was summoned by the producer and Maya said to me: “My script is sheer poetry. Don’t you change one word of it!”

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