”One of the last great samurai who unyieldingly fights for ideals
and convictions. In our ’heavy industry’ there aren’t many like him.”
”One of Sweden’s most important directors”
”En envis och oförvägen rebell.”
”En av vår tids unika svenska filmkonstnärer.”
”Den mest hyllade av svenska dokumentärfilmare sedan slutet av 60-talet.”
”Stefan Jarl är en av tidernas största dokumentärfilmare.”
”The greatest unknown documentary filmmaker currently at work.”
”Stefan Jarl var och är en centralfigur i svensk film.”
”Tribute to Stefan Jarl, Sweden documentary Master.”
”Stefan Jarl är sedan snart 50 år uthållig och temperamentsfull förgrundsgestalt i svensk film.”
”One of Europe´s leading documentary film makers.”
”Stefan Jarl är dokumentärfilmens Ingmar Bergman”
”Outstanding work in the documentary field.”
”One of the world´s most distinguished documentarists.”
”Stefan Jarl är och förblir den svenska filmens evige rebel.”
One of Swedens most important directors.
”Stefan Jarl zählt zu den wichtigsten Dok-Filmern Europas”
”Den svenska dokumentärfilmens nestor”
A life-long profane firebrand.”
”Stefan Jarl demonstrates with each passing year that he must be numbered among the world’s major documentarists.”
”Europas Oscar” för ”Det Sociala Arvet”.
EFA European Film Documentary Award.
”För mig är Stefan Jarl och Bo Widerberg Sveriges viktigaste regissörer. Jarl är inte bara filmskapare utan också fotograf, samhällskritiker, provokatör, propagandist och författare. Hans olika roller….”
1941 Born in Skara, southern Sweden
1959-60 Disciple of the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff
1961-64 Attended the Faculty of Arts at Uppsala University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aesthetics
1965-66 Film Academy in Stockholm
1968 First feature-length documentary, ”Dom kallar oss mods”/”They Call Us Misfits” (first part of a trilogy, together with Jan Lindqvist)
1969-76 Production manager for Bo Widerberg, Öyvind Fahlström and Mai Zetterling; periodically assistant for Arne Sucksdorff
1973- Initiator and collaborator for the Folkets Bio film distribution company
1979 Svenska Filmkritikerförbundet, ”Årets film”
1987 IDA, International Documentary Award, USA
”Distinguished Documentary Achivement”
1989 Jury´s Spezial Award, Yamagata Film Festival, Yamagata, Japan
1989 Prix de Film Europén, Paris, Frankrike
1989 IDA, International Documentary Ass´s Certificate of Honour, Los Angeles, USA
1989 Prix de la FICC & Specialpreis der Jury, Leipzig, DDR
1992 Los Angeles Film Critics Ass´s Award, ”Best Documentary”, USA
1993 Svenska Filmakademins Silverplakett
”Sveriges främste dokumentärfilmare”
1993 Telluride Int. Film Festival, Hedersmedalj, USA
”As one of Europe´s leading filmmakers”
1993 EFA, European Film Awards ”Europas Oscar”, European Documentary Film of the year,
1994 Svenska Filmkritikerförbundet, ”Årets Film”
1997 Giffoni Film Festival, Italien
1997 The Prince´s Award, European Environment Agency, Köpenhamn, Danmark
1999 First Int. Green Film Festival Award, Tehran, Iran
2002 Göteborgs Filmfestival, ”Bästa film”
2004 Thessaloniki Int. Film Festival, Life Time Award, Grekland
2007 Sveriges Förenade Filmstudios Filmpris
2010 Västra Götalandsregionens Kulturpris
2011 Cancer- och Allergifondens Miljömedicinska Pris
2012 Hedersdoktor, Karlstads Universitet
2013 Svenska Kyrkans Pris
2014 Nordic Docs Icon Award, for outstanding work, Norge
2017 Teaterförbundets Guldmedalj
2018 Per Ganneviks Stipendium
Stefan Jarl föddes 1941 i Skara. Han är en av Sveriges internationellt mest kända och banbrytande dokumentärfilmare, tillika spelfilmsregissör, författare och debattör och har gjort över 40 filmer.
I mitten av 60-talet utbildade sig Stefan Jarl vid Svenska Filminstitutets filmskola och tog också en universitetsexamen i estetik. Redan 1959 hade Stefan Jarl börjat sin filmbana genom att vara assistent åt den Oscarsbelönade regissören Arne Sucksdorff. Genom samarbetet med Sucksdorff väcktes intresset för sambandet mellan människa och natur, ett ämne som återkommer i flera av Stefan Jarls filmer: Naturens hämnd (1983), Hotet (1986), Tiden har inget namn (1989) och Jag är din krigare (1997). År 2010 väckte filmen Underkastelsen, om den kemiska förgiftningen av vår livsmiljö och våra kroppar, internationell uppmärksamhet och kallades av FN:s miljöprogram UNEP för ”en av århundradets viktigaste filmer”.
Stefan Jarls allra mest kända filmer är den dokumentära ”Modstrilogin”: Dom kallar oss mods (1968, tillsammans med Jan Lindqvist), Ett anständigt liv (1979) och Det sociala arvet (1993). Många har under åren sett filmerna om Kenta, Stoffe och några av deras kompisar som befinner sig i samhällets utkanter. Filmtrilogin följer dem och deras barn under flera decennier och avslutades med kortfilmen Epilog (2006).
Priser och utmärkelser i urval: Stefan Jarl har för sina filmer fått 3 Guldbaggar bl.a. 1990 för ”lidelsen och konsekvensen i hans filmarbete”. Internationellt har han bl.a. belönats med International Documentary Assiciation Award 1987 och 1993 i Berlin med European Film Award. På Telluride Film Festival, USA, fick han hedersmedalj som ”one of Europe´s leading filmmakers” och 2004 Life Time Award vid Thessaloniki Int. Film Festival. 2012 blev Stefan Jarl utsedd till hedersdoktor vid Karlstads universitet. 2017 mottog han Teaterförbundets Guldmedalj.
Ur Per Ganneviks stiftelse
Let’s begin at the beginning.
What is a documentary film? Exactly what characterizes a documentary? There are three criteria:
1. Julia Roberts is not in it.
2. If you enter a movie theatre and it is completely empty, then you can be sure that they are showing a documentary.
3. If there is one person in the audience and he or she isn’t laughing, you can be equally certain that it is a documentary.
Joking aside, one generally associates documentaries with cinéma vérité. Cinema vérité is defined as a movie that is both objective and accurate. What we see is the truth, filmed by the filmmaker in a certain sequence. The scenes flash before our eyes, objectively put together, as close to the actual sequence of events as possible. That is how filmmakers love to perceive the situation; they see the filmmaker as a so-called True Witness.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no such thing as an accurate and objective documentary. The filmmaker affects the situation when he or she enters a room with a camera. An immediate psychological transformation takes place. Someone objects to being filmed and someone else thinks, ”Why didn’t I wash my hair?” Another person is in the midst of planning his or her Hollywood career, just waiting to be discovered, and so forth. None of these things would have happened if the filmmaker and a camera had not been in the room at the time.
The intelligent spectator is aware of all this. Movie scenes are never shown in the order they were filmed. They are always rearranged to suit the filmmaker’s purpose. A filmmaker is a manipulator. He or she arranges the scenes in the manner thought best. That’s why the audience is there in the first place. An audience is meant to be manipulated. The mare manipulation the better. ”I don’t make objective and accurate documentaries, I make feature films,” says American Robert Wiseman, who has probably been more closely associated with cinema vérité than anyone else in modern times.
There is no difference between a documentary and a feature film. However, the nature of each is different. They both came into being so that filmmakers could express themselves. There is always a person behind the images on the silver screen, and the easier it is to discern that person the better.
The Swedish national television company rule book states that television documentaries must be objective and accurate. If they are not, the Swedish national television company will not broadcast them. I detest television and never watch it. I have never made a television film for one simple reason; I hate objectivity and truth. My movies are subjective; they express my truth. The world and how it is presented is directly related to how I experience it. Other people and their experiences have nothing to do with it. My perception consists of the things I see and what I consider important, not what other people see and think. Furthermore, I want to influence others using what I have seen.
What I have seen is important to see and what is more, my vision of what I have seen is more valid than the perceptions of others in this respect. To tell you the truth, I want everyone else to see things as I see them.
I make movies because I want to influence others.
The filmmaker who implies that he or she is making an objective and accurate movie, in other words the television filmmaker, is deceitful and two-faced. Such filmmakers want us to believe that they portray the only true image of reality. That is not true. They are, in fact, being untruthful. The truth is that they are playing the client’s game. They do as they are told and ding to objectivity and truth. The worst thing of all is that the orderer, the state-owned Swedish television company, in actuality the Swedish government, holds all the power. The objective and truthful filmmaker carries out the will of the powers that be.
Who wants to watch movies that express the values and hierarchies of the powers that be? My movies are not part of a world of false suppositions and agreements. They belong to the proud European tradition of rebellion; my movies represent another way of looking at and perceiving reality. They are on the side of the common man. Not only that, they profess to be the voice of ordinary people, the people whose voices we seldom hear. That’s why the man in the street is my protagonist.
A good documentary is only as good as the rapport between the people in front of the camera and the people behind it. Bad relationships make bad films. Every person has his or her own story that deserves to be made into a movie, but few movies touch on such matters.
In 1922, Flaherty’s movie Nanook opened in Sweden. It was a big success. More than seventy-five years later I was fortunate to have a similar experience with my film A Respectable Life. It became one of the most successful films in the history of Swedish documentaries. Like Nanook, it deals with ordinary people and that is exactly why it is so unique. After his success, Flaherty received many offers to make more Nanooktype films. Someone told him about an island called Aran in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The people there were said to lead a harsh existence that was primarily dependent upon fishing. Flaherty went to the island to make a documentary about these poor but industrious people. When he got to the island, he realized that the things he had heard about the inhabitants were completely untrue. The people had put their narrow wooden boats on land and not used them for many years. Be had been told tales of a bygone era. What should he do now? Should he return home? Flaherty shed a tear and went for a walk. Be had come a long way and might as well make a movie after all. Although becoming leaky, the old boats were not yet completely rotted. Be managed to find a couple of old fishermen at the retirement home who hadn’t completely forgotten how to row the old boats. So, why not continue as planned? The old men out in the huge waves would make great footage! It would look as if they were endangering their lives to earn a living. Take it from me, it was a great documentary, full of action and breathtaking scenes. Eat your heart out, Arnold Schwarzenegger; Man of Aran has it all! There’s nothing that Flaherty hasn’t done. Be is the father of the creative documentary, and I carry on in the same tradition.
I make my movies for the silver screen using 35-millimeter film and Dolby Stereo Sound. In my native country of Sweden, 85 percent of the movies are American in origin. I am fully aware of this fact and I know that I have to compete against such films for my audience. I have to be just as adept at captivating audiences as the American filmmakers are. I have nothing against competition; I’ve seen the beginning of Jurassic Park forty times.
I cannot deny that competing with American movies is hard, especially if you are outside the sphere of the commercial filmmaking business and the giant television monopolies. It’s not easy to get production capital. You have to finance the movies you want to make with the’ money you can get your hands on, primarily from your audience. I call this my Robin Hood strategy. I take from the rich and give to the poor ones closest to my heart, namely me. My strategy works something like this: I court government agencies and similar bodies that control vast sums of money. I tell them that I want to make a movie about the activities of their government agency, showing their work in the best possible light. I offer my services to them as a commercial filmmaker’ and I convince them that r am the one who can portray their agency or similar body in an outstanding way. This is music to an agency director’s ears. Later, I use the money I get to make movies of my own. For example, if I receive funds from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency I use them to make a movie criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency in Sweden. Making a good film is very important. Otherwise, a government agency might turn the matter over to the police and claim that I swindled them. They could even send me to jail. However, if you make an outstanding movie that a150 happens to win a prize at a renowned international film festival, the authorities tend not to bother you. Everybody loves a winner, don’t they? Robin Hood was not at all worried about being wanted by the government of his day, and neither am I.
This kind of strategy only works if you are your own producer, scriptwriter, director, distributor, and movie theatre owner. I am all these things. I have been involved in establishing a non-commercial distribution company called Film-Centrum and a commercial chain of movie theatres known as Folkets Bio in my country. For example, Misfits to Yuppies is playing at one of our movie theatres in Stockholm at the time of writing. It’s now in its third year. I received the European Academy Award for Misfits to Yuppies in 1993.
There are many more subtle problems in making documentaries today. . One is that no one wants to be considered a documentary filmmaker. Everyone wants to be thought of as a creator of feature films. Nowadays, filmmakers make documentaries while they are waiting for a chance to make their first feature film. Film schools start with documentaries as exercises before students move onto the real thing, namely feature films. The Swedish government subsidizes feature films at a rate ten times greater than the amount allocated for documentary film productions. Documentaries are rarely reviewed on opening night, and a documentary may never be reviewed at all. Books on the subject of film history almost never mention documentary films. People tend to think of them as second-class films akin to the lumpenproletariat of the art of film.
The idea that the documentary belongs in the gutter is common among the elite in society, and it can drive the most insensitive person crazy. Depicting reality is not fashionable. Perhaps it’s because we are so saturated with information nowadays that we are unable to absorb more reality. People are looking for relaxation, escapism, antireality and fiction. What happens to a society that is unwilling to see any longer?
In my opinion, it’s a blessing that documentaries are in the gutter. That’s where they belong; documentaries should be in places like dirty factories, retirement homes, Sarajevo, mining galleries, culverts, and hospital corridors. Documentaries should also be in the homes of the hungry and the unemployed, with vagrants and the outcasts, in the dark passages and neighbourhoods, 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 unseen and the unheard. In short, documentaries should cover the backyard of society, the home of the guttersnipe.
This is the historical mission and fate of the documentary film. Such films cannot expect to captivate audiences at the finer movie theatres around town.
It is becoming harder for documentaries to survive at movie theatres. Television companies turn their backs on them more often than .not. The same calls for entertainment and diversion are echoing throughout Europe.
A fear of being earnest and of speaking in real earnest too. We must not allow the documentary film to disappear. If it does, how can we protect ourselves against prejudice, misconceptions, myths and disinformation?
Stefan Jarl received a Silver Medallion at the Telluride Film Festival in 1993 for his work as a European documentarian. His credits include Threat (IDA Award, 1987; L.A. Critics Award, 1992); Time Has No Name and Jåvna, Reindeer Herdsman in the år 2000, both IDA Award nominees; A Respectable Life (Silver Plaque), Chicago Film Festival; and Misfits to Yuppies (Felix Award, 1993).
Den sanna konsten känner inga regler och kräver absolut frihet.
Den sanna konsten solidariserar sig med det som aldrig blev sagt.
Den sanna konsten skyr de snusförnuftiga ideologiernas trashankar.
Den sanna konsten har alltid gjort de fattiga förmögna.
Den sanna konsten är aldrig förhandlingsbar.
Den sanna konsten har aldrig gått någons ärenden och alltid svikit sina välgörare.
Den sanna konsten talar alltid sanning.
Den sanna konsten har aldrig marscherat i takt.
Den sanna konsten har alltid gjort anspråk på allt eller inget.
Den sanna konsten befinner sig alltid i upprorets centrum.
Den sanna konsten skyr medlöperiets tusenfotingar.
Den sanna konsten ger den stumme röst och den svage muskler.
Den sanna konsten avstår aldrig från att lägga ribban högt.
Den sanna konsten hittar alltid sin publik.
Den sanna konsten är brottsligt lojal sitt uttryck.
Den sanna konsten kräver inga hängslen till yttrandefrihetens byxor.
Den sanna konsten vårdar sina vänner – men än mer sina fiender.
Den sanna filmkonsten kippar efter andan. Under trycket av marknadskrafternas lagar håller den på att förblöda. Konsumismen har brett sitt kvävande täcke över de egentliga upphovspersonerna och gett makten åt spekulativa producenter och marknadschefer. Den officiella institutionen på filmområdet, Svenska Filminstitutet, har reducerats till hantlangare åt det privata kapitalet trots att avsikten var den motsatta.
Den sanna filmkonsten har berövats sin ursprungliga och inneboende kraft, vilse som den är i stödsystemets djungel, klängande i konsulenternas lianer, spekulerande i efterhandsstödets storlek, avväpnad av monopolets enfald och industrins kassafixering, långt ifrån vad den skulle kunna vara om den slapp ut ur beroendets bur. Det kortsiktiga vinstintresset har krossat kinematografins förmåga att gestalta verklighetens djup till förmån för den stumma ytan och ögonblickets underhållning. Den sanna filmkonsten är inte lite löst prat, lika lite som litteratur eller teater.
1963 års Filmreform har havererat. Beslutet att överlämna makten åt de ekonomiska producenterna och reducera filmskaparna till betjänter är lika katastrofalt som det parodiska automatstödet som betjänar de redan kapitalstarka. Bristen på produktionskapital är en magnifik politisk fadäs, lika stor som accepterandet av biografmonopolets etablering.
Den sanna filmkonsten är den mest suveräna av alla konstarter, en syntes av alla hittills uppfunna uttrycksmedel, den enda konstart som totalt kan invadera våra sinnen och hejda hjärnans analyserande diktat, slunga oss in i framtidens kaos och tillåta oss att solidarisera oss med våra egna förutsättningar och villkor.
Vi måste rädda den sanna filmkonsten undan konsumismens kvicksand och dess slutgiltiga förstening i schablonernas snickerier. Det är vår plikt att förhindra att den sanna filmkonsten förtvinar i de gamla strukturernas fängelse. Vi måste återerövra kinematografin och överlämna den till dess egentliga ägare, fantasins uppfinnare.
Svenska Filminstitutet måste inför förstatligandet 2017, slutgiltigt och en gång för alla, kapa förtöjningarna till den kommersiella filmbranschen och driva verksamheten i sin egen rätt.
My influences are a mix of different heroes: when I grow up I read the great swedish author August Strindberg at a too early age! (And later on I replaced him with Pier Pasolini). I saw the films of the Italian Neo-Realists (de Sica ”The Bicyclethief’, the Fellini films), the New Wave from France during the 50’s (one of the best films ever made is Truffault’s film ”Le 400 coups”). But most of all I am mad about paintings. From the Renaicanse, Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo di Credi, Andrea del Sarto, and later on Rembrandt and the Impressionists: Renoir, Degas, Monet, Cezanne, and so on. (But also our swedish painters like Zorn, Liljefors.)
During my whole life music has been very important for me, all the Blues artists, jazz and rock, I’ve always been collecting records and is a frequent concert visitor.
When it comes to films first of all there is two directors that ment much to me on a personal level: the father of the swedish documentary, the Oscar-awarded Arne Sucksdorff, who was my teacher and Guru. The secoond one is also swedish: the fiction filmmaker Bo Widerberg. At an early age I lost my father: instead I made Sucksdorff first and then Widerberg my new father. 1 worked with them and learned from them. I’ve made films about them, now when they are dead. ”Beauty will save the world” is about Sucksddorff, ”Life at any cost” is about Widerberg.
But there are many more that has influenced my way of making films like: Fernando Solanas ”La hora de los homos”, Joris Ivens ”Le misere de Borinage”, Antonioni ”La Notte”, Santiago Alvarez ”Son of America” , Pontecorvo ”Battle of Alger”, Ylmar Gunez ”The Herd”, and Robert Flaherty ”Nanook”, ”Man of Aran”. And more: Herzog, the Taviani brothers, Angelopolos, Dryer, Stroheim, Kurosawa …..
I’m a child of the ”1968-revolution”. And I really think it was a revolution. I grew up without TV, only radio. We tried to understand the world from books and cinema. What happened during the sixties was that the Third World, the Feminist movement, USA as the World Police in Vietnam – all this exploded in our minds and formed our values. We really thought that a new world was possible- and was needed. We demonstrated, we marched and as a young filmmaker I started together with other people the Union among filmmakers, we started one distribution company for non-commercial film, Film Centrum, and one for our commercial films, Folkets Bio. We started a filmmagazine which I’m still responsible for and writes for.
I think that the human beeing is a political animal. Everything You do is in a context of other people and influence them. Everything is possible. I deeply respect people, I admire what people has made during our history- all this I’ve learned from working together with the people from -68, but also with the new· generation, the young people· who ciimb the
barricades of today.
All my films are films of resistance. They all start with the Individual -and try to say
something to the rest of the world! I know that this sounds stupid. But if You look into the
soul of the poor man in the street, you look into the soul of everyone, that’s what I think. You can understand everyone and everything, a drug addict, a farmer down south, a Sarni lapp up north, whore or saint, I don’t care, to me they are all the same. And they have a history to tell worth listening to.
A good documentary is a good relation between the director behind the camera and the
person in front of the camera. lfthe relation is good the film is good, if it is bad, the film is bad. Nothing else matters. This also means that when You end your film You don’t end your relation, you have to take responsability for the people in your films when the films are finished. This also means consequences. When ”Kenta” from my trilogy (I made films with him for more than 25 years) died last year, his last wish was to die in my house with my
family -and so he did.
But I have problems with one thing: people at the top. Did I ever understand one of them? I hope I’m not a part of their history.
My idea is that there is NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL between a fiction film and a documentary. Of course a documentary needs the authentic scenes , but when it comes to structure there is no difference. A fiction film is build by a script, actors, stage, set and so on. And a documentary is build by the authentic scenes as a base but also by fiction elements, like arranged scenes, music, intelligent sound work and so on.
For me, film is manipulation. Zola already said it: ”Art is a corner of the world seen by a subject”. Pasoloini said it more provocative: ”Even naturalism or realism is manipulation”! And I agree. The more manipulation, the better. IF You have an idea like this it is extremely important to make Yourself visible, You, the director, must tell the audience that you are there -to manipulate them! For 90 minutes. It’s always someone behind a film, a director, who wants to say something
Fredrick Wiseman, a filmmaker very much identified as the pure cinema verité traditionalist, says:” I’m not a documentarist, I’m a fiction filmmaker” and John Huston says it in another way: ”The only difference between a fiction film and a documentary is: when I make a fiction film I write the script first and then shoot, when I make a documentary I first shoot and then make the script”. Wise guys, both of them.
Film is first of all – montage. The montage is film. No other art has montage. Editing is the key. Eisenstein’s ”Potemkin” made it first. All we can do is to follow.
We live in a complex world, all the time media tell us lies, the global information always tends to make reality too simple, falsified, bound to interests, prejudiced. Film can show you how the world really is.
The task for the film director is to give voice to them who has no voice. Film as art has a mission: to make you see things you haven’t seen before, to make you feel and think things you haven’t felt or thought before. You have to put the world together again, to create it one more time. You can do that with montage, with editing. God was first, yes, but the filmdirector is second!
I take off my hat to Dziga Vertov (I just saw his ”Man with a Camera” again), Alvarez is outstanding, his film about Allende is one of the most moving documentary films made.
I very much identify with the Young kids, ”the new generation”. I’m very proud that two of my children· are part of this generation with a social and political conscience. ( One of them have just been to Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement for two months, and even made a half hour film about the Palestinian struggle for freedom.)
It’s tragic that the society look upon them as ”terrorists”. They are not. The people in power are the true terrorists, always ready to start new wars, use violence against the dissentients, prevent people’s need for wellfare.
And it is tragic to call them ”alternative” . I’m one of them, I don’t want to be ”alternative”, I want to be real. The kids of -68 was a European thing, the new movement of today is global, connected to the whole world. And that is very good. It gives me hope for the future.
Punks, yes, they are a part of it, a very small but necessary part. I guess if I was 13 I would be a punk …
The social role of the cinema is to change the world. I’m very naive, I really think that you can rescue the world with a camera!
Stefan Jarl is Sweden´s leading documentary filmmaker with a unique sense of images and a dynamic filmic presence. Over the years he has received several international awards, among them the Felix Award, the European “Oscar” and in Los Angeles the International Documentary Association Award. According to Ingmar Bergman , documentary filmmaker Stefan Jarl definitively “belongs to the small circle of extremely talented madmen who have enriched Swedish cinema.”
He had the renowned documentary director Arne Sucksdorff as teacher and has been production manager for several Swedish directors, among them Bo Widerberg. A key figure in the alternative Swedish film movement. His feature film debut came in 1968 with “They Call Us Mods” (together with Jan Lindqvist), which came to be the first part in a trilogy. The other parts came in 1979, with “A decent life” and in 1992, with “Misfits to Yuppies”. With this trilogy he opened up a new path in Swedish cinema. His films have regularly been chosen for Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin Film Festival. A restrospective of his work has toured the World, and at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado he was awarded the Silver Medallion as “one of Europe´s leading documentary film makers. 2004 Stefan Jarl was awarded at the Thessaloniki Int. Film Festival Lifetime Award “For his contribution to the Art of Documenary Filmmaking”. 2014 in Norway at Nordic/Docs a similar award: “For outstanding work in the Documentary field”.
Artistically born in 1968, Stefan Jarl is fashioned as an individual and a cinematographer in an ambiance of social revolution and artistic examination. Conveying the principal petition of his time, the need to change the world and influenced by the emergence of a new cinema of rupture that needed to overthrow the existing structures and to create a new audience Jarl enlists in the art of cinema, with a conviction that cinema can accomplish this revolution. In his hands, the camera transforms into an antiauthoritarian weapon, which he uses to interfere in social and political matters, such as supersession, social oblivion, environmental catastrophes, and the disappearance of species throughout Europe as well as the traditional life of indigenous populations in the North.
Jarl desires to influence the audience and assist to change and better the world. He isn’t limited to the production of films that criticize politics and society, but rather, he actively interferes in the system of production, distribution and screening, by creating a network to distribute and screen his films. In his work, Jarl presents his own idealistic vision of the world: social justice, solidarity, and peaceful coexistence between man and nature. His vision acts in an antimeditative manner on the social reality of his country and the way that Swedish society deals with these’ situations. It manifests as a foundation for resistance, opposing modern trends and the status quo denouncing misleading information and prejudice and defending all those who ”have no voice”.
By initially denouncing the hypothetical objective dimension of documentaries, Jarl decomposes the myth of objective truth, grabbing every opportunity he can to clarify his own interventions and the fact that he himself constitutes part of what he films. Based upon the anthropological methodology of contributory observation, Jarl approaches his characters in order to comprehend them: he thinks and feels like them, develops life-long relationships with them, becomes influenced by their outlooks and in the end, sees them as his collaborators in the making of his films. Thus, he sets out a relationship based on trust between those in front and those behind the camera, thus creating the necessary grounds for a good documentary. At the same time, he acts like a historian of his time, denouncing the official versions of history and preferring to retrace it from the bottom up, or, in other words, from the viewpoint of ordinary people. Jarl’s work is therefore a micro-history of different social group s (outcasts, misfits, the Lapp people, activists, etc) of his time in their natural environments.
In his effort to depict reality, Jarl incorporates fictitious elements, either by using a fictitious narration (like in the Misfits trilogy) or by impelling his characters to dramatize their narration or behaviour (The threat), therefore transgressing the boundaries of fiction and documentary. At the same time, he resorts to the use of the great verbal tool of cinema: editing. Through a verbal orchestration of images (which follows the tradition of directors such as Eisentstein, Vertov, Santiago Alvarez), Jarl skilfully arranges his images in order to portray reality. His images are rich in poetry and borrow from medieval and impressionistic art. Their beauty does not comprise an end in itself because Jarl is interested in what the images express, rather than how they look or how they are produced.
Jarl’s work is deeply humane, modern and universal. His trilogy about the Misfits is appropriate for every society throughout time. The Misfits of the 60s’ make room for the punks of the 90s’. The breach of the harmonious relationship between man and nature, the ongoing environmental catastrophes and the disappearance of the traditional lives of indigenous populations are emanations of a more general approach and considerations of our world’s problems. The Mau-Mau population of 19th century Africa provides a point of reference for the 20th century Lapp population of northern Europe. The portrait of a Swedish artist who transforms his life into art is an idiom for any true artist. The conviction of the young activists in Sweden reflects the recent ”7” of Thessaloniki. Therefore, the need for social solidarity and incorporation, the reverence of cultural dissimilarities, the comprehension of man’s internal forces, the opposition to the devastation of our environment as well as any governmental high-handed acts, do not simply express the idealism and romanticism of a political artist such as Jarl, but rather our fate as a species. Jarl stands out as a lighthouse in cinema, shining light upon the human voyage, and guiding us away from pitfalls.
From the book, Stefan Jarl, The contestation of authority Thessaloniki Film Festival Publications, 2004
Swedish documentary filmmaker Stefan Jarl turned 70 in March this year. He had just released his new film, Submission (Underkastelsen), and was the guest master at the sold-out masterclass. The films in the tribute to Jarl, showed how Jarl consistently connected with marginalized people who didn’t fit into the kind of modern Sweden that was being lauded internationally at the time, for its apparently open, equitable and tolerant society:
– I want to be the man that speaks for those that have no voice, Jarl says.
Jarl is best known internationally for his Modstrilogy, which traces the lives of two teenage drug addicts hanging out in the streets in 1968, and follows them through early adulthood to middle age. He shot the first part of the trilogy, They Call Us Misfits (Dom Kallar Oss Mods), at a time when this kind of black and white filmmaking felt rebellious and urgent in Sweden:
– These characters, they became like freedom fighters. The films provoked discussion in the newspapers…All three films created debate, and there were spin-off effects. Kenta [Gustafsson, one of the two leading characters in the trilogy; who died in 2003] was very loved, and became one of my closest friends. He brought to me a soul that I didn’t have.
Jarl believes good documentary filmmaking is subjective, and emphatically says so:
– The most precious thing for me is the relationship with the characters. A good documentary is the relationship between (the man) behind the camera and the man in front. The audience feels immediately if it’s bad. They will feel if you are not honest. They will absolutely feel it.
His relationships may be real, but Jarl manipulates material to do what he needs it to do. He did pour pig’s blood on the floor once to have a character re-enact cleaning up an apartment after a murder. He adds that in doing so the character relived the authentic experience and that’s what the camera captured.
In almost all of Jarl’s films shown at Doc Point, the director is looking at the workings of state power by revealing its effect on people who are overwhelmed or pushed aside by it. In 2003, in Terrorists: the Kids they Sentenced (Terrorister: en Film om dom Dömda), he interviewed teenagers and young adults who had been given shockingly harsh jail terms on the basis of often unproven suspicions of conspiracy and rioting at the Gothenburg EU/US Summit in July, 2001. Threat (Hotet Ukkhádus) looks at how Saami herdsmen face news of the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl.
– It was very important for me as a Swede coming from a small country to meet an international audience in Berlin. Berlin became my school in a way. I could test my film on an international audience and develop my language as a filmmaker. But what is film for Jan l now?
– I grew up with wide screen, so for me, film is the wide screen. Even if you make a documentary on a mobile phone, it still must be well-done and well-told. Still you have to be, in a way, professional. Many good films are made by people who did not go to film school. Darwin’s Nightmare – everything is well done!
In Jarl’s new film, Submission, he interviews world experts about why and how people born after WWII have become contaminated by chemicals that most of us have never even heard of. The film opens with a sweep of the camera over stunning natural landscape and the storyline grows out of the process of Jarl testing his own blood for toxins. He also asks a pregnant friend to take the same blood test. Submission’s title describes our own behaviour vis-a-vis the forces that are responsible for this type of pernicious invasion of our bodies. And, as Jarl says, once more, he is giving a voice to those who have none, in this case the unborn.
/Jo-Anne Velin, DOX
Stefan Jarl is one of those rare filmmakers who deftly balances thelocal with the international, the abstract with the concrete. Although he’swell known for his nature films, he’s not just another dry documentarian; hehas a sharp eye for the delicate and mysterious in the broad, sometimesforeboding (urban and rural) landscapes he photographs, landscape that heportrays as populated with real people who have complex problems. His wholecareer has been pointing away towards a new model for political film making,one that is tightly to the landscape, to the small details of everyday life andthe effects that geo-politics have on those details, and to the quest for alyrical and painterly visual style.
If Jarl has spent a career trying to figure out a new model for political filmmaking, he’s pursued that project by trying to make sense of the effects that modernity, cultural, economic and technological, hashad on the life of Scandinavia. We can see this interest, this obsession,really in the ”two pieces” of Jarl’s oeuvre, his urban films and hisnature films. Indeed, while that kind of consistency might at first look like aparadox, it’s actually consistent with the very essence of Jarl’s world view.Rural and urban spaces are not, in Jarl’s broadly-conceived humanistworld-view, all that different; both are populated with people whose problemsand beliefs need to be fully and dearly explained, and both are endowed with akind of non-embodied power and beauty. Macro- and micro- analyses, along withclose-ups and extreme long shots, long takes and montage, must coexist.But despite the passion which with Jarl makes this mixture manifest with hisstylistic choices, his films also evince a certain pessimism, an argument thatmuch of modern life is out of balance, and needs to be examined and re-thought.
Jarl’s trilogy of films about urban Stockholm, dubbed the ”Mods Trilogy,” makes for a good entry-point into this mixture of pessimism and engagement. These films focus primarily on Kenneth ”Kenta” Gustafson and Gustav ”Stoffe” Svensson, two ”Mods”-working class hippies interested in little beyond the proverbial sex, drugs and rock’n roll-who we see grow up across 25 years. The films hover between fiction and documentary, and while they might at first seem to be related to Michael Apted’s 7 Up series, they are actually much closer to the ”docu-fictions” that have become so popular on British TV over the last few years. And despite Jarl’s intimate approach, these films are very anti-romantic about the 1960s, showing the havoc that the decade’ s liberated energy wreaked upon the underclass, a havoc whose consequences, as we see, could be felt decades later.
The first of these, They Call Us Misfits (”Dom kallar oss mods,” 1968, co-written and co-directed with Jan Lindkvist) is certainly informed by the giddy excitement of the late 1960s, but it there is also a drabness here, a kind of melancholy that is present in all of Jarl’s work. We are introduced to Kenta and Stoffe both through a series of talking-head interviews and through shots of men hanging around the streets of Stockholm; the opening images of the film are of these two misfits running through a pedestrian mall, the camera following along as they jump over benches and bump into annoyed passerby. These images neatly embody the restlessness and awardness that defines their lives, but may also convey a raw, kinetic energy that’s equally present, an energy that the film, or the trilogy for that matter, is never really able to re-capture. The interview material is mostly depressing; we hear of alcoholic parents, of lousy jobs, of a sense mat mere is really nothing out there waiting for them. indeed, in an interview that will turn out to be prophetic (and that will be re-played in the third film, The Social Contract (”Det Sociala arvet,” 1993)), Kenta reflects upon how easy it is for young people to become alcoholics. Jarl asks him if he thinks he’ll make it, if he’ll avoidthose kinds of traps, and he replies that he probably won’t. While there aremoments of real rebellious energy, this is sequence that really sets the moodof the entire film, and the entire trilogy. These lives that Jarl is portrayingare finally defined not by a sense of possibility, but of inevitability, of asense that people are trapped in destinies that will, finally, destroy them.
And like the other two entries in the trilogy, TheyCall Us Misfits is quite dualistic formally. Thefilm’s artificiality is not overwhelming, and is indeed easy to miss. Jarldraws upon plenty of documentary conventions, such as interviews and candidfootage, and at times the film feels like a straightforward documentaryportrait. But there are also many moments that depart from the arms-lengthattitude expected of such work. There are sequences that feature close-ups andextreme close-ups as Kenta and girlfriend make up and seem quite dearly headedtowards sex, and sequences of discussions or confrontations that feel candid orspontaneous but which are also edited in away that is basically identical tothe strategies of narrative cinema. This first film of Jarl’s, then, signaledhis interest not only in the fringes of society, but in a hybridized form,practice that was somewhere between fiction and documentary. Kenta and Stoffeare real people, but Jarl seems to have been attracted to this project becausetheir lives could serve as a jumping off point for a engrossing story, andoften draws upon a stagier, pre-verité version of documentary form. Much the same is true of the other two films, made in1979 and 1993, respectively. A Decent Life (”EttAnständigt liv,” 1979) takes us in to a period when Kenta and Stoffe’s livesare really starting to collapse. They have hooked up with women and started tohave kids, but they haven’t lost that sense of hollowness, of lack, that we seein the spacey interviews that fill They Call Us Misfits. There are glimpses of hope in A Decent Life, like when Kenta takes his young son Patric out to the countryside.But overall, they both seem overwhelmed by their lives. The trilogy’s sub-plot(so to speak) about Kenta’s mother, an alcoholic who killed her boyfriend and,towards the end of the film, is released from prison, is a good summary ofthis. As Kenta, his wife and his mother drive horme from the prison, they eachtalk about what it was like to be in jail, what about the experience botheredthem the most. The details of their respective periods of imprisonment arequite sketchy; they all treat jail time as an unpleasant but unsurprising partof the lives they lead. And again, all of this is rendered in away that feelsclosely controlled, with exact, efficient editing and dear composition.By the time of the making of the third film, The Social Contract,Kenta and Stoffe have gotten their lives onlyslightly more together. Stoffe, with whom Kenta has started to fall out ofcontact, has died of a heroin overdose. Over the course of the film we followthe business that Kenta tries to start with his wife, and which is eventuallyrun into the ground. But in this final film of the trilogy Jarl shifts both hisfocus and his form a bit. He focuses quite a bit of the film on Kenta’s sonPatric, now 18 years old and trying to find some direction. Patric seems muchmore together than his father ever was, neither losing himself on the marginsnor foolishly trying to go full-on into the boom of the 1980s. And Jarl seemsto keep his distance with Patric a bit more than he did with members of hisfather’s generation. We follow him through interviews, exams, and preparationsto do his military service, but these sequences unfold mostly in longish takes;they feel like a more straightforward documentary, Patric seems less interestedin letting the camera into his life than his father was (or Jarl seem lessinterested in taking the camera there).
But these other two films, like They Call Us Misfits,still move like tightly written, linear narrative;they tell the story of the development, struggles, and eventual quiet collapseof people who never had much of a chance at making good on the energy .thatseemed to be both inside of and all around them. They use the truth-value ofdocumentary, the sense that this is real and therefore emotionally powerful, tomake some sharp criticism about the way that Swedish society punishesoutsiders. For Jarl, documentary and fiction are both tools to be used in thepursuit of art that is genuinely felt and realistic about the period itdepicts.
Much the same can be said of his work aboutScandinavia’s high north. Even though they are often referred to as ”naturedocumentaries,” these films are just as are hybridized and committed as Jarl’sgrittier Mods series. These documentaries also quite clearly informed by ArneSucksdorff, Jarl’s mentor. Sucksdorff, who won an Oscar for his short film Rhythmsof a City (”Människor i stad,” 1949) was well knownfor his passion for infusing lyrical landscape photography with social andpolitical engagement. Jarl’s films about farming, such as Nature’s Revenge (”Naturens hämnd,” 1983) or Time Has No Name (”Tiden har inget namn,”1989) are clearly indebted to Sucksdorffs work. This is also true of Jarl’sfilms about the Sami people, such as Threat (”Hotet,” 1987) or the shorts Jåvna: Reindeer Herdsmen in theYear 2000 (”Jåvna: Renskötare år 2000,” 1991) and SamernasLand (1994). All of this work illustrates a kind ofromanticism about the rural lands cape that is utterly absent from the sober,sometimes brutal portraits of urban bohemia that we see in the Mods trilogy.But they are also invested with a sense of possibility, of a belief in analternative to western materialism and nihilism. The Mods films are deeplypessimistic, but these nature documentaries, while dealing with such issues asthe dangers of synthetic farming and the havoc that Chernobyl has wreaked, areactually quite optimistic and quite realistic about the fate of Europe’sunderdeveloped, trans-national edges.
Nature’s Revenge is alyrical, pastoral portrait of Sweden’s high north, but it is also anintervention in what Jarl clearly feels is a slow cultural collapse. It focuseson the introduction of synthetic methods to farming, and the havoc that theyseem to wreak, or that the farmers Jarl interviews think they will soon bewreaking, on the natural cycles of growth and death. The opening images of thefilm are studies in opposites, but equally powerful; we see a helicopter dropan enormous amount of lime into a lake, making a huge splash and terrible noise(a voice over tells us that it’s to combat the heavy metals that have beenfound in the water), followed by some images of the farm that will form thecore of the film. After that, we follow a young, bald boy as he walks with hisfather through the corridors of a hospital where he is being treated forprostate cancer. Jarl’s overall argument is that nature has certain patternsand methods, and that nature exacts revenge on those who tamper with them. Thisis indeed Romantic with a capital R, and of all his films, Nature’s Revenge is the one where Jarl is most investing nature with a consciousness,and wrestling with heavy, almost abstract questions of how humans can get alongwith this embodied, spiritually powerful nature. But in addition to thishard-core Romanticism, Jarl is also working out a complex, fairly detailed politicalanalysis, the gist of which will pop up in all of his future nature films.
Consider one sequence that starts with a talking-headinterview of a farmer, who explains how synthetic fertilizer can often lead tomajor problems with moldy wheat. He then announces that he’s going to do anexperiment, and sure enough, the wheat that was grown with the artificialfertilizer turns out moldy and disgusting, while the organically grown cropsare just as dry and grainy as they should be. The farmer concludes the sequenceby saying that fungal poisons will be the issue of the 1980s (this was all shotin 1982). It’s easy to chuckled at this from 2001, knowing that the 80s sawmuch different problems than fungal poisoning (such as nuclear poisoning, whichJarl would take up a few years later, in his Chernobyl films). But whatimpresses about this sequence is that Jarl is as invested in the macro-thegreat landscape shots, talk of nature’s role as adversary or friend-as he is inthe micro arguments about the economics of various kinds of fertilizer. Jarlobviously cares passionately about the grandeur of wilderness, but he is awarethat people live in that wilderness too, people who do, work and have economicproblems and who resist easy, Romantic abstraction.
While it has an English title that makes it sound really dull,Jarl’s 1989 film Time Has No Name: A Contribution to Research inAnthropology is a similarly dualistic portrait offarm life. An older couple is at the core of this work, one who Jarl investswith a kind of metaphorical importance; there are no young people where theylive. Indeed, during one of the interviews the old man mentions that they haveno more schools there, and that all the children have to go to the city to beeducated. But less than a country of old people, Jarl’s argument is that thishigh north is another, much poorer nation: not quite a Swedish Third World, butalmost. The old man actually mentions that the place is like an underdevelopedcountry, especially since they took the railroad out. And that’s perhaps themost telling line in the film; the turning point for this region, and probablyfor a great deal of rural Sweden, came when they were essentially cut off fromthe rest of the country. Jarl invested this kind of separation with a positivesense in his 1987 film Threat, where he isarguing that the high north is a place that has developed separately from”European” values, and that until the intrusion of the Chernobyl disaster itwas one of the continent’s last true wilderness areas. But in Time Has NoName that wilderness ideal seems exhausted andinfused with melancholia.
This is not to imply that Jarl’s later films areentirely positive about Sweden’s fringes; Threat, for instance, is in some ways quite grim, and is also the work thatbegan Jarl’s interest in Chernobyl and its effects on the Sami people. Thatfilm opens with text explaining that Chernobyl exploded in 1986 and sentenormous amounts of poison into Scandinavia. The opening images are of animalsand trains, with Jarl’s voiceover saying that the presence of the train is theonly remnant of European modernity up here; this is Europe’s last wilderness,he asserts. By the time the film is over Jarl will have reversed thisassessment, wondering if there are any real wilderness areas after Chernobyl,so wide-ranging are the effects of its explosion.
Time Has No Name positedthe idea that wilderness was slowly dying, growing old and not long for thisworld, like the two farmers at its core. But Threat sees the disappearance of the wilderness in a much harsher light; inthese Sami regions, the wilderness and the ways of life organic with it seemedto be doing fine, not dying out at all, until it was effectively murdered bythe sudden intrusion of Europe’s hideous modernity. And Jarl is also returningto the analysis of Nature’s Revenge, that thereis a serious price to be paid for failing to follow the natural cycles of thislandscape. During an interview, one of the Sami reindeer herders describes howthe reindeer used to go down to the forest and they used to follow them, butafter Chernobyl they have to make the cesium levels of various locations, andnot the instincts of the animals or the years of traditional knowledge andnomadic patterns, the primary determinant of how to live. This turn towardsartificiality can only have negative repercussions. But if Nature’s Revenge was trying to re-make the Romantic nature film along morepolitically engaged lines, then Threat is tryingto re-make the political film along more lyrical, non-narrative lines. Theostensible purpose of the film is to explain the effect that Chernobyl washaving on the regions where the benefits of nuclear power (or, for that matter,power of any kind) have been felt the least, but it is sprinkled with images oftremendous visual impact, such as reindeer running along the sunset-lit hills,or of the snow-covered mountains as a voiceover tells us that we’re actually inNorway now, as if it matters, as if these hills, or these people, or thisradiation poisoning, could recognize anything as trivial as the borders betweenstates (indeed, that spirit of transnationalism is central to all of Jarl’sSami/Chernobyl films).l
The questions that surround the survival of seeminglyanachronistic lifestyles are highly political ones, and it is a historicaldefect of the European Left that it has tended to view such matters withscepticism, effectively ceding them to a traditionalist and often nationalistRight. I see Jarl’s nature films as a corrective to this tendency, an attemptto convince a European public that these questions are not just a product ofbackwards, mushy sentimentality, but are instead essential to a fullrealization of democratic principles. They are, then, quite distinct from theindigenous media practices that were beginning to gain prominence as Jarl wasmaking his Sami/Chernobyl films.2 These Sami films are clearly madeby an outsider about a culture that is deeply foreign to him and which heperhaps approaches with a zeal and passion available only to such an outsider.But they make an important political argument, vividly showing that Europe is acomplex entity whose fringes are still trying to interpret and come to gripswith modernity. indeed, they interrogate the very idea of ”European culture,”and which, by virtue of their free movement across national borders, show usjust how little the inhabitants of the high north are effected by some of themost basic assumptions in which Europeans base their identities.
These kinds of concerns are entirely consistent with theMods films, which are portraits of Europe’s outsiders, people somehow left outof Scandinavia’s idealistic social democratic dream. Kenta and Stoffe aren’tnon-Europeans in quite the same way that Jarl is arguing the Sami are, but Jarlis using them, in a way that is very similar to how he is using the people inhis high north documentaries, to show how a full understanding of a place, anenvironment, depends on an understanding of the people who exist on itsfringes.
Indeed, while Jarl is generally understood to be a”nature filmmaker,” I think that’s an over-simplification; I’d suggest thatcalling Jarl an ”environmental filmmaker” is much more exact.3Such al1 appellation may suggest a certain non urban focus, but that’s astereotype. Jarl has always made films about environments, both urban andrural, showing them to be highly complex, fluid entities, always formed byforces that are both human and supra-human, by forces ranging from economicpolicies to the seasonal migration of massive numbers of reindeer, and, in thecase of the Chernobyl documentaries, the potentially horrific ways that the twocan effect one another. Stefan Jarl’s cinema is about making these seeminglymismatched elements fit together, about insisting that only examination andreconciliation of the everyday and the systematic will bring about any kind ofmeaningful understanding of the world in which we live.
1. Jarl’s shorts about the impact of Chernobyl on the Sami people,1991’s Jåvna: Reindeer Hunter in the Year2000 and 1994’s Samernas Land, are also fundamentally political films, although also have a verypainterly and Romantic sensibility. Jåvna takesup the question of whether the will be reindeer hunters in the year 2000,whether an early-adolescent boy named Jåvna, who forms the core of the film,will be able to maintain the way of life that has survived generations. Like hedid in the portrait Time Has No Name, he plungeshis camera right into the business of herding, giving his viewer visceraldose-ups and medium-shots of herds of reindeer rumbling by, or of herdersmaking their special cuts on the deers’ ear (a technique we also see in Threat).Samernas Land has many of these kinds of sequencesas well, and is more non-narrative and meditative than Jåvna, and less explicitly political as well (as befits its 13-minutelength; Jåvna is 35 minutes).
2. I’m thinking here of artists such as lnuit video maker Zack Kunukor Maori film maker Merata Mita, who have used documentary or semi-documentaryforms to preserve and participate in the revival of traditional culturalpractices. Much the same could be said, though, of the British
”Workshop Movement” or similar efforts in North Americathat sought to train (often urban-based) people in the basics of film making sothey could document their own lives. This kind of work is very much aboutputting cameras into the hands of people who have traditionally been the objectof ethnographic discourse. This is not really what’s going on in Jarl’s cinema;his films, while invested with a very real radicalism, do not reverse or evenupset the subject -object relationship traditional to most documentary in thesame way.
3. Thank you. to Documentary Box co-editor Sarah Teasley for suggesting this appellation.
Jerry White is a Killam Doctoral Fellow in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta, Canada.
”Rebel i virkeligheden” er den rammende titel på en ny bog af Mats Nilsson om Stefan Jarl og hans film. Få af Nordens mange solide og spændende dokumentarfilmskabere rager decideret op over andre, hvad angår personligt udtryk, originalitet og kontroversiel tilgang til deres stof. Stefan Jarl er en af dem. Ulla Hjorth Nielsen har mødt instruktøren i Stockholm for bl.a. at høre om, hvorfor miljøproblemer er blevet hans foretrukne tema op igennem 80’erne.
Da Stefan Jarl i begyndelsen af 60’erne startede i filmbranchen var Arne Sucksdorff (»Det store Eventyr«, »Mit Hjem er Copacabana« m.fl.) hans læremester og ven. Sucksdorff ( der bor i Syd Amerika, og forlængst er holdt op med at filme) havde forholdet imellem natur og menneske, liv og død som sine foretrukne temaer. En egentlig social anklage finder men kun i »Mit hjem er Copacabana«, men også her underlagt en filmlyrisk æstetik, der primært går filmkunstens ærinde, sekundært ønsker at stille moralske spørgsmål. Som Sucksdorff er Jarl moralist, men han er gået et skridt videre uden at slække på de filmkunstneriske visioner. Han er blevet politisk filmkunstner, og har som fundament som oftest en skarp samfundsanalyse integreret i sine film, men temafællesskab med Sucksdorff. J ar! ønsker både at skabe filmpoesi og at vække debat. En balance, der ikke er let, men som i Jarls tilfælde forbløffende ofte går godt. Jarls film er i modsætning til Sucksdorff-klassikerne bevidst dialektisk opbygget. Kritikere af Jarls metode finder hensigt og bliver forstemte. Tilhængere oplever klarheden som en styrke, der ikke svækker det kunstneriske udtryk. Stefan Jarl opsøger virkeligheden bag den pæne svenske velfærdsfacade. Han skildrer håndfast og begribeligt, hvordan velfærdsstaten har spillet fallit når unge mennesker får lov at dø af narko på gaden, som det skete for Stoffe under optagelserne til »Et anstændigt Liv«, eller hvordan vi uanfægtet saver bid for bid af sammenhæng, som det skildres i »Naturens Hævn«.
Op igennem 80’erne har civilisationskritikeren Stefan Jarl mest gjort sig bemærket som miljøforkæmper på film. Omstændighederne er ikke længere til at skildre naturen idyllisk uden også at analysere, hvad vi mennesker gør for at undertrykke og mishandle den.
P.t. er Stefan Jarl spillefilmaktuel i Danmark med »Gode mennesker«, der også markerer et skift i Jarls 25-årige karriere. Den erfarne dokumentarist er nemlig debutant som spillefilminstruktør »Jeg ville engang skrive en selvbiografisk roman, men opgav alitterære grunde. Jeg fortrængte projektet i mange år. Dokumentarfilm handler om noget objektivt, men det er også tilfredsstillende selv at være »aktør««. Men selvom dokumentaristen også indfrier alle de forventninger man kunne ønske sig når han vover sig ud i et fiktivt svensk landskab medbringende en solid bagage af neorealistisk og Sucksdorffsk inspiration plus personlige barndomserindringer har han ikke forladt sin klassiske løbebane: dokumentarfilmen. Med sin seneste film »Jåvna Renskotare år 2000« har han igen indfanget og bearbejdet et skinbarligt stykke af virkeligheden.
Dette Bertolt Brecht citat har Stefan Jarl gjort til sit. Og det stemmer overens med hans oplevelser i forbindelse med »Naturens Hævn«. Kun folket interesserer sig i følge Jarl oprigtigt for menneskehedens fremtid. Politikere, erhvervsliv og såkaldte eksperter tjener ikke til noget når det virkelig gælder om at gøre opmærksom på, at for hvert overgreb vi foretager på naturen vil den hævne sig. Derfor er der altid kun rigtige mennesker med i hans film. Udgangspunktet for »Naturens Hævn« og filmens første plan er en afrikansk mau-mau historie, der handler om den pris som primitive kulturfolk i civilisationens navn har betalt op igennem historien. En tankegang som stadig er udbredt i den 3. verden efter tvivlsomt europæisk forbillede. Jarls afsøgning af sammenhængen imellem kemikaliesamfund og cancer udgør filmens andet plan. En bonde, Nisse Nilsson der har snuset lidt til kemi på egen hånd foretager eksperimenter med overgødet foder til tre får, og fårene dør som forudset. Det gør menneskene i følge Jarl også af den forurenede mad vi spiser.
Hvad der af landboforeninger udenfor de økologiske jordbrugeres snævre kreds, blev udlagt som grundløs propaganda, er nu en halv snes år senere videnskabeligt verificeret. Resultatet er dog langtfra, at giften er fjernet fra landbruget, men kun at det tilladte giftindhold er sænket. Den fortvivlelse og desperation som Jarl personligt føler overfor et samfund, der forgifter naturen gennemsyrer filmen fra første til sidste billede. U
Jarls bultande hjärta
Stefan Jarl är mest känd för sin produktivitet, egensinnighet och ilska. Han har gjort ett trettiotal filmer, alltid gått sin egen väg, alltid irriterat någon. Ser man det tjog filmer som han nu givit ut på dvd – senast i raden är de två familjefilmerna ”Jag är din krigare” och ”Goda människor” – framträder dock parallellt med denna vedertagna bild en annan, sällan uppmärksammad: Stefan Jarl är en människa med ett stort hjärta som jämnt och hårt bultar för det han uppfattar som viktigt. Några nedslag bland dvd-filmerna ger följande:
Modstrilogin (1968-1993): Uppkäftighet som övergår i beklämd uppgivenhet som avlöses av optimism. Filmerna visar att regissören är redo att ständigt omvärdera sina ursprungliga idéer och rannsaka sig själv. Det är livet, inte filmen, som bör komma i första hand – också för en viljestark dokumentärfilmare.
Själen är större än världen (1985): Diskuskastaren Ricky Bruch tänjer på alla fysiska och psykiska gränser för att ta sig till OS och misslyckas. Ett kärleksfullt, men också skrämmande och tragikomiskt, porträtt av en medmänniska och hennes besatthet.
Hotet (1987): En film som skulle ha blivit en helt annan men som kom att handla om hur Europas största vildmarksområde efter Tjernobylolyckan drabbades av cesiumförgiftning in i minsta cell. Svidande vackert foto, svidande men lågmäld civilisationskritik, osentimentalt möte med samerna.
Jag är din krigare (1997): Spelfilm om de tystas seger över de skräniga som utspelar sig i den magiska värld som barndomen utgör och regissören lyckats hålla intakt inombords. En hyllning till lärofadern Arne Sucksdorff, som några år senare porträtteras i ”Skönheten skall rädda världen” (2000).
Liv till varje pris (1998): Kärleksförklaring till Bo Widerberg, filmkonsten och livet. Lite sorgligt emellanåt, men smittsamt roligt när Thommy Berggren berättar anekdoter om Ingmar Bergman. Anekdoter som sedemera kom att utvecklas till en långfilm, guldbaggebelönade ”Muraren” (2002).
Med det rika utbudet av filmer på dvd visar Stefan Jarl inte bara att han är en av vårt lands viktigaste filmregissörer, utan också att han vet att utnyttja den digitala tekniken; dels genom renovering och viss redigering av sina filmer, dels genom att bjuda på ett generöst extramaterial i form av bakomfilmer, extrafilmer, intervjuer och kommentarer. Mitt filmkritikerhjärta bultar.
/Malena Janson, SvD
With Misfits to Yuppies, whichfollows They Gall Us Misfits, 1968, and ADecent Life, 1979, Stefan Jarl has completed a filmproject whose unique character is not confined merely to Swedish cinema.
By concentrating on a handful of young social outcastshe has explored the modern welfare state – this term that has become synonymouswith Sweden – in three films that comprise a time span of more than a quarterof a century. This trilogy provides, among many other things, an opportunity towitness the euphoric, disconcerting and terrifying experience of seeingthe development and human values of whole society reflected in the faces of thepeople in the films as they grow older. At first they are young and in the middleof an unarticulated and provocative rebellion against the adult world, and theypossess a charming innocent openness. Then their lives go on to become cloudedmore and more by desperation and death, until finally – in those cases wherethe participants are still alive – their physiognomies appear to belong toseverely ravaged 40-year-olds who have aged before their time.
Parallel with this, the films show the marginalizationand dec1ine of Stockholm, the main location for the rebellion of these youths andto Jarl- Sweden in microcosm – as the once idyllic inner city is transformedinto a desolate glass-and-concrete nightmare that is reminiscent of theinhumanity in Palle Nielsen’s chilling visions of the modern metropolis.
Jarl’s method is a variation on the documentary filmthat manipulates and stages reality so as to reach a more penetrating viewof the truth than passive observation of its ”objective” surface canachieve. It could be described as a kind of artistic journalism, a creativeinterpretation that molds the images of reality into a testimony ofcriticism, which does not depart an iota from its essence but only makes thisclearer. The method gets its legitimacy from the important investigativedocumentary tradition, which is partly socioanthropological andsociological, that Jarl has thus placed himself in, along with such directorsas Dziga Vertov, Robert Flaherty, Arne Sucksdorff and Pierrault.
However, one may easily count the times when this methodhas produced the politically and socially revealing results of this remarkableand shocking trilogy, and it has also been shown to be an equally sharpscalpel-like instrument for criticism of the society.
– If you look back over the more than twenty-five years that thistrilogy encompasses, what were the greatest difficulties you encounteredin seeing the project through to the end?
”The heaviest and most painful burden has been to witness andexperience at close range the fate of the individuals in the films. From thevery beginning their lives became interwoven with my own life. All the phonecalls and distress calls that I got from them when they were in trouble! LikeBettan, in A Decent Life: she suddenlyphones me from the street, sounding desperate, and says she has escaped from amethod on cure and is on heroin again, but now wants to get back ’on methadone,and what should she do to get into a new methadone treatment plan quick?
All the things you don’t notice or know in a film: phonecalls that never last just two or three minutes – which are repeated four orfive times the same day and are all about the same thing. !it’s been reallytough having this kind of a group and their problems so close all these years:if they should die, or managed to survive; all their private hang-ups andaggressions. Compared to this, the actual shooting of the films was child’splay.”
– Why did you adhere to the method that you used in filming thistrilogy? I suppose we can call it arranged documentary film?
”Absolutely, All three films were very highly ’arranged’. Thereason I chose this method is based primarily on my belief that the person whomakes the film is part of the reality that is filmed.
If you walk into a room you immediately become a personwho affects the atmosphere in the room. If you place the camera in a certainposition, you will get a different picture than if the camera position ischanged ever so slightly. In the latter case, the images reproduce immediately,in other words, another kind of reality than the first. You may as well beconsistent from the start then and say that if we’re going to make this film,we’ll do it as buddies: all of you in front of the camera and me behind it. Andthis is my photographer and he’s a buddy, too, and the finished film willbe the result of what occurs psychologically and socially etc. during a certaintime, between those in front of the camera and us be hind it.
My goal is to find the truth, not a priori to depictreality. The aim is to try to make as true a film as possible, which has nothingat all to do with standing there and filming reality. Unfortunate1y, you mayhave to do some arranging to make the truth clearer. Whatever, as theshooting progressed I had to arrange more and more things during the making ofthe trilogy. More was done and it became more intricate in the last film thanin the first. This method also means that you strike a blow againstso-called objective reporting. There is no such thing here as an allegedlydetached, neutral speaker or narrator, as in the television variant ofdocumentary film. Instead, there is a palpable ’I’ who tells the story, it is’I’ who comes in and says certain things. And as far as I know, only ArneSucksdorff has worked this way before.”
– It could be said of the first two films of the trilogy thatstructurally and dramatically they played into your hands, as it were, morethan the last one. In They Call Us Misfits thereis a scene where two people make love that forms a small field of tension thatinevitably led to a censorship debate, but also to heightened advance interestin the film, and A Decent Life is given aparticularly powerful thematic and emotional structure through Stoffe’s lasthours and death, which coincides with the film’s apocalyptic atmosphere andgives it a ’face’. In the final film you had hardly any similar givenopportunities.
”None at all in fact. The important thing here was to try tomake the de-dramatized daily life visible and interesting. And at the same timemake it deal’ to the audience that there were different sides to these peopleand different ways of looking at them. It was hard to find a form for thisfilm. From the very beginning it was obvious that I, just as you say, wouldn’t get anything free. There was no materialaround with which you could create a sensation. The sensational thing about itwas simply that the project could be completed and that the kids survive:against all odds and totally counter to the theory of the socialheritage.”
– At the end of your new film Kenta behaves almost like a romanticizedhero. He goes his own way through the alienated crowd into a city under thesame cold commercial lights as in A Decent Life, and with sharper social contrasts and more notable class differencesthan in any other filmatic depiction of Sweden ever. He still has a rebelliousaura about him and he retains his tramp’s integrity. Furthermore, there is agreat deal more warmth from your side than you show the younger generation wehave seen, aside from Jajje’s daughter Carina.
”Yes, I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for the kind ofyoung men these guys have managed to become, relatively financially successful,against all social odds. Let me put it this way: if anyone had asked me to makea film about these kids without me knowing who their parents were, then Iwouldn’t have done it. I find them interesting just be cause they are thechildren of these parents. Of course wanted Kenta to appear as sympathetic aspossible. Even though he has hardly any teeth left in his mouth, what comes outof it should anyway be rather sympathetic.”
– As a spectator one feels more than a little ambivalent towards hisson Patric. He seems remarkably well-adjusted to the extreme market-orientedand egotistical Swedish society.
”One should have mixed feelings about Patric. For one of thequestions I wanted the films to pose just blurted out-is this: why do we seeKenta and Jajje, these representatives of the ’mods’ (misfits) generation, asless sympathetic individuals than those who survive as good consumers?I am an old Hegelian. The first film was a thesis, whichI call the rebellion; the second was the antithesis, or the strangling of therebellion through the use of narcotics; while the third, synthesis, is aboutsurvival in consumerism. To this extent the third segment of the trilogy is themost tragic. As a spectator you are partly prepared to accept consumerism,because thereby you avoid seeing people lying in the streets, but t, with onlyslight exaggeration, you don’t really know then whether those who walk uprightare alive or dead.
by Jan Aghed
When I think back to that morning, I recall that for the first twenty minutes I just sat there feeling a little anxious, almost frightened. I remember that I sat and wondered if I had done anything wrong. Had I arrived late? No, I hadn’t. Was it something I’d said at the beginning of the interview? Had I begun it with a sensitive or inappropriate subject? I recollect thinking along these lines.
Stefan Jarl sat in front of me amidst a chaotic jumble of posters, empty film reels, and randomly placed bits of furniture, spitting and hissing like an enraged cobra. In a little dark cutting room in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’ s old quarter, he vented his accumulated rage towards the film industry like a volcano erupting.
When I had typed out the interview, I was worried that Jarl might not be willing to stand by all the vituperation and abuse that he had mouthed. Most interviewees are like that. It’s one thing to say something in an interview, but it’s quite another to acknowledge it in print. So it was with some trepidation that I sent him what I had written.
Jarl phoned me the next day.
”It’s good, but you’ve toned it down in a few places. If you make it more caustic it would be more powerful and clear. ”
I can remember smiling. Broadly.
That was in the spring of 1985, just after The Soul Is Greater than the World (Själen är större än världen) had been shown at the International Film Festival in Berlin. It was my interview with Stefan Jarl, the first time that I had met him. But the impression I received then, that he was a crusty curmudgeon, is one which I have had confirmed for me on several subsequent occasions.
It might sound like a simplification, but setbacks and rebuffs are a driving force for Jarl. They give birth to both the rage which welled out of him at that interview and the struggle which has engaged him practically every day for the last 25 years. It is not without reason that he is described in one of Sweden’ s most respected works of reference on the cinema as a film-maker ”who is always at odds with the establishment”. It began with the arguments about the censorship of They Call Us Misfits (Dom kallar oss mods) and has continued ever since. From this opposition has arisen his cinematics and his aesthetics.
A part from a few unhappy months as project leader at the Swedish Film Institute, Jarl has never been tempted to be anything other than an independent film-maker. One thing that he learned in his initial conflicts with both the television and film industry was that you had to have complete control over the entire production, from the initial script to the completed film.
It was for that reason that Jarl, together with a few other film-makers, built up a sort of platform and tried to take control over their own means of expression: film. Film Centrum guaranteed non-commercial distribution; Folkets Bio enabled them to show their films at commercial cinemas; while a publication, Film & TV, ensured that the debate remained lively and prevented the powers-that-be from hiding behind their desks.
But the money earned from distribution was never sufficient to enable the production of new films to be started. Today, twenty years later, one has to admit that cracks are evident in the platform which guaranteed freedom of expression. More than 75 per cent of the films shown at the cinemas are American, all four Swedish TV channels are flooded with American television series and Folkets Bio (the People’s Cinema) ha$, been rendered more or less harmless.
It is therefore interesting to observe that in France today the policy towards film and the arts is a consistent one which is similar in many respects: a resistance which is anti-imperialistic and struggles both for freedom of expression and the national culture. The decisive sive difference is that this time it led by a Minister of Culture. There was nobody with that kind of courage in Sweden, not even then.
Jarl’s films are made in the European tradition of resistance and rebellion. They seek to achieve something over and above what is actually seen on the screen. They’ are films that want to contribute towards change. They are fighting films; The audience should reflect on what they have seen. They should think: ”Things can’t go on like this”, ”I want to know more” or ”I have to get involved in this”. This is Jarl’ s purpose and he will happily quote Strindberg to this effect: ”Utility goes before Beauty.”
Influencing others has been his aim throughout his active film career. But anyone who has seen films such as The Threat (Hotet/Uhkkadus, Time Has No Name (Tiden har inget namn) and Good People (Goda människor) knows that there are scenes of quite breathtaking beauty, for Jarl is well aware of the terms on which he has to compete. If you want to reach people who are used to the high technical quality of’ large American productions, then whatever you do has to be extremely well made. Another reason is clearly Jarl’s relationship with the Graphic Arts.
I became tangibly aware of this in the spring of 1989 when I travelled with Jarl to Cinema du Reel, the documentary film festival in Paris, where Time Has No Name (Tiden har inget namn) was to be shown. On the afternoon before the screening, Jarl took me with him on a tour of a number of art galleries and shops.
We browsed for hours and Jarl bought a number of books on Picasso, Brueghel, Degas, van Gogh and photo-realism. That afternoon became for me an instructive lesson on impressionism. If I had preciously not understood its greatness, I did so then. I lost myself in, and fell in love with, Degas’ painting s of ballerinas, while Jarl explained the purpose of art: ”…next time you look at nature, maybe you’ll say to yourself, My God how lovely it all is! Life is really worth living!”
I recalled a conversation I had a few weeks previously in the course of an interview with Jarl’s cameraman and constant colleague, Per Källberg, wherein he related how Jarl, at the beginning of their collaboration, during the shooting of A Respectable Life (Ett anständigt liv), defined his approach to the visual image: ”Re dragged me round art exhibitions.
Much of it was all to do with light and treatment of light. We looked at van Gogh, Rembrandt, Roj Friberg and others whose images had a special expressiveness, while at the same time we were going round the town looking for junkies… ”
All great art has opened the eyes of the public and caused them to perceive society and their surroundings in a new manner. Jarls is completely convinced of this. Re will happily quote another household deity, Walter Benjamin, in this context: ”Art which begins to doubt its mission and ceases to be ’inseparable ductility’ (Baudelaire), is forced to yield pride of place to novelty. ”
Jarl does not see any contradiction between Art and Science; in the time of Leonardo da Vinci (his great idol) both were one. In those days da Vinci sat up at night dissecting bodies and drawing blood vessels and muscles so that he could make good drawings of people during the day time. That is where da Vinci touched upon the sort of ideal which one meets now and again in the documentary film-The Explorer.
But Stefan Jarl wants to take the role of art one stage further. It should not merely be useful in the sense of influencing people and causing the scales to fall from their eyes. It should also, he hopes, be able to alter the situation the production itself. Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht may well have been his forerunners, but these ideas are based on the experiences of his own early years, and were often paid for dearly. It is the terms of the production which govern all expression and it is vital to change them and gain control over them during the course of any film’ s gestation.
It was also in Paris that I heard Jarl talk about expressiveness for the first time. It is not what an image looks like or how it was produced that is important, but what it expresses. This has also become part of Jarl’s and Per Källberg’s extremely idiosyncratic working method:
”Before every shoot, Stefan comes to me at a very early stage and talks a great deal and for a long time. It’s mostly a philosophical discussion: what it should express as a whole, and what we should do in order to build it up to that point. It’s extremely valuable, because even before shooting begins I know what atmosphere it is supposed to suggest. It’s a prerequisite in order to understand it as a whole. ”
During the actual takes, Jarl leaves Per Källberg pretty much to his own devices. When he knows that Källberg knows what the image is supposed to express, he rarely bothers even to look in the viewfinder. It is almost moving to listen to the cryptic dialogue between Stefan and Per during and after a take. It can sound like this:
”Was that good, Per? What do you think?”
To which Per will reply:
”Mmm, it was quite good”.
This means nothing to an outsider of course.
But from the tone of his voice Jarl can immediately deduce what, if anything, was wrong and whether a retake is necessary. This is the fascinating and valuable fruit of many years’ collaboration. It also shows the confidence they have in each other which was born of the profound relationship two people had towards the concept of the Image. ”We just like the same kind of pictures, that’s all”, as Per laconically sums it all up.
Jarl contends that art is mostly about diligence: diligence and hard work. This is an attitude which he has evidently inherited from his father, baker and entrepreneur Håkan Jarl. Stefan of ten jokes about the way he would of ten conc1ude a day’ s work (which of ten lasted 16 hours) with the word: ”You never sleep so well as when you’ve done what you’ re supposed to do”.
Jarl is thus convinced that you ought to go to your place of work every day at eight in the morning and get down to work. This is necessary even if you sit day after day and wonder why you’ re there. Inspiration certainly exists, but you’ll waste it if you don’t go to work. Jarl usually mentions the Stockholm author Stig Claesson as an example, a man who wrote 52 books, painted numerous pictures, and went to work every morning at eight. ”All great works are produced by ready fists”, as Goethe once said.
Art should also be difficult. Basically, art is a manifestation of how one complicates matters for oneself. Jarl will of ten say to Per Källberg: ”We’ve got to make it much more complicated. Why are you filming that?! We’l1 do it completely differently or we’ll come back here tomorrow. Or we’l1 do it when there are no assumptions being made!”
Once again we catch a glimpse of the crusty curmudgeon. If it seems obvious to take a particular path, he will immediately put up a warning sign and intuitively go the other way.
This relationship with work which is demanding and difficult recurs natura1ly in Stefan Jarl’s film. It is most apparent in The Soul Is Greater than the World (Själen är större än världen), an immensely physical film about struggle in which The Contest and The Path are more important than The Goal.
It is similarly illustrated in Jarl’s homage to the Scanian farmer in Time Has No Name (Tiden har inget namn), which is introduced by some lines of Pier Paolo Pasolini: ”There is no poetry other than that of true actions. ”
I remember those first occasion s when I was present during the making of Good People (Goda människor). I had never dreamt that shooting a film meant such hard work and such long days. There was no such thing as a lie-in unless you had worked until three in the morning the night before. And you often did.
Jarl will of ten say that he learned seven things from Ingmar Bergman. I don’t know what the other six are, but the seventh is the great advantage, artistically speaking, of working with the same team from film to film. Since A Respectable Life (Ett anständigt liv) (1979), cameraman Per Källberg, editor Annette Lykke Lundberg, musician and composer Ulf Dageby, and Per Carleson, dubbing mixer and mixer have been ”the Gang of Four” surrounding director Stefan Jarl. With all of them he has developed a personal and . of ten wilful working method in which the key word is ”trust”.
A working method, or more correctly a basic ideological premise vis a vis the images sought at all stages of the gestation of a film, is what Jarl calls ”the Neutral Position”. It means that having shot the rushes on location, one sits in the cutting room and sees ”anew” what the images express. This work is the most excruciating and the most destructive for one’s self-esteem. To be forced to admit that the nordic light over this forest or that sea was in fact a flat and completely lifeless image. Then the self-critical questions arise: What was I actually thinking of out there? Am I completely devoid of talent? How on earth am I going to put all this together now?
It’s all about the image having a life of its own. There in the cutting room, alongside those other images which will precede and follow it, the image expresses itself differently. n might possibly be completely appropriate when placed in its context, but more of ten, unfortunately, it is completely useless.
Jarl is just as unsparing of himself when the important and sensitive work with music and sound commences. Another element is added to the totality and new expressions arise. n is a continual filtering and distillation of impressions whereby with any luck, whatever makes it to the finish in one piece and is allotted its edited portion of the screen, is the closest to The Truth we can get. Perhaps this is what Jarl’s guru and mentor Arne Sucksdorff (who was given an Oscar in 1949 for his short film Rhythm of A City (Människor i stad) calls ”the right balance between documentary and poetic truth” .
In is this complex truth, this compound description of reality, which Stefan Jarl is continually seeking in his images and forms. Re completely rejects the myth of Cinema Verite, partly because there is obviously no-one who has an objective relationship with an outer rea1ity. The very fact that the camera is placed in a particular location means that a choice has been made. Frederick Wiseman, the person most of ten associated with Cinéma Verité spends a year in the cutting room for each of his films. We may assume that any claims to objectivity are waived to some extent during this time. This is something he has never attempted to deny, by the way!
But the main reason for the rejection is that rea1ity is more complicated than the actual filming of an event. The farmer ploughing his field, the Sami (Lapp) slaughtering his reindeer, the junkie shooting up, or the solitary sportsman in the midst of his training-each of them in private expresses merely tiny fraction of reality. When presented in its context, in the times in which one lives, rea1ity becomes more like a prism. It is at this point that we encounter one of the most important cornerstones of Stefan Jarl’s cinematics-montage.
Jarl contends that certain things are too trivial for film to describe, while we have seen other things so often that we have become blind. Rea1ity must be made visible once more. For example, an image may be of no value when it is the last in a sequence of three, but when placed between the other two, something appears which we did not see before. With the help of montage we can cause time to stand still, let things rip, dramatize rea1ity, and so make the invisible visible. And approach the Truth.
For me, one of the best examples of montage in Stefan Jarl’s films is the first eighteen minutes of Nature’s Revenge (Naturens hämnd). During this time, simply by means of montage, we are introduced to the three levels of the film and become terribly aware of why little Peter is weeping at the very beginning.
But naturally one also thinks of the ”paradise of commodities” sequence in A Respectable Life where we cut from the utter squalor of the social outcasts to the long fingers of upper class ladies in the fashionable food market in Östermalm. The editing revea1s a link, a truth: the consumer society is unveiled.
More subtly, in Time Has No Name, from the weary footsteps and the toiling of the last farmer we cut to the dead seal on the cliff. This is happening right now, at this very moment. The two together signify something about our times. New links, new truths. Complex rea1ity is made visible.
It is in this tireless hunt for the Truth that I believe Stefan Jarl’s films reach out to me and touch me. I must confess that I feel the greatest admiration and respect for this passion, this endurance which Jarl indefatigably carries with him after all these years. What is right and what is wrong is written somewhere as though on Moses’ tablets of stone; that is one of the principal driving forces in Jarl’s film-making.
I recall that once when I was interviewing Bo Widerberg (another one of Jarl’ s household gods by the way) I asked him what that much abused word ”morality” meant for him. Instantly, without a trace of hesitation or doubt, he replied: ”Everything. it´s the be-all and end-all for me.” For him, morality meant reverence for life, never harming anyone else.
Morality is almost synonymous with Stefan Jarl’s films. They are born of a deep compassion for life which has been violated, whether it be a junkie jabbing his last hypodermic needle into the crook of his arm, a two year old boy suffering from cancer, a poisoned lake, Sami suddenly finding the fallout from Chernobyl landing all around them, or a lonely Scanian farmer whose way of life is disappearing With both self-irony and seriousness in his voice, Jarl usually simplifies it all by saying: ”All my films are about the same thing, they are all ’films of compassion'” .
In his incomplete film Transform Sweden (Förvandla Sverige), Stefan Jarl brings his criticism of civilization to a head and says: ”We are occupied by a foreign power.” He has returned to this idea of society as a prison in all his subsequent films, but probably never more definitively, darkly and resignedly in Transform Sweden. Even in Nature ’s Revenge, that intensely dark scrutiny of mankind’s self-appointed role as the gardeners of nature, we can glimpse a ray of light.
This compassion is the outstanding impulse which overshadows the films of Stefan Jarl. It is that which ”determines” that a film which is completely impossible from the commercial point of view, such as Time Has No Name, can come into being, and it is that which motivates him to complete, with practically no money, a 35-minute-long portrait of a twelve year old Sami boy in his short film Jåvna.
The act of actually completing these films is also a means of acknowledging rather than suppressing this impulse. The sense of compassion is kept alive. But Jarl also emphasizes the importance of never confusing the immediate and measurable success of a work of art with that which is so much more vital: its lasting value. Art is eternal and perhaps in the year 2050 someone will see The Threat and think to himself: ”So that was how the Sami and their culture were obliterated! ” Or consider the value of Time Has No Name when the very last farmer is no more.
In this context it is natural to consider another of Stefan Jarl’ s major sources of inspiration, the painter Pieter Brueghel: ”I have always wanted my films to have the same effect as his paintings. Re managed to make great art from his allegorical comments on contemporary life. I can sit and look at his painting s for any length of time. Without Brueghel we would not know as much as we do today about life in the sixteenth century.”
It is my hope that some time in the future we shall be able to look back on the cinematics of Robert Flaherty, Joris Ivens, Santiago Alvarez, Arne Sucksdorff, Peter Weiss, Eric M. Nilsson and, last but not least, Stefan Jarl (to place him within a tradition and a context) and there see images which give us a great deal of knowledge about our brief period on earth during the latter half of the twentieth century.
And I am utterly convinced that Stefan Jarl’s films, not only sociologically, but also anthropologically and ecologically, will then be indispensable testimony and a vital contribution to the research work of the future.
Film journalist and author of the book Rebel in reality-Stefan Jarl and His Films. (Rebell i verkligheten-Stefan Jarl och hans filmer) Filmkonst nr 7/Filmbiblioteket nr 1-1991
What do we actually mean by a ”work”? A work is the long and laborious process whereby a view of life is hewn from the inert and diffuse material made available by one’s ”inner” and ”outer” realities.
The common denominator in such a work, which is then referred to as the ”style”, is no less than a ceaseless, frenetic striving in a particular direction. The variations in this ”style” are quite simply variations in the premises of the work, the resources, the equipment, one’s personal state, the surroundings or influences from the” zeitgeist” and other historical circumstances.
Consistency in the work is crucial: however violent the changes in his life and working conditions may be, the artist remains miraculously recognizable in the manifestation of his work. For this to happen, his concept or vision must be clear to him or strongly intuitive, so that the subsequent struggle is to manifest the true spirit of his original inspiration.
As far as he is concerned, ”success” is something which is measured not by money or public acclaim, but rather in terms how true the work is to his conception, how close he has come to his vision. Also, he basically despises the critics because they refuse to see beyond the manifestation of the work and perceive the vision which lies behind it.
If we make demands upon the work which are as high as those we make upon the artist (and the more superficial the age, the more important it is that we should do so), the significant works of art within any culture become few indeed, since most of them are not driven by any inner necessity, concept or vision, but are the result of expectations from without and a longing for popularity, money and renown. At the best they are a reflection of the age and therein lies their documentary value.
The situation is more critical in film than in other arts, quite simply becauseri1ore money is needed and it is therefore more vulnerable to the pressures of convention and indulgence. Joris Ivens has quite rightly pointed out that this is in direct propol1ion to the film’s budget. The easier the financing, the freer the filmmaker. (This is why Ivens sought his independence in the documentary, with its relatively low costs. For more than fifty years he strove to impel his work ever closer to his concept, until they were miraculously united when he was over ninety years old in A Story of the Wind) .
But the documentary film is still one of art’ s most expensive media. Ivens was spared the fiendish process which is currently unfolding, whereby the producers are gaining increasing control over the documentary film and thus engendering ever greater standardization by forcing it in the direction of the feature film’ s production methods (while embellishing it with appellations such as ”documentaire de creation” and the like).
The very concept of the documentary film implies a ferocious independence, which means that the most powerful of enemies, standardization, has always been marshalled against il. The standardization may be political, social, cultural or conventional, but as soon as a filmmaker capitulates to any one of these forces, his work dies.
As a result, the serious filmmaker is forever waging a war on two fronts: he is contending with his own ability and his inner demons in order to attain clarity of vision while simultaneously struggling day and night against economic and political forces in order that what he sees may become visible for others.
That is how brutal conditions are for the uncompromising documentary film. Few are those in any country’s cinematic culture who are able to survive them. There are perhaps a handful in Sweden. One of them is Stefan Jarl.
When Stefan Jarl, together with Jan Lindqvist, interviewed rebellious and marginalized youth in S-Tänk he was 25 years old. In 1991 as he prepares to make a film about the children of The Misfits (who are now as old as their parents were when the first film was made), he is 50 years old. There are 17 productions along a straight line between these two points, whose variety of material and style merely strengthen the impression of a fierce consistency in his ideation.
This theme may be put into words, since ”any real film can be summarized in a single sentence”. Stefan Jarl’s sequence is a question:
”Why does society disown its own children?”
In his generation it is a question asked by the youth revolution and the protest song. It is followed by a statement: ”We have the key to another life and our vision is a threat to your petrification!”
Throughout the ages, from Gitta del Sole and Candide to Rabbit run and The Hawks and the Sparrows (Ucellaci, ucellini), this is the truly naive, utopian, cleareyed view of the possibilities offered by the world. Stefan Jarl’s contemporary images are based on his knowledge of the history of revolt, from Campanella and Voltaire to Updike and Pasolini: the story of the eternal child and its holy wrath.
His statements are not without problems. He is forever roaming about the outer limits of the documentary. When he openly oversteps these boundaries, as he does in Good People (Goda människor), one can see how arbitrary they are. (”I make fiction” as Fred Wiseman always says when he applies his scissors to the 50 or 60 hours of genuine ”Cinema direct” which is his raw material.)
It does happen that violent images such as the final sequence with the axe in A Respectable Life (Ett anständigt liv) and the scenes of destruction in The Threat (Hotet/Uhllidus) contradict the very vision of good people and their language. In the same way, his tendency to use the powerful devices of expressionism in Na(ure’s Revenge (Naturens hämnd) or The Soul Is Greater than the World (Själen är större än världen) also seems to contradict his social aspirations (though no more so than Eisenstein or Grierson). One longs for the timely grin in They Call Vs Misfits (Dom kallar oss mods) or the crazy smile in the images from the asylum in Säter. But times have changed. The pressures are greater. Nobody nowadays would think of calling a film Transform Sweden (Förvandla Sverige)…
Suddenly the river becomes calm. The turbulent waters open into a broad, wide current. After 25 years, Stefan Jarl is ready to summarize his experiences of this other life in broad, timeless brush strokes. In Time Has No Name (Tiden har inget namn), the ancient open plains of a landscape whose inspiration is the Holland of van der Leyden or Vermeer nestles in the midst of his impetuous painting.
It is a wonderful film, the first one to which I surrendered unconditionally. Without any reservations I accept the old farmers’ knowledge of time and space, work and rest. The pattern of their movements, their relationship to their aching bodies, the way they move along their familiar course with the assurance of the blind, their attunement to the passage of the seasons: all this is concrete and without nostalgia. ”Hold up this farming mirror and see your own times” says the film: ”Reflect.”
This filmmaker of conurbations is in fact a son of the plains. The other facet of his work is naturally taken from the countryside of his childhood and from the nature films of Arne Sucksdorff, a man who is all too of ten forgotten, but who is still one of the three names in Swedish postwar cinema, along with Alf Sjöberg and Ingmar Bergman. His work was also governed by the same paradox: a furious defence of the quiet life. Sucksdorff’ s pastoral was called The Wind and the River (Vinden och floden, 1951).
Stefan Jarl thus makes himself part of the Swedish cinematic mainstream: the soulful depiction of Nature. It is possibly still our only original contribution to the history of film as a whole, and of course it is found in Bergman from the black coastlines of The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) to the Lakeland flowers of Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället).
But once every decade Stefan Jarl checks any attempted escape from the times in which we live, by returning to the groups of young people on the fringes of the city whom we label as ”mods” .or ”punks” or ”rappers” for the purposes of classification. It is in his suite They Call Us Misfits, A Respectable Life and The Social Inheritancetemporary title that he is radically different from his predecessors and breaks new ground for the Swedish Cinema. There his work becomes clear, consistent and perfectly contemporary.
Filmmaker, writer, former director of the Swedish Cultural Centre in Paris
Swedish director Stefan Jarl, perhaps the world’s foremost environmental filmmaker, is preoccupied with questions of how the world will survive the onslaughts of technology and other forms of rampant modernization. Using both traditional documentary techniques as well as border-crossing narrative strategies, Jarl has been boldly exploring the medium since the late 1960s. Beginning with THEY CALL US MISFITS (1968), made in collaboration with Jan Lindkvist, Jarl made several films about troubled youth in Stockholm.
Like his films about urban malaise, his nature films investigate the economic, social, and scientific conditions troubling the land. Dealing with such subjects as farming and pollution (NATURE’S REVENGE, TIME HAS NO NAME), hunting and indigenous peoples (JÅVNA: REINDEER HERDSMAN IN THE YEAR 2000, NATURE’S WARRIOR), Jarl’s nature films combine a visual and emotional romanticism about the wilderness with a clear-eyed, incisive view of the dangers brought by heedless technological intervention.
His first film about Chernobyl (THREAT, 1987) led him to investigate in other works the ongoing effects of that nuclear disaster on Europe as well as on the former USSR, master-fully blending his characteristic concerns for ecological and socioeconomic themes.
Jarl declares that a documentary filmmaker today should be a Robin Hood figure, taking money from sponsors in order to subvert their intended messages and speak instead for ”people without a voice — the unseen and the unheard.” And he declares, ”Every director must try to change the world. When you have something to say to the world, you present it through your own eyes. God created the world, but directors can change it.”
Jerry White observes that Jarl’s ”who le career has been pointing away towards a new model for political filmmaking, one that is [linked] tightly to the landscape, to the small details of everyday life and the effects that geopolitics have on those details, and to the quest for a lyrical and painterly visual style.” Blending his concerns with both rural and urban environ-ments, “Jarl’s cinema is about making these seemingly mismatched elements fit together; about insisting that only examination and reconciliation of the everyday and the system-atic will bring about any kind of meaningful understanding of the world in which we live.”
10 YEAR OLD STEFAN JARL staggered out of his local cinema. What he had just witnessed was so shocking that it made him feel sick. On the screen where he usually watched matinees with Errol Flynn, he had seen an American newsreel about the German concentration camps, with thousands of dead bodies being bulldozed into mass graves. It is an event that has affected his whole life, but only now has he felt ready to meet it head on.
The desk in Stefan Jarl’s office is piled high with books about one of his latest passions, Slow Food. It’s typical of this inveterate champion of causes, a man who since the mid 60s has been the voice of protest in Swedish cinema. Ingmar Bergman has famously remarked that Jarl is: ”One of the last great samurai who unyieldingly fights for ideals and convictions. In our ’heavy industry’ there aren’t many like him.”
Outside the window, silence reigns. In the neighbouring meadow one or two horses are grazing, a bird of prey hovers in the sky. Stefan Jarl has moved back to his childhood haunts deep in the countryside, two hours away by train from the nearest city, Gothenburg. His closest neighbour in the tiny village of Forshem happens to be only the second restaurant in Sweden to be awarded a Slow Food diploma. And Jarl is currently working on a book together with the restaurateur.
”I’m also making a 20-minute protest film entitled Kor är fina, (Cows are Nice). Travelling through southern Sweden last year, it suddenly struck me. When did I last see a cow? OK, so you see plenty of hefty beef cattle, but milk cows, where are they? EU membership is killing off our country’s dairy farmers.”
Nature and civilization. A need to rise up in resistance, to take a stand against injustice. A natural inclination to side with the underdog and an unshakable belief that art really can change the world. It all began here in the Swedish countryside when Stefan Jarl heard on the radio that president Patrice Lumumba had been assassinated. The leader of what was then the Belgian Congo had become something of a hero for the young Jarl. Lumumba was the man who was going to ’sort Africa out’. Stefan Jarl took the news badly. There was something rotten out there in the big wide world. And it would soon be time for him to try to do something about it.
On the same radio he had also heard Eugene O’ Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Many years later he realized that there was a link between Mary Tyrone’s morphine addiction and his own desire to depict how drugs destroy people’s lives in works such as They Call us Misfits (Dom kallar oss mods) and A Decent Life (Ett anständigt liv), the first two films in his ”Mods Trilogy”, works which firmly established Jarl on the international stage as one of Sweden’s major directors.
Only recently has he started to make the connections between his early impressions and the films he subsequently went on to make.
HIS LATEST FEATURE, The Girl from Auschwitz (Flickan från Auschwitz) is about the journalist Cordelia Edvardson, born in Germany in 1929, who ended up as a teenager in that most notorious of all concentration camps.
”Ever since I saw those dreadful images l’ve wanted to talk to someone who survived the camps. That was my burning desire when I met Cordelia Edvardson, who has written books and numerous articles about her experiences, accepted the invitation to take part in the film. Stefan Jarl’s curiosity was intense – the questions just poured out of him.
”I behaved like a bull in a china shop, and managed to knock down most of the shelves before I realized what I was doing. I don’t know how she put up with me. I felt rather embarrassed afterwards.”
Jarl wanted to know how it’s possible to become something more than a prisoner of the past. He realised that Cordelia Edvardson had succeeded in doing so. With her background, she might easily become a propagandist for Israel, but instead she has become a writer who sees both sides. Her talent has a tendency to irritate the Zionist lobby.
”There are two ways you can go. Either you can be bitter and complain that life’s not fair, or you can move on. Cordelia chose to defeat the past. And what’s fascinating is that she, a woman with a good job and five children, decided to break away from Sweden and go to live in Jerusalem. She probably felt that the past was slowly catching up with her, that she needed to take on something new. For her it’s always a question of meeting the challenges that fate throws at her. And of never allowing herself to be defeated, something people are otherwise so prone to do.”
In some ways, all of Stefan Jarl’s films are about people on the edge of society. People who are survivors. He has a profound belief that ultimately each one of us is responsible for our own life.
”OK, you should complain about society, but you shouldn’t use that as a means. You can’t just sit out in the ghetto suburbs and say there’s nothing we can do, they’ve put us here and every Swede is a racist. There’s always something you can do. There are plenty of examples. Just look at the guy who opened a school in one of Stockholm’s suburbs and taught immigrants how to apply for jobs, how to-dress for interviews and what to say. 80 per cent who left that school got jobs! Now he runs loads of classes.”
STEFAN JARL LOVES firebrands. He waxes lyrical about the medics who put their lives on the line in Médecins sans Frontières.
”Their mums and dads must think they’re mad. But those people who go off and work round the dock under the most dreadful conditions are real heroes. I mean, three million people die every year from Aids – yet despite these terrible odds, they still go down to Africa to tend to the sick. lt’s amazing.”
A product of the left wing movement in Swedish film of the 1960s, Stefan Jarl is still a committed socialist. He’s also a strong individualist, a man who runs his own company, produces his own films, and who elected to go his own way instead of taking up a job with Swedish Television (SVT), an option that was open to him in the 70s.
”I’ve always thrown Marx and Pippi Longstocking together into the mixer. They’re in every dish I serve up. I’m sure I’d have made twice as many films if I’d worked at SVT. But if you’re a contrary type like Pippi, you can’t get away with that there.”
Now approaching his 65th birthday, Stefan Jarl is tortured by the notion that time is running out. Not to put too fine a point on it, he’s counting backwards to see how many films he might still be able to make.
”It makes me feel more and more uncomfortable. In a recent interview I counted up 15 unmade films. It’s a real pain that life is so damned short.”
Asked how he’s changed as a filmmaker over the years, Jarl insists that essentially his need to offer resistance has grown. ”But there’s nothing I’m really satisfied with, if that’s what you’re wondering. For every film I watch I ask myself: why didn’t I do such and such instead…?”
In recent years he has put considerable time and energy into releasing his entire works on DVD. He felt a need to save his films, and in doing so he had to watch all of them again.
”It was hell, I can tell you. Nobody should put themselves through something like that.”
STEFAN JARL SHOWS ME his latest short, Epilogue, which is due to premiere at the Göteborg Film Festival. It’s a compelling piece in which Patrik, the son of Kenneth ”Kenta” Gustafsson, one of the mods from the eponymous trilogy, is attending the church christening of his own son. Kenta himself wasn’t there. He died back in 2003, but one of his grandson’s names is Kenneth. This is an emotional signal of reconciliation from Patrik, who hasn’t always been willing to accept Kenta as his father.
Nowadays, Stefan Jarl mostly concentrates on shorts. Funding from the commissioners at the Swedish Film Institute for documentaries has been reduced.
”The Girl from Auschwitz cost 2.5 million kronor (266,000 euros) to make, which was only possible because a great deal of it was shot on video. But my priority now is to get as much done as possible, so I can’t afford to waste two years trying to raise money for a feature. It’s better to spend that time making shorts, that way I can say something at least. Because it’s still possible to get funding for short films. And it also frees me up for relatively cheap projects like the book about Slow Food.”
As if on cue, the telephone rings in his office. It’s the local restaurant. They’re just about to prepare a special fish (something like an anchovy) that’s found in nearby Vänern, Sweden’s biggest lake.
”They’re about to gut the fish. I’d better get over there and take some pictures…” Slinging his camera over his shoulder, Stefan Jarl takes his leave.
Last month he was in San Francisco at a retrospective of all his films. Today he’s off to photograph a small fish, passionate in his conviction that it’s better to eat local produce than food flown in from Norway or New Zealand.
Watching him as he disappears, I wonder how many documentary filmmakers Stefan Jarl’s international stature could be bothered with such a seemingly small thing.
Michael Moore? I don’t think so.
“In filmmaking you can either start with fiction or documentary, ” says JEAN-LUC GODARD. ”But whichever you start with, you will inevitably find the other. ”The career of Stefan Jarl, one of Sweden’s leading filmmakers, has indeed covered both award winning documentary films and more recently, featurelength films. In either form, Jarl has continuously related his unique vision of man as product of, or rebel against society.
His film debut came in 1968 with THEY CALL US MISFITS, which came to be the first part in a trilogy. The other parts came in 1979 with A DECENT LIFE and in 1992 with MISFITS TO YUPPIES. With this trilogy he opened up a new direction in Swedish cinema.
Stefan Jarl’s unique position in Swedish cinema owes also much to his trusty collaborators, who are known as ”The Gang of Four”: PER KÄLLBERG (cameraman), ANETTE LYKKE LUNDBERG (film editor), ULF DAGEBY (music) and PER CARLESSON (sound engineer and mixer).
’Jarl is forever roaming about the outer limits of the documentary, ”says filmmaker and author CARL-HENRIK SVENSTEDT. With NATURE’s REVENGE (1983) and TIME HAS NO NAME (1989), Jarl asks us to reflect on Time itself as well as on Nature. Drawing inspiration from his youth spent in the countryside, as well as from ARNE SUCKSDORFF’s nature films, Jarl creates a ”furious defense of the quiet life.” As expressed by Svenstedt: “It is a soulful depiction of Nature”, no doubt one of the great themes explored by Swedish cinema over the last century.
With his fictional feature film debut as writer and director of GOOD PEOPLE (1990) as well as with NATURE’S WARRIOR (1998), Stefan Jarl captures on film the tacit realm where fiction becomes reality and vice versa.
Stefan Jarl has received several international awards over the years, among them the FELIX AWARD, the European ”Oscar.”
His films have regularly been chosen for the FORUM OF NEW CINEMA at the BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL. A retrospective of his work has toured the world, and at the TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL in Colorado he was awarded the Silver Medallion as ”one of Europe’s leading documentary filmmakers.”
According to INGMAR BERGMAN, documentary filmmaker Stefan Jarl definitively belongs to the small circle of ”extremely talented madmen” who have enriched Swedish cinema. ”One of the last great samurai who unyieldingly fights for ideals and convictions. In our ’heavy industry’ there aren’t many like him.” INGMAR BERGMAN states.
Edward Noeltner, SF
”Systemets svarta får”, SvD 7.4.88
Göm ej undan Jarls film, Ssvd, 19.5.89
Stefan Jarls filmer förtrollar USA, DN 12.8.92
Naturens missionaer, Politiken, 20.3.98
Når demonstranter bliver dömt som terrorister, Politiken 11.12.09
Using fiction to tell the truth, Moving Pictures, nr 29, 00
I huvet på två gamla gubbar, Teknik och Människa, nr 181,02
Children of the Revolution, Made in Sweden, nr 2, 03
”Jag skiter i sakligheten”, DN 6.7.03
Jarl för sin hatt, Nöjesguiden, september 05
Kämpar för statligt filmstöd. Ssvd, 18.3.06
The last Samurai, Made in Sweden nr 7, 06
“Min mission är att rädda mänskligheten”, DN 20.4.10
De oföddas försvarare, Ssvd, 24.4.10
Filmen som väckarklocka, Brås Tidning, 22.9.10