The Cultural Practice of Immigrant Filmmaking – Minor Immigrant Cinemas in Sweden 1950–1990

Authors: Lars Gustaf Andersson and John Sundholm
Publ: Intellect, Bristol, UK/Chicago, USA, pp. 170, 2019. (ePDF ISBN: 978–1–78938–053–8)

In the home of film directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller, little is known about immigrant filmmakers in Sweden. This book results from research on this unconventional cinema in Sweden. The focus is on understanding the styles of analogue cinema by immigrant filmmakers in Sweden during the forty years between 1950-1990. The authors suggest that the ‘diverse stylistic features of films made by immigrants must be understood in relation to the various conditions of their production, which, in the Swedish case, span the gamut from amateur to fully professional’.

To set the context, immigration into postwar Sweden (the period addressed by the book) was mainly from the Nordic and Western European countries. These were followed by people from Eastern Europe who arrived during the revolution in Hungary in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968. Others came from Greece, Italy and former Yugoslavia. In the period covered by the book, there were fewer immigrants from non-European countries. The refugees who came after the 1970s tended to be family-based immigrants from countries outside Europe. It is within this context that the historical study of The Cultural Practice of Immigrant Filmmaking was undertaken.

Andersson and Sundholm state, “During our research, it has become evident that for the newly arrived immigrant filmmaker – amateur, professional or semi-professional – film constituted a doubly marginalised and exceptional production.”  Among those providing funding and the cinema critics, there was little understanding of the condition of being in exile among the filmmakers living as part of the diaspora community in Sweden. The purpose of immigrant filmmaking was to inform and, as  Andersson and Sundholm describe it, where “mission mattered”. Among the Swedish cinema critics, impartiality did not prevail when reviewing these films.

The book focuses on five workshops that assisted immigrant filmmakers and other minority groups – women and the gay community. The workshops intended to drive these embryonic projects to completion. The five groups were: Cineco, Kaleidoscope, The Independent Film Group, The Stockholm Film Workshop, and Tensta Film Association. All of these, in one way or another, helped immigrant filmmakers translate their ideas to film, encompassing a variety of topics, experiences and self-reflection. Additionally, some incorporated topics connected with life in their country of origin.

The longest chapter in the book is dedicated to ‘From Avant-Garde to Communion: Ten Films by Immigrant Filmmakers in Sweden’. The authors  analyse 10 films: Studie 1 – Uppvaknandet (Study 1 – Awakening) (1952) by Peter Weiss (Germany); Monos (Alone) (1974) and Vill du följa med mig Martha? (Do You Want to Join Me, Martha?) (1980) by Babis (Charalampos) Tsokas (Greece),  Interference (1977) by Maureen Paley (United States); Jordmannen or Toprak Adam (The Earthman) (1980) by Muammer Özer in collaboration with Synnöve Özer (Turkey and Finland); Hägringen (The Mirage) (1981) by Guillermo Álvarez (Colombia); Havet är långtborta (The Sea is Far Away) (1983) by Reza Bagher (Iran); Löftet (The Promise) (1984) by Menelaos Carayannis (Greece); La espera (The Waiting) (1989) by Myriam Braniff (Chile); and Fem minuter för Amerikas döda/Pichqa minutukuna ilaqtanchispi wanuqkunamanta (Five Minutes for the Souls of America) (1992) by César Galindo (Peru).

In the same chapter, a somewhat formulaic investigation of all the above films gives it a consistent analytic framework. However, the chapter is uninspiring regarding the contribution made by these films towards understanding immigrant lives. Articulating the experiences of being in exile or an immigrant is a significant undertaking for a film project. At the same time, the Swedish audience for these films was not equipped with the tools to understand the struggles encountered by those in exile or those of immigrant or refugee status.

The most fascinating chapter was ‘The Cultural Practice of Minor Immigrant Cinema Archiving’ at the end. This chapter documents Andersson and Sundholm’s efforts to create a combined archive of films they examined for the book. A couple of things emerge from this chapter. Firstly, the distinction between minor and major cinema, which the authors address in Chapter 1. It seems to follow the binary analysis of the multi-layered process of immigrant filmmaking, which is possibly somewhat insufficient. In other words, the binary categories are usually ‘us’ and ‘them’ – where ‘us’ maybe be seen as homogenous, and ‘them’ consists of different nationalities, religions and experiences making them multilayered. Secondly, the authors stress the need for screening and archiving these films to explain the nation’s cinema history fully. However, gathering materials to digitise, archive and thereby make them more accessible is a lengthy process, requiring resources and commitment. The films need to be classified as Swedish and not foreign. Maybe categorising these films as minor has, in practice, made them seem less important than the ‘major’ films.

The concluding chapter highlights the importance of immigrant filmmaking and its role in the social and historical context of cinema in Sweden. A future study could focus on giving a voice to these immigrant filmmakers and how they conceived their filmmaking projects.

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