The birth of Swedish film.
Swedish film is famous all over the world; it is loved for its lyrical beauty, its sensitivity and its soul searching. With names like Victor Sjöström, Mauritz Stiller, Ingmar Bergman, Jan Troell, Bo Widerberg, and Lasse Hallström among the directors and with stars like Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Anita Ekberg, and Lena Olin, Sweden can dwarf bigger nations with its film expertise. But it didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t begin with Svensk Filmindustri in Råsunda. If that’s what you thought.
On a sleepy pedestrian street in the little town of Kristianstad there’s a small statue of a man with a film camera. It is so small that if you blink, you’ll miss it. Try not to. It’s a landmark of sorts, as it indicates the birthplace of Swedish film. The very house it stands in front, of classic Art Nouveau style, was built solely for the purpose of making Swedish film. Ronny Jönsson is the keeper of the little film museum.
“We’re now sitting in the oldest preserved film studio in the world,” he says.
“The very cradle of Swedish film.”
We're sitting in a large glassed-in room set up like a very primitive film set. This is where two friends in Kristianstad, two film enthusiasts named Nils H. Nylander and Gustaf Björkman, had their film company (Sweden’s first), Kristianstad Biograf-Teater, from 1909-1910. They had begun their joint venture already in 1905 by opening Kristianstad’s first movie theater after having seen how film literally exploded on the scene in nearby Denmark. A few years later, they had expanded their business with 20 more movie theaters. Film was definitely happening.
“They soon realized that they could make more money by producing their own films,” Jönsson explains. “Up till then the movies they had shown were either French or from Nordisk Film in Denmark. So for that purpose they had this house built. It housed the movie theater Kosmorama on the first floor, with 300 seats, as well as a film studio, a film lab where films were hand tinted, a repair shop and an office. Even though by then there were other film companies in Sweden, this was the most dominating one.”
Entertainment and anti-emigration
But experience in film producing was needed, and that was something the two friends didn’t have. Few actually had any experience, since film was such a new media. But Charles Magnusson, a theater producer from Göteborg, was soon called upon to come and help.
Jönsson continues: ”Magnusson was a real professional, and three films were made in quick succession in 1909: ‘Värmlänningarne,’ ‘Fänrik Ståls sägner,’ and ‘Bröllopet på Ulfåsa.’ The director was Carl Engdahl from Södra Teatern in Stockholm, the actors used were locals from an amateur theater group. The films are approximately 10 minutes long each and yes, we still have them and show them here.”
Even though movie goers loved these movies, Magnusson wasn’t satisfied. He knew that competition was getting harder, and that amateurs weren’t good enough. So he hired stars from Stockholm to come to Kristianstad. Stars who today are long forgotten: Ivan Hedqvist and Frithiof Strömberg, and others from Dramaten and Operan. In 1910 five films were made, including two anti-emigration films, made to prevent Swedes from emigrating to America.
“Those films pointed out all kinds of scary scenarios that could take place if you decided to go West,” says Jönsson with a smile.
The so called “journalfilm” (newsreel) was also very popular. These were filmed on location in Kristianstad in the morning, developed during the day and shown at Cosmorama in the evening.
“People came in droves to see them! Imagine, you might even get a glimpse of yourself on the big screen, crossing Lilla Torg on your way to work!”
The move to Stockholm
Unfortunately, Kristianstad in the long run proved too provincial to keep up with the competition. The clever Magnusson realized this, and put out an ultimatum: “Either we move to Stockholm, or we will collapse!”
And so Svenska Bio, as it was now called, moved into a film studio on Lidingö where two of the first talents to get hired were Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller (the man who years later brought Garbo to Hollywood). From Lidingö, they moved to Råsunda and the name changed yet again to SF – Svensk Filmindustri. Charles Magnusson remained its director until 1928.
“But we’re still here!” exclaims Jönsson.
This film studio was left intact, and in 1972 the museum was opened. There’s a little film studio there, too, where you can see quality film.
“We are a bit different,” Jönsson says. “We show part of the film, and then we serve cookies and candy, and then we show the other part.”
Talks and exhibitions are also part of the little film museum where it all started.
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