Special Report: Swedish Filmmaker Lisa Ohlin

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Lisa Ohlin was branded a dark and serious filmmaker after making Waiting for a Tenor in 1994. That was at a time when the Swedish Film Institute was cranking out comedies. Her latest film will soon be released in Sweden in September, a comedy, and she hopes that the trend toward dark and serious films does not reemerge.

Educated at New York Film School from 1986 to 1992 Ohlin returned in between to make films every summer in Stockholm and through contacts in the film industry was able to use equipment. In fact, the major difference in studying film at NYU and at the state film school in Sweden came down to the equipment. In New York, all she got a camera and a small room.

The director considers herself somewhat of a nomad having been raised in the USA and France. But born in Sweden she is where she makes films, as well as commercials in Norway. There are commercials she will not do, such as products using negative female stereotypes, and she will not work with models, she wants actors.

"The situation for women in film is better in Sweden than assumed", she says. Though there are not many women sending in scripts, more women than men get funding for work submitted. After returning from New York it was difficult to work with Swedish technical crews who had a lot of control in film projects. But the way in which crews work today has changed. Married to a gaffer from Ingmar Bergman's heyday, she claims her husband can tell the difference in a film with a 50-day shoot and 35 day one, just by the lighting setup. The time used to set up shots is just not there with tight budgets and time constraints.

Films need to have a good script and be successful to count. It is not enough to send films off to Venice or Cannes. Maybe they might win there but that does not make them box office successes. The present system of consultants at the Swedish Film Institute that award money to film projects is an improvement says Ohlin over the old anonymous committee system that used to select the roughly 20 to 30 films Sweden makes every year. But as before if a trend is out there, the consultants follow suit, awarding money year after year until the theme is exhausted.

Today she says a high budget for a Swedish film is 20,00 Swedish kronor (SEK) where the bulk comes from Sweden, the European Media Program and from two other Nordic countries (where nationals have to be employed as actors or technical crew). For her it is best to employ technical crews because the acting is so cliched otherwise with a token Nordic national. With Waiting for the Tenor, her last box office success in 2002, there was a 5 million kronor budget and that was fine for Lisa. Such a budget allowed her to work in the style she prefers, independent art house. The film is about a cancer stricken man and his childhood friend Thomas who decide to finish a play that Thomas has started. Flashback sequences are in color with contemporary scenes in black and white. Actor performances are handled brilliantly by Ohlin. One of the best portraits of an alcoholic in Sweden is given by Krister Henrikson, now a drama teacher at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm. The role of Hoffman was decided on the strength of his acting performance, which generally overshadows his contemporaries.
The opening scene has a Lynchian quality with Hoffman on stage, dressed in white singing with no sound. After the journey of the film story, sound is added to the opening scene.
Influenced by Ingmar Bergman, one wonders about the nature of darkness in the films of Lisa Ohlin-- is it a label that fits?

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Swedish Filmmaker Lisa Ohlin