BY JONATHAN RODRIGUES
“Ingmar Bergman was a towering figure in the Swedish film industry, which made him hard to relate to for his contemporaries. He was not a guru, and he couldn’t care less about being one. He was not interested in mentoring or supporting his juniors or peers, who were often frustrated about being forced to live in his shadows,” says journalist-critic Jannike Ahlund, who adds as an afterthought, “I believe that by raising the bar higher with his work, he motivated them to push themselves a bit more and that was his way of inspiring others”.
Ahlund represents the Swedish Film Institute and The Bergman Foundation at the 49th International Film Festival of India’s centennial celebrations of the iconic film-maker’s birth. The toweringly great director’s legacy lives on among fans and film-makers to this day, but Ahlund says the sentiment was different when he was alive, and overwhelmingly dominated his country’s film industry. She says, “Bergman took away the oxygen for everyone else who was trying their hand at the art, as he bagged most of the available government grants for his work, and this made many others in his generation resentful.”
Ahlund admits to be a “late Bergman bloomer”, having turned into his devoted fan only after interviewing him as a journalist. That piece won her the ‘Golden Bugs’ (Guldebaggen) award, which was handed over by the legend himself. She says, “He belonged to Sweden’s golden generation and if not for journalism, I may not have got to understand him closely and appreciate his work from an academic perspective.
For someone who lived a private life, Ahlund says Bergman was a vigorous intellect, and fun to talk to. “It was a privilege to have known him, and I say this because he was not a social person at all, and most of his conversations were limited to the telephone. When he died, many people came out claiming that they were his closest friends, and it was hard to believe because he didn’t appear to have had friends, but the truth is that he kept everything really private, including his cinema. He had his own private theatre and never watched films in public.”
Ahlund has travelled to Istanbul, Uganda, London, Israel and now India as an ambassador and promoter of Bergman’s work, which is being presented in over 200 events across the globe in this centennial year. Besides IFFI, there are another thousand screenings at different festivals and programmes. “I connected with Autum Sonata (1978) as it reminded me of my personal relationship with my own mother, but Wild Strawberries (1957) changed my perspective towards life, dreams and reality,” she says.
As an editor at the Swedish Film Institute, and former director of Sweden’s Goteborg Film Festival which focussed on the Nordic film industry, Ahlund is keen on exploring and learning more about the role of women in film industries worldwide. “In the wake of the current whistle-blowing on sexual harassment at workplace, we have been educating stakeholders in our environs to speak up. Gender bias is huge in the film industry – look at the varying pay scales,” she says.