Filmform Stockholm - Small but significant
text: Reinhard W. Wolf
In a crooked little street on Kungsholmen island in
Stockholm there is a row of one-story buildings with
shops where, tucked in next to an art gallery and a
design studio, one finds the headquarters of Filmform.
Behind a shop window right out of a 1940s American film
is a room used both as meeting place and office by the
oldest existing institution for experimental film in
Sweden. But whoever has heard about the names and legends
surrounding this organization and comes here expecting
to find an old, venerable institution of yesteryear,
will be pleasantly surprised. Filmform today is every
bit as vital as it was 50 years ago, and its work is
right in step with the times. These days, Filmform acts
as a lively agency for contemporary experimental film
and video art, not only by maintaining a valuable archive,
but also by playing a major role in spreading the word
about up-to-the-minute media art.
Filmform was founded in 1950 under the name Svensk Experimentfilmstudio
(SEFS). The aim of the SEFS was to support experimental
film, which was receiving neither public funding nor
much exposure in Sweden at that time – in contrast
with the lively film scene in neighbouring Denmark.
The composition of the founding group and their circle
of friends and supporters was already characterized
back then by a special feature that is still in evidence
today: the group included not only filmmakers, but also
authors and artists from all sectors of the art world.
Even the filmmakers among them - including Öyvind
Fahlström, Carl Gyllenberg, Hans Nordenström
and Arne Lindgren – usually had other jobs, often
outside the art world, or regarded making films as just
one of many possible artistic fields of endeavour. This
also goes for the most prominent German member of the
group, Peter Weiss. Weiss became a member in 1952 and
made his short films "Studie I - V" against
the backdrop of the SEFS, or the Arbetsgruppen för
film (AFF), as the organization was known from 1954.
Besides well-known artists such as Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd,
and writers or poets such as Rut Hillarp, critics and
curators have also joined the group through the years.
The most renowned curator and perhaps the pivotal figure
in Filmform's development was Pontus Hultén.
As the first director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm
(1958-1972), he was instrumental in shaping this museum
for contemporary art. We have Hultén to thank
for the fact that film, or more precisely the moving
image, was an unquestioned component of the museum's
program from the very start. This focus was already
evident in the museum's opening exhibition, which included
a retrospective of the work of Viking Eggeling. Just
a few years later, the museum showed films by Warhol,
Mekas, Brakhage and others for the first time in Sweden,
in co-operation with the precursor of Filmform ("The
New American Cinema", 1963). The Moderna Museet
(MM) hence closed a gap in Sweden by setting a precedent
for the screening of experimental film. Since then the
museum cinema has often showcased international experimental
films and video art, frequently in conjunction with
Filmform. Today, next to the Filmform archive, the MM
boasts the most important archive for film and media
art in Sweden.
Probably the most comprehensive retrospective to evolve
out of the collaboration between the Moderna Museet
and Filmform was the 1980 exhibition, "The Pleasure
Dome - Amerikansk Experimentfilm 1939 - 1979".
This show, put on in co-operation with Jonas Mekas and
the Anthology Archive New York, was curated by Claes
Söderquist, the most longstanding and the 'longest
serving' active member of Filmform.
The close collaboration with museums, galleries and
other cultural institutions initiated back in the 1950s
forms a continuous thread throughout Filmform's history.
The board of the organization today bears eloquent testimony
to this intermeshing of art and film. In addition to
chairman Claes Söderquist (filmmaker, lecturer,
curator), members of the board include: Richard Julin
(curator at Magasin 3, Stockholm Konsthall), Åsa
Lipka Falck (artist), Bo Madestrand (art critic), Monica
Nieckels (president of the Swedish Association for the
Arts and former curator at the Moderna Museet, among
other posts), Henrik Orrje (film scholar), Gunnel Pettersson
(artist, vice-principal Konstfack University of Art
Crafts and Design) and, last but not least, Rita Stetter
(Goethe Institute Stockholm).
After a quiet interim period during which the organization
operated more behind the scenes than in the public eye,
Filmform today is once again playing a significant role
in Swedish cultural life, working together closely with
other institutions. In its own inconspicuous way, Filmform
always has a hand in things whenever experimental films
or art videos from Sweden are shown at home or abroad,
or when international programs come to Sweden. Since
Filmform is a very small organization with correspondingly
limited resources at its disposal, events, retrospectives,
exhibitions and symposia are always held in co-operation
with other institutions (among Filmform's most important
partners in Stockholm are, in addition to the aforementioned
Moderna Museet, the Festival Fylkingen, the Magasin
3 - Stockholm Konsthall, the media laboratory Creative
Room for Art and Computing CRAC, IASPIS as well as art
academies and galleries).
But Filmform's modest office on Kungsholmen nevertheless
constitutes an important intersection between the worlds
of film and art. With only two permanent staff members
- Anna-Karin Larsson (producer, performance artist)
and Marianne Zamecznik (curator, gallery owner) –
the office oversees the archive, the distribution service
and of late also the production of films and video art.
The archive is made up of a new and an older collection.
The older stock includes films from 1924 to 1988, including
many Swedish experimental film treasures (mostly unique
prints), classics such as Eggeling's "Diagonal
Symphony", or the works of film pioneer Gösta
Werner, but also of course the film oeuvre of Peter
Weiss. Also part of the archive are documents recording
the history of experimental film, which to a large extent
has not yet been researched in depth or published. The
continually growing new collection consists of works
by contemporary Swedish artists. Since Filmform has
had an open attitude to other media and art forms from
the very beginning, the archived works include not only
films, but also videos and works on digital media such
as DV and DVD – not to mention multi-channel works
and installations. Filmform is currently at work entering
the collections in its archive into a database, soon
While the archive is available only as a reference resource
for on-site research, Filmform also distributes over
100 titles. Its major "customers" are galleries,
museums, universities and film festivals both in Sweden
and abroad. All titles are available on VHS tape, but
other formats can be arranged on request. The distribution
list features in particular works by contemporary artists.
Within the scope of its distribution and programming
activities, Filmform has been able to present the work
of over one hundred Swedish filmmakers both on their
home ground and abroad during the past three years alone.
Incidentally, Filmform's office is open to anyone
who would like to obtain information or ask for program
Since 1995 Filmform has been awarding each year the
only grant specifically for Swedish artists working
with moving images. Past award-winners were Antonie
Frank, Gunvor Nelson, Olle Hedman, Magnus Wallin, Ann-Sofi
Sidén and Petra Lindholm.
A new project entitled "Sex vågade livet
(The Magnificent Six)" – Filmform's first
commissioned production of short films has just been
wrapped up. In addition to being released on a DVD of
the same name (see >News), the six short films produced
by Filmform also appear at the cinema – thanks
to a co-operation with Folkets Bio (an association of
Swedish cinemas, similar to the Kommunale Kinos in Germany).
In 2003 Filmform also set up an event series called
"Nybakat" (freshly baked), which regularly
introduces new video works by emerging artists (Nybakat
3 until mid-January 2004: "Black Beauty" by
Out of the shadows...
«With more than 50 years' experience behind [us]»,
an anniversary essay stated, «it's now high time
for Filmform to stand up tall, walk out of the shadows,
and take its rightful place, maybe even show off a little».
The organization has been remarkably successful at doing
just that during the last three years since its anniversary
in 2000. One of the secrets of its success is surely
that Filmform has managed to remain "young"
and to respond spontaneously to what's new, without
however forgetting the "old" experiences it
has made in the past. It's precisely this wealth of
experience that proves to be a decisive advantage when
competing with all that's temporarily hip and hype,
giving Filmform an unbeatable edge.
Further boosting Filmform's momentum today, according
to Bo Madestrand, is the current state of flux in the
film scene and the art world's renewed interest in moving
images: «This is an exciting moment for film as
an art and for art films, and no one is better suited
to distribute, exhibit and analyze these artistic achievements
(Written by Reinhard W. Wolf for "Kurzfilmmagazin",
hosted by the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen,