Till startsida

The History of The School of Film Directing 1997-2012


In the corridors of what was formerly the maternity hospital in Gothenburg, an old stately building situated near Linnéplatsen in Gothenburg, a seed that was to germinate and become the School of Film Directing was planted. This all started in September 1995 – by sheer chance.

Now it is time for us to write down the history of the School of Film Directing. On the 1st of July the Valand Academy will be formed, and will be made up of the following former schools and departments: the School of Film Directing, the School of Photography, the Valand School of Fine Arts, and the Department of Literary Composition, Poetry and Prose. This merger will of course provide impetus for a new history.
Back then – in 1995 – three people who had never met each other before met for the first time; these were: Göran du Rées, producer and filmmaker, Tommy Spannheden, carpenter and musician, and myself, journalist and project leader. Together we led a two-year vocational film programme with nine students, half of whom were film editors and half of whom were cameramen. This programme was part of what was then the School of Photography at the University of Gothenburg.
Two years later the first students were admitted to a new three-year Film Programme. Göran du Rées became the programme’s Artistic Director, Tommy Spannheden, Technician, and I became Director of Studies. Fifteen years later 10 batches of students have taken exams and approximately 60 filmmakers have graduated from the School of Film Directing

In 1997 the School of Photography changed its name to the School of Photography and Film. Seven years later in 2004, Film and Photography formed separate schools; the School of Film Directing moved to new premises in Viktoriagatan in Gothenburg and the School of Photography to Storgatan.

To be part of building up a completely new and modern film school at a time when digital technology developed, and influenced, the entire filmmaking world has been quite amazing. Being able to follow students through their studies, and then as they branch out into the film industry has been a great privilege.

We hope you enjoy reading about our history, and the thoughts and ideas that have formed the foundation for the programmes we have offered during the last fifteen years!

Gunilla Burstedt
Director of Studies 1995-2006 and Head of School 2006-2012


by Göran du Rées
Professor and Subject Leader

We live in a time where film is produced as a pure commodity – film that makes us passive, that darkens our thoughts and senses, film that creates false conceptions of life, human nature and the world around us. The greed of the international media industry and its hunt for large audiences subject us to the threat of total conformism. We are forced to see the same things, on the same occasions, in all countries, at the same time.

Yet, alongside all these aspects is – the threatened one – THE FILM, which is not only entertainment, recreation, self-reflection or shadows. It is the THE FILM that lays claim to having something special to tell us that speaks to us in an unexpected and indescribable way. Suddenly everything becomes present and we are filled with a feeling of being part of something important, and the day and age we live in, with its different existential questions, become visible. It is the distinctive sense of individuality and the personal voice in these FILMS that appeal to us.
The personal form of address is first and foremost about THE GAZE, the open-ended meeting and dialogue that occurs when a filmmaker meets the world, and does so with his or her entire body and senses. It is in this very dialogue, where nothing escapes the filmmaker’s attention that THE IDEAS come into being. By way of will and pleasure to observe humankind and life the filmmaker finds his IMAGES. It is in this courage to dare to meet the world in an open dialogue that a personal form of address originates and in this being able to perceive life that a FILM is created.

Since 1997, when the School of Film Directing started, more than 60 filmmakers have completed bachelor degrees, and all of these are, for the most part, active within the film industry today. 15 of them have made their first feature films and many more have made lasting impressions in the Swedish film world and also attracted international attention.

When Gabriela Pichler drew a lot of attention for the prize she was awarded in Venice for her first film Äta Sova Dö, (Eat Sleep Die), Emma Engström wrote the following in the Gothenburg newspaper Göteborgs-Posten: Now it’s time to start talking about a Gothenburg Scene in the field of film, too, a scene that is characterised by social engagement, courage and new ideas as to what film is. Here she meant that the prize Gabriela was awarded was also an honour and distinction for the School of Film Directing.

Our visions and the work we pursue are really acknowledged here, and our members of staff, our students and our alumni all feel a sense of pride and participation, I’m sure. To celebrate the 15th birthday of the School of Film Directing (1997-2012), Jonas Eskilsson writes the following in the foreword to the online anthology www.filmblickar.se that was produced for this occasion: The School of Film Directing is nothing. It is only a place, editing rooms, classrooms, a studio, a cinema. It’s just things. Cameras. Editing Computers. Light. A school is nothing without the people there, without its visions and ideas. The Day and Age – the People there – the Visions – the Ideas, how might all of these be described in more detail?

Turning our Gaze towards the World

The School of Film Directing’s ideology is rooted and modelled on modern European film, which evolved during the 1950’s and 1960’s – from Italian Neo-Realism to the New Wave in France, England, Germany and the US. It is no coincidence that Roy Andersson, Agnès Varda, and one of the most prominent Swedish film critics, Monika Tunbäck-Hanson, all of whom were awarded honorary doctorates by our school, have strong connections to this tradition. The most prominent representatives for modernism in Sweden, and important role models for ‘good practice’, are Bo Widerberg and Mai Zetterling, and with their innovative and sensuous films that are highly-topical and where curiosity breaks ground against the Real, they still continue to inspire us.

Our school’s visions, ideology and commitment also arise out of my own practice as a filmmaker. The 1960’s was a time of collective creative processes and the desire to experiment. Our gaze was turned towards the world; new production possibilities were implemented, and rapid technological development took place – with easier equipment, kinds of films that were sensitive to light, zoom objectives, and synchronous sound recording – all of which enabled new form and content. Today we can see that the technical development that took place in the 1960’s formed the basis of what we call the paradigm shift, that is, the change that radically transformed the conditions for making and showing film.

A Renewal of Filmic Expression

The School of Film Directing’s mission and direction is closely connected to this development. As early as 1995, digital development progressed at an astounding pace – with the Internet, the emailing system and broadband. And as far as cameras were concerned the first Digital Video cameras revolutionised the recording of documentary films and feature films.

There were but a few of us who saw how this new technology would be able to create a freer and more creative way of making film, renew filmic expression, and find new solutions for recording, editing, distributing and showing films. And in a completely new way enable students to establish themselves as independent filmmakers. In our first tentative sketches of what were to become programme syllabuses, we wrote the following: Our educational goals are to break student’s conceptions of their roles in a traditional film hierarchy, and, instead, make them into independent, courageous and personal filmmakers who want to work across genre boundaries, whilst taking full responsibility for both the practical and financial work the film process entails. Here, what was one of our most central questions then arose: What does film as a concept in itself actually embrace? Is it only reserved for film formats and styles that are to be mainly shown at cinemas, with roots in the 1920’s and 1930’s, or should the concept of film now also embrace forms and formats that have been developed by digital technology, television and the Internet? Brands such as Avid and Final Cut replaced editing devices, and the DVD became a completely new format for the distribution of film. There was a clash between old thinking and new thinking, old techniques and new techniques, and very lively discussions between students and professional filmmakers took place. We realised that we needed new concepts to describe ‘the film of the new Real’. Our goal was to become a modern Film Programme with one foot in Film History and the other in the Present with our gaze towards the Future.

A Filmmaker is to master her or his tools just like the Samurai masters his

It took two years of intensive work to convince politicians at regional and national level, the Swedish film industry and the University of Gothenburg that a new film programme should be established in Sweden. We felt that the large investment our region – the Västra Götaland Region, had made to build up ‘Film i Väst’, the first Film Foundation in the west of Sweden, as well as the Gothenburg Film Festival, which was already the biggest film festival in the Nordic countries, together with the efforts made by the Swedish Broadcasting Company, Sveriges Television, had made with regard to drama and documentary films, would need to be ‘crowned’ with an arts school for film at university level.

During the autumn of 1997 the School of Film Directing, then the School of Photography and Film, was launched, and there are many people who have been involved in establishing our school. Those who were to play a vital role were Jan Ling, who was then the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, and the film critic Monika Tunbäck-Hanson. They were very important figures when the University made its decision to invest strategic funding in our programme. This is when I, rather proud, declared in a provoking way: We will not educate soldiers for a media army, but, like independent samurai who can both think and master their swords, we will educate filmmakers who will also master their tools. The French film tradition’s Auteur theory, where filmmakers are authors of their own works, was also , and still is, a role model for our school and its students. This resulted in the first five students that were awarded degrees in 2000 being given a samurai sword each – as a symbolic gesture to pass on.

The personal narrative

Central to studies at the School of Film Directing has been and still is: seeing and listening, independent filmmaking, the craft, technique, theory and history. Basic research formed the basis for studies at the school, where the expression of image and sound was examined, discussed, and practised in different exercises and larger projects – and always in relation to an individual’s personal aim and direction, as well as in relation to the historical and societal role of the field of film.

At the beginning of term, each student was given a DV camera that he or she could have use of for his or her three years of study. This meant that all of our students were able to alternate between filming and editing, collect fragments and conduct research, all at the same time. The new technology enabled students to adopt the working methods of composers and authors. Very personal films that had attracted much public attention including: Laura och Dr Zivago by Titti Johnson and Ingeborg & Jeanette by Jeanette Frank, 1998/99, could maybe never have been made at this time without the new digital technology. In her degree project at Malmö University: Med Jaget i fokus (translation: With the I in Focus), 2003, Malin Hellstrand brought attention to these two filmmakers and their films, claiming: It’s amazing how quickly a style can become established, and if this takes place at a rapid speed in the world of education then it should not take long before we see the self-examining documentary as a genre of its own. Today this genre is well established and the methods involved in making films of this kind have been developed and refined since then.

Artistic courage and stubbornness

The cross-boundary collaborative projects we took part in together with the Composition Programme at the Academy of Music and Drama and the newly started Writing Programme at the Department of Literary Composition, Poetry and Prose were to become an important part in the establishing of the School of Film Directing; these efforts also led to the experimental project: Diagonalsymfonin (translation: Diagonal Symphony) and the collaborative project Från prosa till film (From Prose to Film).

The largest collaborative project we took part in was with the Acting Programme at the Academy of Music and Drama – the goal of which was, and still is: to teach artistic courage and wilfulness, to study the craft of acting and the craft of filmmaking, and for actors and filmmakers to train and practice these crafts in concrete exercises. Using digital cameras that were easy to use, filmmakers and actors could, together, quickly study and evaluate their projects, find a common language, and, in front of the camera, express themselves with regard to acting. These collaborations enabled the development of new pedagogical methods and created the conditions necessary for further interesting collaborations that were, to a great extent, of great importance for our students’ working methods and films.

Today these collaborations are a natural part of our programmes and include common, cross-department parts of courses that take place during a period of 20 weeks, spread out over the three years students study here. External collaborations were, and still are, important. At the Gothenburg International Film Festival our school has taken the initiative to organise and take part in a number of seminars on important issues related to film, not least the free-standing course in 2010 on Swedish Film Politics and the Financing System. This was a course that attracted approximately 100 people from the whole of Sweden to the School of Film Directing. Our collaborations with ‘Film i Väst’ and the Film Workers’ Programme in Trollhättan has also of great importance for student practice, particularly when they have had to produce film projects for their degrees.

Centering on seeing, listening, and curiosity

In his controversial pamphlet: “Visionen i svensk filmen” (translation: The Vision of Swedish Film) from 1962, Bo Widerberg wrote: Art in film must be disguised as curiosity, and as pleasure, in order to bring our Swedish reality, and new sides of it, to light – to daylight, so that film finds its way to its own subjects. These words have been our guiding principle in many ways; however, students’ expectations and demands – to learn how one makes films – and their own ideas of how films are made, have not always been easy to fulfil.

Instead of the concept of education, which is directly connected to vocational programmes and “employability”, we have emphasised the fact that we study and educate ourselves, in the sense of improving our minds. And this is more a matter of a student’s personal development and his or her critical attitude to the surrounding world and to the field of film. From having been a traditional crafts programme, studies now focus on making each student aware of his or her role as an independent filmmaker. We cannot teach you to make film, but we can create the pleasure and curiosity to teach you to SEE, to see like a camera – to hear like a microphone!

Key concepts for us are knowledge formation and creative production. In what we call “film critiques” we learn in more depth the skills we need in order to analyse and put what we do in our film projects into words. Our point of departure is that a student reflects and makes a great deal of choices, and very often intuitive choices, which is especially important that they become conscious of. As important is the knowledge of the complex relationship between ‘the parts’ and ‘the whole’ in filmic works. Students must also have the ability to constantly test new fundamental solutions, be aware of form, size, resources and screening possibilities, as well as being aware of content, intention and why they are making the film.

A student is the hub and core of his or her own processes and creates his/her own team with people outside the school. Here we also tried for the first time to unite artistic activities with entrepreneurship where collaboration developed into important networks for the future. The concept artistic production also became a better description of an artistic process, and was not as ‘loaded’ as the myth of an artist as a creative genius. 

New images, new screening possibilites

In 1999 Bo-Erik Gyberg, who is now Rector at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts, took up his post as Head of School and completed the work that was needed in making our school permanent. With the support of the University of Gothenburg’s strategic investments and a positive evaluation from the film industry and the Swedish world of film, the Ministry of Education allocated 20 places to the University of Gothenburg for media studies. This meant that the School of Film Directing obtained the same status and financial funding for each student as the University College of Film, Radio, Television and Theatre - Dramatiska Institutet. The future of our film programme was secured and work continued to develop the content of this programme.

Digital technology not only changed the traditional production process but also professional roles. New digital tools for editing images and sound as well as more advanced cameras were also introduced. We were the first film school in Europe to use new digital technology in our teaching. At the beginning of the 21st century it was possible to make larger and longer films for degree projects without heavy traditional film techniques and big film teams. Students focused on conquering public spaces where their films could be shown; however, their films were excluded from film festivals arranged by other schools around the world, who claimed that these films were too long to be regarded as short films and that our students didn’t have traditional 35mm copies of their films.

Our admissions board also observed a development that more and more of those who applied already mastered digital techniques. Students now made longer films about their lives, their own problems, family issues, identity crises, and about breaking up from friends and from their childhood environment. Being chairman of our admissions board during these years was like getting new and complex pictures of ‘the state of our nation’. This development could, in many ways, be compared to what had happened in the music industry 20-30 years earlier. Making film was no longer an activity reserved for a certain class, ethnic group or a certain sex.

As a consequence of significantly lower costs with regard to equipment, material and new screening possibilities, film suddenly became a part of life and a way for young people to communicate. At the same time, the Swedish and the international film industry experienced an extreme paradigm shift where the cinema lost its unique position and was monopolised to a great extent. New kinds of media gave the film screen a lot of competition, such as more television channels and film channels, VOD (Video On Demand), Pirate Bay, YouTube, Facebook, and not least iTunes Store, which was launched in 2004, and which was an epoch shift for the entire entertainment industry and for digital publication. These rapid changes led to new up-to-date analyses of contemporary society. We were no longer sure of what reality the students who graduated from our school would have to face after three years of studies.

The new needs of filmmakers

In 2006 Gunilla Burstedt became Head of the School of Film Directing, which gave us a sense of security in that this would also guarantee the continued development of the school. She had been involved from the start and was familiar with the culture at the school, and with its strengths as well as its weaknesses.

During Gunilla’s time, the School of Film Directing became an independent institution. Our first master’s students were admitted and procedures for admissions to our bachelor’s programme were changed so that we admitted new students every other year. Intensive work was begun to develop research strategies and free-standing courses that could meet up to the new needs of filmmakers; this work included developing the course we called Trampolinkursen, the Trampoline Course, which was a half-year course that provided newly graduated students with the possibilities to plan and prepare for establishing themselves in the Swedish world of film.

During the same period of time the first mobile camera, a two-megapixel camera with auto-focus, also came onto the market. When Patrik Eriksson, former student at the school, broke down after his girlfriend had left him, his co-workers and former students Ruben Östlund and Erik Hemmendorf began to film their conversations using their mobile phones. The result of this was the first Swedish mobile feature film: En enastående studie i mänsklig förnedring (translation: An Extraordinary Study in Human Degradation). The film had its premiere, in traditional 35mm format, at the Gothenburg International Film Festival in 2008, and one more time, new technology was not only significant for independent filmmaking but also pointed to what was to come.

New programmes in a world rapidly changed

During 2008 we also started our work to develop several one-year master’s programmes in order to meet the more and more rapid changes that were taking place within the field of film. These important courses included the Producers’ Programme, with a specialisation in International Financing, where students were provided with more in-depth knowledge of co-production and network-building. Together with the Valand School of Fine Arts we established the first one-year master’s programme with a specialisation in Curating for Film and Video.

This was the first programme in the world to focus on the role of the curator to create new screening possibilities for film and video. We were now of the opinion that the time was right for a programme that would appeal to people who wanted to develop new types of screening, as well as exhibitions, where video and film could be presented and seen in public space. This course also led to a stimulating, and very significant, collaboration with Professor Francis Gooding from the London Film School, who shortly after we had launched our curator programme launched a similar programme in London. Two more one-year master’s programmes have been developed during the past year; these are: Film Processes, where a student’s own artistic activities are studied in more depth – on the basis of questions regarding approach and attitude, one’s ethical stand, aesthetics, method, structure and the creative process of filmmaking, and Public Space and Entrepreneurship, where one goes into more depth with regard to one’s artistic activities and practice, and where different possibilities are identified, and resources created, in order to carry out one’s own ideas in public film environments.

During this period of time we also launched our first international collaboration with the School of Cinema and Dramatic Arts in Bangalore, which was supported by the region (Västra Götaland Region) and the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts at the University of Gothenburg.

Research in Film

Today the School of Film Directing is a complete environment with programmes at undergraduate (first-cycle) and master’s (second-cycle) level. Since 2010 there have also been two doctoral students following the Doctoral Artistic Research Programme with a specialisation in Independent Filmmaking.

The EU summit in Gothenburg in 2001 formed the origin for the school’s first research project, which engaged a number of the school’s students. This event, which that took place in Vasaplatsen, in the centre of Gothenburg, and which attracted a great deal of attention, culminated in a confrontation between policemen and demonstrators that ended in chaos and havoc. Three people suffered from gunshot injuries, one of them seriously. Never before in the history of the Swedish legal system had one event been filmed by so many cameras, by the media, policemen, private persons and other alternative news reporters from all over the world. When the autumn term began intensive discussions took place at our school on the subject of our students’ experiences to depict events as credibly as possible in relation to their film observations. The School of Film Directing arranged a public seminar, to which we invited filmmakers, journalists, producers, researchers, the police and public prosecutors. In the debate that took place prosecutors and the police had a surprisingly low awareness of the media of film, which shocked those taking part and resulted in a number of articles giving rise to further debates.

The prosecutor’s ‘film of evidence’ against Hannes Westberg was to become the one that was discussed most and gave rise to a number of vehement debates in the media. The television programme Uppdrag Granskning (translation: Mission Investigation) produced by the Swedish Broadcasting Company SVT contacted me as an expert in the field and it was then that I saw the prosecutor’s evidence for the first time. This led to me writing The Gun Shots at Vasaplatsen – Six Principles of the IMAGE in the Digital Millenium, the research results of which became a rather long essay film that was important for the Swedish legal system. Other research projects have also developed since then. In 2009, Professor and Film Producer Kalle Boman and I were granted funding from the Swedish Research Council for the project: Blicken på Kopparmärra - En undersökning av praktiska begrepp i filmskapandet (translation: An Eye on Kopparmärra – An Investigation of Practical Concepts in Filmmaking (Kopparmära being a statue and meeting place in the centre of Gothenburg). Here we conducted an in-depth study of issues that are present in the changes that have taken place within the field of film during the last 30 years.

This project inspired Linda Sternö, who is one of our teachers, to start to develop the School of Film Directing’s Children’s Film School in a research project of her own called The Gaze of the Child. This project was granted Faculty funding as a pedagogical development project in order to explore and develop teaching and learning in the arts within independent filmmaking, and, in turn, to formulate her findings. Faculty funding for artistic development projects has also provided a number of our teachers with the opportunity to begin to pursue research. In autumn 2012 the Swedish Research Council informed us that Anna Linders’ and Ingrid Ryberg’s research project on Queer Feminism in Filmmaking had been granted research funding for a three-year period.

Unfortunately there is both a lack of interest and a certain amount of suspicion in the world of film for the academisation of higher film programmes as there is for artistic research, in spite of there having been research pursued within the field of film since the beginnings of film – from technical, financial, scholarly and artistic perspectives. The 120 years of the history of film have generated new knowledge – where a film language and new forms of production have developed as a result. Research is necessary in order for us to create new knowledge, develop our subject, and discuss significant and permeating issues, not only for our education vision and our research vision, but also for the world of culture and the world around us.

Artistic quality and gender

Equality and diversity issues have been an important part of the school’s image and the school’s aim to create student awareness. This is first and foremost a question of enabling democratisation. Both teachers and students have taken an active part in the network founded for women called “Wift” (Women in Film and Television), and have also been involved in launching the “Doris Manifesto”. A number of them have also been and still are engaged in OFF - Oberoende Filmares Förbund (translation: the Association of Independent Filmmakers) in order to influence the film environment they work in, or are to become a part of. Digital technology has also been significant in terms of equality. The majority of applicants to our school today master digital tools, more or less, regardless of sex. Strange is the irony of fate when we were reported to JÄMO – Jämställdhetsombudsmannen, the Equality Ombudsman at the Government Agency for Equality by a man who was not admitted to the free-standing course Att skriva för långfilm (translation: Writing for Feature Films).

In his summons he claimed this was a case of corruption and abuse of power. The School of film Directing and the University of Gothenburg were freed from this accusation on the same grounds as the Board of Admissions had had, that is, that his application was inadequate and did not fulfil the qualitative requirements for this course. This event gave rise to discussions, and demonstrated the complicated issues that can face us with regard to artistic quality and gender in the public space of film, and that these are issues that are ever-present in our work and that should be studied in depth both within and outside our institutions.

Opening doors into the future

In many ways it is always technology that comes before ethics and aesthetics within the field of the arts. Our relation to digital technology and our critical stand with regard to rapid changes within the field of film have been essential for our success. The School of Film Directing is a stimulating and creative meeting-place, and there are a number of different reasons for this being so. Our school being of a ‘small scale’ as well as being independent has enabled us to quickly put things right and also to develop the content of our school’s policy. Digital technology is also implemented in an efficient way in the teaching that takes place. Based on our practice as filmmakers our educational organisation is more like the reality of film production than a traditional educational environment.

We do not make any differences between teachers, technicians and administrators, but see them all as just as important parts of all of the school’s activities, and what is taught, learnt and the knowledge in general that is produced here. The ever-present dialogue between co-workers and students, not only in planned meetings but in daily conversations in the corridors, has created a secure and open atmosphere that fosters courage.

We have developed our admissions processes and selection methods with great care, and these have been of vital importance. Since our school started in 1997, approximately 1,600 people have applied to courses; 68% of these have been men and 32% women. We have needed to have a sharp eye in order to be able to ‘read’ the different applicants, and a common vision and clearly-defined admissions criteria have formed the basis for finally being able to find the 60 or so prospective talents that have been admitted to our bachelor’s programme – of whom half were men and half were women.

We regard the admissions process as important as examinations. Our basic approach has been to take responsibility for and have trust in the personal development of these prospective talents during their entire period of study. During the years, we have also been as thorough and careful when we have recruited new members of staff, where a number of them have taken an active interest in students and their activities even after they have completed their studies. This aware and generous approach has enabled a sense of collegiality that must be regarded as unique and as having contributed to the successes of our students in the public environment of film. And no doors have been shut!

A new age, new challenges

From 1st July 2012 the School of Film Directing ceased to exist as a department and has now become a Unit within the Valand Academy – a new department with a long tradition of Film, Photography, Fine Art and Literary Composition. These are four strong subjects that have the possibility to develop together, at the same time as we aim to maintain the distinctive character, culture, tradition and integrity of each discipline. It is said that higher arts programmes, arts schools and arts constellations are at their most creative and innovative during a period of 10-15 years. Then they need to be further developed as well as being re-conquered by new people and new ideas. And that is where we are now. We have great work before us – including building up a research environment for film, further developing the area of internationalisation and our admission processes as well as developing the subject of Film and Independent Filmmaking taught at our Unit – the latter to be carried out by our students together with engaged teachers, technicians and administrators

We don’t know what the future will bring. We didn’t know what the future would bring 15 years ago either. However, I do feel proud of what we have developed together and have confidence and trust in what the future and its new challenges have in store!

Gothenburg, autumn 2012

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