Filmform is a foundation dedicated to the promotion, distribution and preservation of Swedish art film and experimental video

Essays on Filmform

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.

Looking back
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.

Filmform today
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 available online...

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 recommendations.

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 Camilla Bergqvist).

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 than Filmform».

(Written by Reinhard W. Wolf for "Kurzfilmmagazin", hosted by the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen,