Best Swedish Feature Documentary

Boden Film Festival didn’t have any public screenings because of the corona virus. Only the judges watched the films and mine was one of the winners. It would have been nice of course to actually attend the screening and meet the audience and other filmmakers, specially when I won an award, which doesn’t happen that often*, and because this was in my hood, but this year things work a little differently, if at all.

*This was third time I won an award. Three different films, three different festivals.

I was interviewed for the local, big morning paper, NSD, and when I was asked to provide a web address, I directed them to my Swedish film site Slowlife Film. A site I hadn’t looked at for a couple of years so I needed quickly to make a new post about the film and I thought it was a good idea to update WordPress and all the plugins at the same time and, lo and behold, the whole site turned into one line of error code…
After I managed to fix that, soon a new problem arrived. The video players didn’t work anymore! That turned out to be a glitch on YouTube’s part not accepting external players. Maybe. But at least now it works again. For a while I was afraid I would need to do something with the API. And what’s that, you might wonder, and so did I!
And haven’t logged in for a couple of years I found some spam messages that needs to be deleted. 40 000…
I disabled the comments.

For the last weeks my Youtube statistics have gone up a lot and I don’t know from where much of the traffic is coming from. “Direct” or “unknown” isn’t very helpful. But hey, it’s okay, just keep it coming! And not only that the number of views are increasing. The time each person is spending watching the the video is increasing even faster! A similar thing happened when I was in Japan this winter and it lasted for a month. That time all the viewers came from Japan, this time it’s from America. In Japan it was mostly YouTube suggestions but now I have no clue.

Edit: all the new traffic is coming from YouTube suggestions. Before YouTube knows how to categorize the traffic correctly, it brands everything as “direct” or “unknown” it seems. I would have guessed that all the referrals come from videos that has something to do with Japan but the best performing video sending traffic my way is about brain health.

Other people too are making great documentaries and here is one I would like to recommend. The real Castaway at Top Documentary Films.

Cave report in corona times

While the rest of the world has turned corona crazy, my everyday life goes on pretty much as before. I don’t go anywhere, I don’t meet anybody, just sitting in front of the computer and working by myself, and my economic situation is as bad as always.
The only real effects have been that I postponed the cinema premiere of ‘Voices from Finnmark’ and a film festival that I was going to attend (with the same film) decided not to have any public screenings.

A couple of weeks ago I talked with somebody who really liked what I had done, and my ideas about film making, and he strongly suggested that I should post an introduction video on my Toutube channel, make a Patreon page and start vlogging. It would make me tons of money!

Okay, I thought, maybe it was about time to put some effort into the community side of things.
So, I made an introduction video, which have got almost 100 views in the past two weeks, and surprisingly enough, 4 likes! I also made a Patreon page but so far no backers. There is a great opportunity here for someone to be a real pioneer!

I found the ‘community’ tab on my Youtube channel and put some posts up there too but I’m not sure if anybody has seen them yet.
I realized that I hadn’t posted anything on this blog for two years and wrote two long pieces about 2018 and 2019. This blog has been more or less a secret until now because I never advertised it, except for the links from my movie pages, but now I told everybody about it on Facebook. I got a couple of views the first two days but that has since dropped to nothing. I posted a link on a film makers forum where I’ve been a member for years and so far that post has got close to 200 views but as far as I can tell only one person bothered to follow the link.

You could easily work full time with your social media and still get very little for it and this is how it seems to work for bigger names too.

I shot a music devotional in a town nearby which was posted by the church on Facebook because the ordinary sermon was cancelled due to the coronavirus. I might actually get a little money for this and they have also asked me to make a bid for lessons to teach them how to shoot and edit.

A long list of rejections from film festivals at Film Freeway but this is exactly how it looks like for most of us, I think. This might actually be a good turnout considering that I’m far from being famous and the documentary is 2,5 hours long. I got accepted to two of them and there is still a few left at the bottom, and I showed it at two festivals that weren’t accessible through Film Freeway. Like everybody writes: it’s hard to get accepted unless you are well known, the film has a very strong connection to the festival, or you have a connection with the organizers.
Still, it is frustrating to spend a lot money and time on submission fees and to wade through thousands of festivals to find the ones that seems to be a perfect match, only to get rejected.
But that’s how it is.

Thoughts at the beginning of a new year.

In September I flew to Japan to help Peter MacIntosh with his documentary about the Geisha world. We shot mainly in Kyoto but also in other cities. geishor

FOTO: Jonathan Kung

It’s a joint effort of three; Peter, me, and Jonathan Kung. I usually work alone and do everything by myself, so this was a completely new experience to me, and I can’t say I’m completely comfortable and happy working this way.
My work was to shoot, and starting soon, to edit. We used a Sony FS5 and everything was shot in 4K. The 4K codec is 8 bit 4:2:0, and the HD 10 bit 4:2:2. I would have been happy to record in HD but it was decided that we should do it in 4K. It generates huge, heavy files, and I will need to work with proxy files. And I need a lot of hard disc space too, to convert the MXF-files to Prores 422 HQ. A lot! Of course there is some benefits having 4K files when editing, but I’m not sure it’s worth all the extra cost and time. Anyway, the camera was very comfortable to shoot with. I loved the handle and all the buttons, and the image looked a lot better than I’m used to with my camera.
I always upload all my documentaries to Youtube but I suspect Peter and Jonathan has other plans for this one. I don’t know yet how and where it can be watched, but it should be ready sometime this spring.

fjord_med_bilIn October I drove (again!) around Finnmark in northern Norway and got some additional shots to my coming documentary about the area, and got a couple of more interviews too. As usually, this is a project without any external funding, so I saved money by sleeping in the car and eating very basic and simple food. The locals called October the blue season and I can see why. Northern lights almost every night too!
I’m hoping to be ready with this documentary sometime this year. It’s a road movie where I drive around Finnmark and stop at places that catch my attention and interview people along the way. I didn’t know very much about the area before I went there, and I choose not to do any research. I just went there hoping to find something interesting and improvised my way around. I would like to say that it worked very well, and I have high hopes for this documentary!
norrsken1    on_the_road


I have paid a professional researcher in Helsinki to investigate archives in Finland and Russia in order to find some information about my grandma’s life and whereabouts in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The war archives in Finland make their material available after 60 years, and in my case that means 2017, this year. This is going to be a documentary too, and as soon as I get some time, I will start reading and learning about that era. I have already some books waiting to be red, and I have a list of additional books to order. I had planned to go to Russia this summer or fall to start filming but now that seems too optimistic. The Russian archives haven’t been very cooperative and everything takes a long time.

This summer I have planned to go to Japan with the rest of the family and that should result in a travel documentary, but more about that later.

My camera has started to malfunction sometimes so I have felt forced to start looking for a new one. There’s a lot to choose from, and the big question is should I go 4K or not? Maybe it’s going to be the new standard in the future, but should I switch to it already? I can get a really good HD camera for a lot less than an equal 4K one, and the difference is probably hard to see if the end product is going to be HD, and I think HD is what most people are going to watch for many years to come. Going from SD to HD was a big jump, but HD to 4K doesn’t seem so dramatic. It’s a difficult decision and I’m feeling a bit irresolute about it, but today I think a Canon C-100 II would be perfect for me. Or maybe the new model that (maybe) comes this spring. The new model has maybe 4K too, but then of course it would be a lot more expensive. Or maybe I can get the C-300 II if I can get enough sponsors. I plan to launch an Indiegogo campaign soon for this purpose.

Film Festival in Khanty-Mansiysk

Festival_sign Program
I’m usually too lazy to submit my work to festivals, I hate all the paper work, but I have a Russian colleague living in the same city who has pushed me to submit to the same festivals that she’s going to attend. This time it was the “To Save and Preserve” ecological film festival in Khanty-Mansiysk in Russia. It is basically a festival for short, or 20-30 min films, so the films that I submitted were a bit too long. Fly Fishing in Swedish Lapland was 43 minutes and The Last Generation? 1,5 hours. The second film was obviously way too long, but as long as the organizers asked me to submit it anyway, I did.

Khanty-Mansiysk is the capital of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug in Siberia, a city with 95000 people. It is situated on a confluence where the rivers Irtysh and Ob meet. The surrounding area is very wet with rivers, lakes, deltas and marsh lands. Click here for a map of the area.
Khanty_Mansiysk Biathlon_stars
According to Wikipedia, a 280-meter skyscraper was planned to be built in the city, but today, nine years after the English architect Norman Foster got the job to build it, I couldn’t see any signs of it. Biathlon World Cup competitions are held there every year and there seems to be many biathlon stars coming from Khanty-Mansi judging from the posters outside the skiing stadium.

Hotel Irtysh

The Hotel was right by the skiing stadium and a short walking distance from the city. Khanty-Mansiysk is divided into two parts with a hill/park between. The hotel was in the middle, on the hill.
All the film festivals that I have visited so far have had several films playing at the same time in different locations and sometimes it has meant some tough decisions. In Khanty-Mansiysk you didn’t have that problem. There was only one thing happening at a time. One schedule to follow. A couple of films to see every day, some workshops and discussions, and two ours of activities/performances.

Planting_trees Locals

I tried some local specialities, like frozen raw fish and cranberry vodka.

Frozen_fish Cranberry_shot

One of the films was dropped from the schedule and I got a chance to show our film instead in that slot. The film was in Swedish with English subtitles, and live translated into Russian. Three languages at the same time was a bit hard.
On the final day, at the prize ceremony, I was surprised to see our film as one of the three nominated to win the category “ecological traveling”. And even more so when the winner was announced and I found myself on the stage with the first prize giving a speech to the audience and all the TV-channels. You can watch it here. Fast forward to 29:00.

Stage Screen
On_stage Prizes

I returned by train and it took 4 days to reach Helsinki. Khanty-Mansiysk doesn’t have a railway station so the trip started with a 3 hour buss drive to Putyak. The road wasn’t great. I was happy I didn’t party too hard, and too late the night before. I had bought tickets in the 3rd class, and it was okay, but the space on the top berth was a little too tight. It was impossible to sit and it was too short. I spent a lot of time sitting in the restaurant coach instead. It didn’t seem to be a very popular thing to do. Most of the time I was the only person sitting there.

Train Train2

All in all, it was a great experience. I was taken well care of by the organizers, got a chance to visit a place that I would probably never go to otherwise, and met some people that I might get in contact with later. And I won a first prize!

Tics Pizza_and_sushi
Putyak Putyak2

In Moscow I visited GUM. A huge department store right by the Red Square. Three arcades in three stories, mostly selling brand name clothes and shoes.


The Wheels are slowly Turning My Way

The Last Generation? won second diploma at Murmansk film festival in November, and in January I presented it at Stockholm Film Institute’s spring presentation. Shared the stage with Swedish celebrity actors and directors, I did. In March 6th it will be available for movie theaters and I have already got one booking! The local radio station interviewed me and Henrik (the main character) about the film. Henrik was interviewed over a phone while I was sitting in the studio.

Last autumn I started my own local TV-channel. Sort of. I created a FB-page called Gunnarsbyn TV, and every now and then I post a video clip. It has over 200 likes, which I translate into regular viewers, and I get between a couple hundred and couple thousand views every time I post something. It’s fun to make these short videos and get feed back the same day I shoot them. Very different compared to my usual work with my longer documentaries that sometimes take years to complete. And if I in the future succeed to get a big number of regular viewers, it will be a good place to display my documentaries too. This TV-station caught the interest of local media and I was interviewed by both the big local news paper, and the (national) local radio station!

The other day, when I was shooting episode 10 for Gunnarsbyn TV, it was around -25 c, and I handled the camera without gloves. I got frost bites on my fingers and I’m afraid some of my finger nails are going to fall off. If nothing worse.

A documentary film maker, making a film for the Swedish national television, liked what she’s seen of my work, and wanted to buy some of it. Maybe even have some sort of cooperation in the future.

I’m going to show two of my documentaries at the county exhibition center later in the spring, and I’ll be there to answer questions after the shows.

All in all, it’s not a bad start this year, and to all things above I can also add some paid company work.

What to do, what to do…

To get viewers and sales is a lot harder than actually making the films.

Today our local movie theater showed two of my films and it had been advertised with all the usual flyers, mentioned on the home page, I had printed and distributed 250 flyers in mail boxes two days before, and I shared it on FB a couple of hours before show time. Seven people came.

It is about average for our theater, but to be honest, I was expecting a little bit more. But on the other hand, some award winning films haven’t got even that many.
Two weeks from now it’s going to be shown at an other theater and I think it’s going to yield better results.

It’s going to take about a thousand years before my films have paid off. I’m an incurable optimist.

Successes and Failures

I love to share my films for free and all that, but sometimes I get a bit tired of this poor artist thing and try to come up with clever things to change the situation. I’m definitely not a businessman at heart but sometimes I try the murky waters of marketing and selling. Here’s some of the things I’ve done and experienced.

After I had finished my first documentary, A Life in Japan, I tried to do it the “right” way, and only uploaded trailers to different sites where viewers could pay for a download or DVD. Absolutely nothing happened. After a few months I had maybe close to a hundred views and no sales. Great. So, I uploaded the whole thing to Youtube and posted links to all free documentary sites that I could find, and now things started to happen. I got over a hundred thousand views a month, some people paid for downloads and gave donations (thank you!), hundreds of pages and bloggers linked to it and I got messages from TV-stations that wanted to broadcast it (non-profit, but anyway). It turned out pretty good, to share for free!

And then I finished my next project, The Last Generation?. A film about a Sami reindeer herder in Swedish Lapland who I had followed for a year. It was invited to a couple of festivals in Sweden, a university and other public screenings, and I got very positive comments. One guy that had worked at the Swedish national TV for 30 years thought it was the best documentary of that kind that he had ever seen. So I expected the film would be received well on the Internet too. Wrong. A Life in Japan was accepted to a number of documentary sites but this time I wasn’t welcome anywhere! No response from any of the sites that had accepted the Japanese documentary. Finally I got it on another site but unfortunately that hasn’t brought very much traffic.

With A Life in Japan on many different documentary sites, I can see that the amount of traffic I get from each site varies a lot.

OK, so I was out of luck with The Last Generation?. But I had two fishing movies coming up, one from the big game fishing competition in Azores, and another one about fly fishing in the Swedish mountains. Fishing films should be readily accepted to any documentary site, right? But no. Same procedure as with the reindeer herder film. No reactions from any of the documentary sites except one.

All of these films are just as good as A Life in Japan, I think, so I’m a bit surprised when all these sites are suddenly ignoring everything I make. Maybe it’s something with Firefox and Java-script or something? That they actually never got my messages? I have submitted both through their home and FB-pages though, but to no avail. Maybe all these English based sites don’t like foreign languages and subtitles? Go figure.

When Internet turned cold to my efforts, I turned to local TV stations in Sweden, and they were more than happy to broadcast everything I had. I didn’t get paid of course, but at least I got a little…exposure. That won’t pay any bills but maybe something good comes out of it in the future. I really want to believe it.

And then I came up with this great idea to make a site where all independent filmmakers in Sweden could display their work and advertize themselves without having to become members or pay anything. Exactly the kind of place that I had been missing all the time. And I assumed, so were everybody else. But, like somebody said in a Steven Segall movie; “to assume is the mother of all fuck-ups”. I made a post on a forum for filmmakers where I have been a member for years and expected something positive to come out of it. Nothing. Nobody wanted to join, nobody commented the post, and close to no one even bothered to have a look at the site. The post has now more than 700 views and maybe 10 of them has had a look at the site. Swedish independent filmmakers must be very happy with the exposure they get already. I don’t know. Or maybe it was just an extremely badly crafted post. The site is done with the simplest HTML and has a “retro” feeling, and maybe that what’s offending people? But at least the navigation is very easy to understand and it has fast loading pages.

I have registered myself as a distributor and got recently a first film accepted to an “official” big site, used by Swedish cinemas to choose movies to screen. Naturally, as a truly independent filmmaker, I make my own DCP-copies. Digital cinema files.

Of course I’ve tried to post links on Facebook and Twitter too, but that hasn’t returned anything except a few likes. Today I tried to advertise on FB for the first time. Paid about US$60. So far, after half a day and 7377 ads displayed, I’ve got 17 visits and 1 like. I have a feeling I won’t be one of Facebook’s success stories. I sure wish I had the same CPC on my Youtube ads 🙂

Damn, it’s hard to reach out! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you don’t advertize nobody knows about your work, but if you advertize, you’re just a spammer or scammer. Probably both.

I thought it would be a good idea to have some kind of base for my filming activities. I have my FB and Twitter accounts, my home page and so on, but I wanted something to “rule them all”. An address that I could add anywhere knowing that I have everything linked from that place. So I started this blog. The Chinese SPAM-bots like to comment on my posts and once in a blue moon the statistics show some real visitors too. It’s a start.

I think I do have a lot of things in place, I just need to start working with all the pieces to make something out of it. If you have any great ideas, let me know.

Cheers, and don’t forget to share my videos with all your friends 🙂

Why BBC Documentaries Suck

I used to think that BBC documentaries were the bench mark everybody else tried to reach up to, but not that long ago I finally had to accept the truth that, as a default, BBC actually can’t make good documentaries. And why do I think that?

Excess reuse of the same computer graphics over and over again. I’m sure that BBC probably had to pay a lot of money to get the animation of the exploding volcano, fusion processes in the sun, or whatever it is, but please, I got the message when you showed it the first time. It’s just irritating to see the same sequences shown over and over and over again. It really is.

“This is the first time ever seen on TV…”, “Never seen before…”, “For the first time…”… All right, great, but could you please come to the point and actually show the damn thing and not only announce it thirty times before we get to see it?

Overdramatized. It is not necessary to use extreme close-ups, quick cuts and very dramatic music to everything. It often becomes laughable instead of dramatic. The story would probably be interesting enough by itself without all these cheap tricks.

If it’s a nature program, you can’t get enough of time-lapses and slow-motion, can you? In very saturated colors.

If it’s a historical documentary, then reenactments.

When I spot a BBC documentary my expectations plummet down to the basement. There are exceptions of course to the basic BBC-formula that I’ve described above, but most of the time I have to stop watching because it’s such an irritating and painful experience. In the past the productions were watchable, I think, but these new ones…too much fluff.

The Last Generation?

Finally with good English subtitles!
I did the initial translation and after that the subtitles have been checked three times! Has to be great now!

I submitted the film to various, free documentary sites on Internet and now it’s going to be a couple of nervous days to see if it gets picked up by any of the sites, and if they are going to bring in any traffic.

I get some spam comments every day, and the statistics show a number visits from China almost every day. Not saying that there is any connection, of course.