Swedish cinema sings on key at Way Out West fest
GOTHENBURG, Sweden - Every film festival comes with its own set of perks and difficulties, but I've only been to one so far where my chief scheduling challenge has been squeezing a Public Enemy gig in between a screening and an interview, wading in wellingtons across muddy parkland, through a sea of lanky twentysomethings in impossibly skinny jeans and Doc Martens, to do so. (It's still easier than traversing the Croisette in full flow, I'll have you know.)
Or where the evening's festivities have ended not at a midnight premiere or cocktail-suited industry party, but at a beery bolthole at 3am, watching the aptly named New York punk outfit Pissed Jeans tear the tiny stage a new one. Or, indeed, where you run into Alexander Skarsgard at the bar, and the off-duty star for once has nothing to promote but his love for Swedish electro-eccentrics The Knife. (Their daftly thrilling set later that evening, all boiler-suited dance troupes and disembodied vocals, more than justifies his enthusiasm.)
Such are the spontaneous charms of Sweden's Way Out West festival, to which I was invited last week. A three-day music festival that was founded in 2007, Way Out West takes place every summer in Gothenburg's sprawling, verdant Slottsskogen public park, and has swiftly become a destination festival for discerning music fans of all persuasions across Europe -- this year's something-for-everyone lineup ran the gamut from Alicia Keys to the Alabama Shakes to Cat Power to Kendrick Lamar. (Planned headliner Neil Young, sadly, was a last-minute dropout in a roster that'd have been enviable enough without his presence.)
It was in 2011, however, that the festival expanded to include a film programme -- an unassuming but fast-growing sidebar intended to give Way Out West something of the fashionable dual-purpose appeal of its American near-namesake South By Southwest. It gives the festival a unique status among its European counterparts, and with screenings this year brought into the festival grounds -- in the appealingly casual, Moroccan-styled Bedouin Cinema tent -- as well as nearby local cinemas, music and the movies felt happily integrated, with cheerfully buzzed festivalgoers in rain-washed denim popping in for a screening and a breather between gigs.
Svante Tidholm, the director of the festival's film section, knows exactly what he's aiming for. Smart, eager and suitably tattooed, he's a journalist and filmmaker whose debut feature, the documentary "Dream World: The Biggest Brothel," actually played South By Southwest in 2010. He's realistic about his plans to cultivate the film lineup in future year, but still ambitious: "Awareness of the movies at the festival was higher than ever this year, and I want to build on that," he says. "It's never going to be a conventional film festival, and it's for the public first. But the lineup will keep getting bigger and bolder; it's a chance to show people things they're not expecting."
Tidholm showed both a keen eye for audience-pleasers and a cool experimental streak in this year's selection of 36 features, plus a scattering of shorts. The lineup included the Scandinavian premieres of such established international festival hits as "Frances Ha," "Behind the Candelabra" and "Before Midnight," as well as an appropriately strong contingent of music-related documentaries, among them Shane Meadows' Stone Roses tribute "Made in Stone" and the irrepressible US hit "20 Feet From Stardom." The two best films I saw there, both Swedish-made, fell into that bracket: Håkan Lidbo's "Ström At Folket," a short, sharp history of Swedish dance music from ABBA through to Robyn, wittily structured like a DJ mix, and Ada Bligaard Søby's "Petey and Ginger," a sepia-melancholic tracing of personal narratives behind San Francisco band Thee Oh Sees.