5 Things That Set Goteborg Apart

Swedish film writer Jon Asp explores the distinguishing characteristics of Goteborg Festival, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary

Goteborg Film Festival
Courtesy of Göteborg Film Festival

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Sweden’s Goteborg Film Festival – though something really quite unusual happened to the 13th edition – Swedish film writer Jon Asp, a Variety collaborator, has authored a book, “Draken och demonerna” (The Dragon and the Demons), on Scandinavia’s most prominent festival. Variety asked him to drill down on five things which set Goteborg apart.


Goteborg turns 40. But in fact its 13th edition was skipped in 1991, due to superstition, the festival communicated at the time. There was, however, a more serious reason. I recently interviewed the former festival heads Gunnar Carlsson and Gunnar Bergdahl . They explained the real reason to advance as quickly as possible to the 15th edition in order to improve their chances of hosting the annual Swedish film gala, regularly taking place in Stockholm. But the operation failed. The 13th edition was finally held in January 2017 with previously never-made screenplays, including some of Ingmar Bergman’s, performed at public spaces in the city center.


Bergman agreed to be the honorary chairman of the festival in 1995 – on the premise that he would never have to visit the festival. This says less about Goteborg. more about Bergman himself, who seldom left his island of Fårö. In 2007, festival director Jannike Åhlund introduced the Ingmar Bergman International Debut Award, with Andrea Arnold’s Red Road proving the first winner. Bergman was supposed to form part of the jury, voting from afar, but  passed away later the same year on Fårö, where the annual Bergman Week, closely connected to Goteborg, has been arranged since 2004.


Down the years, the Goteborg Film Festival has become known as a steadfast promotor of Scandinavian cinema, irrespective of its quality. The Nordic Dragon Award, gathering eight contributions, was created in its first form in 1989, in order to encourage local films. In 2011, the festival raised the stakes considerably, offering the winner a prize sum of 1 million Swedish krona (). Lisa Aschan’s feature debut “She Monkeys” was its first laureate. In parallel, the Startsladden plaudit, awarded to one of eight Swedish shorts, has for a long time been one of the world’s most lucrative short film prizes.


In line with Berlin, Toronto and Rotterdam, Goteborg is known for its vast selection, in recent years surpassing 400 titles. A broad and democratic way of programming traditionally includes films from all continents. The parallel film mart, the Nordic Film Market, received a big boost after Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” opened the festival in 2008. Since then, Goteborg has also attracted key players in the international film industry, by offering an early look at upcoming  Scandinavian title.


Although taking place in January-February  – a very cold and gray period of the year, with snow, in in a best scenario– Goteborg cuts a highly popular profile with a large, loyal audience, who very seldom walk out of screening and through thick and thin support the festival and its concept. That reflects in a way on Goteborg’s status as Sweden’s everlasting second city, the less formal alternative to its administrative and cultural center of Stockholm.