Interview with Stig Björkman, Director of Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words
Interview by Moira Sullivan
Copy Editing and Posting by Sabrina Hirsch
This piece is part of our double feature on Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words. Please see Moira Sullivan’s discussion of the film for more.
Stig Björkman did exhaustive research for the film at the Wesleyan Cinema Archives where he discovered Ingrid Bergman’s short films. He has brilliantly combined interviews with Bergman’s grown children, contemporaries, excerpts from Ingrid’s diary, and biographical material in an extraordinary tour de force that received an honorable mention at the newly instigated Golden Eye Documentary Award ( L’Oeil d’Or award) at Cannes.
I have some questions I hope that you haven’t been asked.
I know the idea for your film came from when you were in Berlin and Isabella Rossellini asked you if wanted to make a film about her mother.
And she explained that because she had made a film about her father, My Father is 100 Years Old, and some of the siblings thought that that was a bad idea that she made this very funny film about her father and apparently some criticized her for it—I don’t know who—so she didn’t want to be involved practically in any way in this film, apart from being interviewed and being in the film in that way. And that was on the same basis as all the other children.
I wonder what Isabella would have done herself if she had worked with you, but their voices come through and it feels very equal. I did not know much about Isotto (Ingrid) or Roberto; I had never heard them speak, really.
I was eager that their voices would be there too. It was a little bit more difficult to persuade them to do it with Roberto in Paris and Ingrid Isotto in Rome. So it needed a little bit more persuasion. I’m so happy because I wanted it to be equal, a balance, so it wouldn’t only be Isabella and Pia talking about their mother, but all four of them. So I am happy it worked out.
Yes, it was good to see their cousin too, Fiorella.
You were at the Wesleyan Cinema Archives (Middletown, Connecticut), where Ingrid Bergman’s papers are kept. Did you go there first?
First, I met all the children in different occasions in different locations. Then I went to Wesleyan and started the research. I was there a couple of times before we actually started to film because it took some time to go through the material because it’s so rich with all the diaries and letters. I was at Wesleyan several times.
Did you go through all the material there?
Almost. She also kept the letters from her parents, her mother and father, but I didn’t go through them. I just saw one or two of these. They are beautiful also. They wrote to each other. The mother was living in Germany before the marriage and the father was in Sweden. Those letters were kept too. But most of the material, yes.
Was it Ingrid Bergman herself who donated her material to Wesleyan?
I think it was after her death and I haven’t really asked Isabella about this. Because I think Wesleyan has collections of many film personalities, among them Martin Scorsese. And maybe Scorsese suggested to Isabella and the family that and they thought it was a good place. I don’t know why I haven’t asked her about it.
It is also interesting with archives and I did research with the collection of Maya Deren at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University and Edgar G. Robinson’s collection was there and Martin Luther King’s family. Shirley MacLaine’s collection was there too. It is these universities that have these motion picture personality archives. They’re quite amazing.
Yes, it’s apparently a custom in the U.S. because when I wrote my book on Joyce Carol Oates (Swedish: Joyce Carol Oates: Samtal med Stig Björkman; Joyce Carol Oates: Conversations, 1970-2006, 2006), I was at her collection at Syracuse University, where she has her archives. It is very common that writers and artists and filmmakers have archives in different universities and institutions, which is very good. They copied Ingrid’s home movie archives there, so that I could watch them and the production company (Mantaray Film) paid Wesleyan.
The first time I saw something about your project was that photograph you had on your Facebook page – Ingrid filming, looking at an object with a bunch of men.
That’s from Stromboli (1950). You can see it from the dress – the same dress she wears in the movie. She’s standing with the filmmakers who worked on Stromboli.
They are all shooting the same object.
Yes, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s Rossellini (laughter). But it’s a fun photo. That is why I chose to have it there on Facebook.
It is! And it reminds me of when Walt Disney used to have his artists get together and draw something that was in the center. There are a lot of photographs of them doing this at the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco. That’s what struck me –they would do exercises with Walt. It’s a very nice photo.
I’ll keep it there for a while on Facebook. It’s still there.
There is a side of Ingrid Bergman that you really don’t know about in your film—that she went around filming all the time.
Yes, I had no idea until I came to the Wesleyan archives and saw this. So that was a really big revelation. And also Ingrid’s father’s films of “little Ingrid” when he borrowed a film camera. I knew he was a photographer, but I didn’t realize there was such an amount on little Ingrid as well.
Yes, you get the sense from him, of course, that things were professional. But also when she was filming, it seems like has really good sense of filmmaking. Like her direction.
I think so too because it’s not these very haphazard shots that we see from many amateur films. When she pans, they are very nice pans and she stays on the subject for sufficient time so it becomes interesting. I think that she had an eye for filming.
And all of this was 8mm?
No there was also 16mm as well—you can see on the camera she used. I have a montage of her with a film camera in front of her so she must have had several cameras.
Stig had to run with his producer Stina Gardell to the Lincoln Center for a screening of his film and so we said goodbye.
Okay Stig – Hej då (Bye!)
Stig: Hej då!