Documenting Winter Light

Aug 18, 2003

I wrote my first drama when I was seventeen. I showed it to Ingmar Bergman who then was twenty-four. Later on in life I started to write screenplays and needed to know how a director works. So I put a question to Ingmar:

Could I follow you closely, stage by stage, while you are making a film?

I went to my publisher—Yes, he would very much like to have a “Diary with Ingmar Bergman.” It was called L 136, which means Long feature film No. 136 in the annals of Svensk Filmindustri.

I went to Swedish Television—Yes, they would very much like a documentary. It was called Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie.

This must have been the first and only time he let someone document his filmmaking from the first idea to the first showings.

A long journey. I was free to collect everything I saw and heard while Bergman was making The Communicants. (Winter Light is the U.S. distributor’s evasion of the Swedish title.)

Bergman avoided some things, though. He was afraid of letting me read the first sketches he put on paper. These were later published in Bergman’s book Images: My Life in Film. So here we find the embryo for the film: the minister alone in the church, trying to force God out of his silence.

Bergman was also afraid of letting the TV crew into the studio while he was working with the actors, so what I got for the TV series is an arranged rehearsal, made on a separate day after the real shooting was finished. And Bergman played his director’s part so well that the usual nervous tension arose in the collective: Finally everyone worked as if they had forgotten the TV cameras.

Concerning the many interviews I recorded with him, Bergman put all his professionalism into them. When time was ripe for the last interview, he didn’t approve of the result. “No good,” he said. He was blaming himself for being too superficial. “We have to do it once more, Vilgot.” So we did.

Vilgot Sjöman is a writer and filmmaker, best known for his films, I Am Curious—Yellow and I Am Curious—Blue.