Bergman and I

As I write this, it has been a year and a half since Ingmar Bergman passed away—and I miss him daily. I miss his imagination and the comfort he gave, both personally and through his films.

I got to know director Ingmar Bergman through my job as a cultural reporter at Swedish Television (SVT). The first time I interviewed him was in 1983. I was a temp in the news department, and he was the big-shot director holding a press conference to say he had moved back to Sweden after six years in Germany. More interviews were to come in the following years.

It took many years to convince Ingmar to let me do a documentary portrait of his life and work. Not until he had decided to wind up his professional life with the made-for-TV film Saraband did he choose to look backward. I was the first and only journalist who was ever allowed to step into the world of Bergman on its lonely cape on Fårö.

Fårö is a tiny island in the Baltic, with only five hundred year-round residents. It has no school, no post office, no doctor’s office, but it does have a supermarket and a church. This is where Ingmar Bergman chose to build his Scandinavian-style, architect-designed house in 1967. With interiors in all natural materials—a lot of wood, sheepskin, and warm colors—the house stands right by the seashore. I arrived there in May 2003 and stayed on for weeks. I met an aged director who was already missing his calling and who longed to talk. And how we talked! We spent a few hours every afternoon shooting interviews, but our conversations continued well on into the evenings.

I’ve often been asked what it was like directing the world’s foremost director. It was easy. Either he said yes or he said no. He said yes to answering any question at all. He said no to bicycling or swimming in front of the camera. I respected that.

When I was done shooting, I returned to Stockholm, while Ingmar stayed on his beloved Fårö, never to leave the island again. But he still needed to talk and to hear gossip from the capital. I became one of his telephone friends; he called me several times a week, and they were never short conversations. The telephone was his contact with the world, and we would talk for an hour or two about everything under the sun: books we’d read, films we’d seen, the changing of the seasons, and gossip about mutual acquaintances. He was always full of ideas and good advice—and comfort on days when I was sad.

Bergman Island was originally a series of three one-hour episodes for SVT. That was Ingmar’s idea. He knew that his theatrical productions would receive much less attention than his films if I made only one documentary, and he considered his theatrical work more important. The three parts were entitled “Bergman and the Cinema,” “Bergman and the Theatre,” and “Bergman and Fårö Island.”

When the series went out to international distributors, it turned out that several film festivals and television distributors chose to show just the cinema and Fårö segments. After that, the decision to recut the three parts into one film was an easy one, made by me and Ingmar together. The result was this feature-length Bergman Island.

The summer of 2006 was Ingmar’s last good summer. I came to Fårö to participate in the annual Bergman Week of lectures and films. Once again I moved into Ingmar’s guesthouse. Not long after I arrived, Ingmar’s housekeeper fell ill, and I took over her chores. Ingmar was pleased, and I stayed on for three weeks. During that time, we watched the recut Bergman Island together—and Ingmar was very happy with the results.

Today Ingmar rests in his grave at the Fårö church. That summer of 2006, we stood together looking at that plot. He had chosen the most secluded corner of the graveyard, as far as possible from the road. He thought he would be happy there. He promised to come back to haunt me. He hasn’t done that. I miss his company. I’m glad I still have his films.

—Stockholm, March 2009

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