As with the opening of a star-studded film festival, the photographers searched for a position and trained their lenses at the point where viewers would get off. But when the first and only guest of honor arrived, she wasn’t wearing a tuxedo or a sparkling dress, but jeans and an orange puffer jacket (designer unknown). There was no red carpet under her feet, just bare frozen ground. And instead of strolling into a plush cinema with lots of celebrities, she got on a speedboat and sped across the cold water to a tiny island where she would settle for the first premiere.
While festivals around the world are grappling with the pandemic, the Gothenburg Film Festival, which opened in Sweden’s second largest city on January 29, has not so much accepted social distancing as it has escalated it. During the coming week, screenings for only one festival-goer will take place in two city venues. And it also sent a single viewer to a tiny, barren island in the North Atlantic to see the 70 films in the competition – alone.
Some festivals, like that of Venice in September, have faced the pandemic as a diminished version of their normally dazzling selves, with alternating seated theaters and mandatory temperature controls. Others, like Sundance and the Berlinale, which now ran through March 2021, are fully digitized and offer streaming access to films and other events. Some organizers are postponing their festivals and keep their fingers crossed that the pandemic regulations will allow a more ordinary festival experience later: on January 27, the Cannes festival announced that it would take place in July instead of the usual May.
But at Gothenburg, the most important festival in the Nordic countries, the organizers have turned necessity into an unusual virtue. “So many people who were at home alone and couldn’t meet friends or family turned to the cinema out of company and comfort,” said the festival’s artistic director, Jonas Holmberg. “We wanted to experiment with it, isolate that feeling and take it to the extreme. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we isolate the person on a small island with nothing but movies?’ “
As the only country in Europe to oppose a formal lockdown, Sweden made its own way through the pandemic, not recommending the use of masks or closing schools until it was forced to do its own in December due to a disproportionately high death rate from the disease Change strategy.
But much of the country has been following government-issued guidelines, and after months of voluntary social distancing and lockdown, a week of winter alone on an island with only corporate films seems like the last thing most people would need. However, when an impressive online video announced the competition, over 12,000 people applied for the solo experience. On January 19, the festival selected Lisa Enroth, a 41-year-old lifeguard from the southern Swedish city of Skovde, as the winner.
As everywhere in healthcare, Enroth has found the past few months stressful. “We are so busy every day in the hospital,” she said. “With all the patients and all the new protocols, I’ve never felt so isolated in my life.”
When she saw the video call for applications, she did not hesitate. “Alone in nature, on an island? Plus movies? I said, “Yeah, I need this.”
The hospital agreed to give Enroth time off (“My boss is a movie buff,” she explained) and on January 30th a boat took her to Hamneskar, a rocky outcrop about 25 miles from Gothenburg owned by seafarers Pater Noster was called that would recite the Lord’s Prayer when they neared its treacherous waters. There she settled in the former watchman’s hut, which is next to the island’s cast-iron lighthouse, and got ready for the film marathon.
During her time at Pater Noster, Enroth will have access to the 70 films that will be screened at the festival, including Finnish Oscar nominee Tove, Thomas Vinterberg’s acclaimed Another Round and Gothenburg native Ninja Thyberg’s “Pleasure” for the best Nordic film. International competition films include Emma Dante’s “The Macaluso Sisters” in Sicily and Charlène Favier’s “Slalom” about elite skiers who have been abused by their trainer. There is also a separate section called Social Distances for films made in response to the pandemic and a section called Lockdown Cinema for short films made in quarantine.
All films streamed through the festival’s website and available to the public have premieres scheduled online. But a handful of viewers also have their own unusually isolated encounters with them. At the same time as each online premiere, the films are also shown in Gothenburg’s Draken cinema (capacity 708) and in the Scandinavium Arena (which seats 12,000 usually accommodate concertgoers or ice hockey fans) for a single viewer who has won a place through a raffle.
At each venue, a red carpet leads the viewer to the assigned space. And while popcorn isn’t available, other indulgences can be. “In some cases,” says festival director Holmberg, “the filmmaker may be there to present the film.”
Holmberg hopes to preserve the occasion that a personal festival evokes by conducting one-on-one visits to iconic locations. But here, too, the festival organizers are experimenting. “We want to see how being alone affects the movie experience. What if all you do is watch the movie? ” he said.
Although she will publish a video diary daily on a dedicated page on the festival website, Enroth has agreed to avoid all other forms of communication and entertainment – no phone, no books – while on pater noster. She said she wasn’t worried about loneliness but didn’t rule out the possibility that she could “start talking to the furniture”. And like Holmberg, she was interested in seeing how her week on the island changes the movie experience. “The first day it’s just, ‘Oh, I’m alone and watching a movie. ‘But a few days later I could say,’ OK, these people are my only company. What if i hate her ‘”, She said.
But for the self-proclaimed science fiction fan (her favorite movie is “The Never Ending Story”), even that will be a welcome escape. “I love to watch movies because it makes me let go of work and everything else that is happening,” said Enroth. “It will be great to be surrounded by someone else’s reality.”