Featuring: Sebastian Claesson, Malmö

“There’s so many skilled people that are willing to help out and make their archives visible and useful.”

You’ve told us that you’re one of a very few number of full-time archive researchers for documentary film productions in Sweden. How did you first become interested in the field of archive research?

I think it started already in young years, spending hours and days going through my father’s collection of books and pictures. The solitude and knowing that you might find something exciting, that someone hadn’t looked at for a long time.

You’ve worked on a wide variety of documentaries with topics ranging from nature, to sports, and journalism. What’s been the most intriguing topic you’ve worked on so far?

It has to be working on the doc, Every Face Has a Name (2015), directed by Magnus Gertten. A story about war refugees and survivors that came to Sweden in 1945. Caught on camera as they took their first steps of freedom in the harbour of Malmö. 70 years later we tried to find out who these anonymous people in the pictures were, and tell their stories in the film.
Most of the people that we managed to identify were dead, but a surprisingly big amount of people were still alive. Being able to show these survivors pictures of themselves taking their first steps in freedom was a fantastic starting point for the interviews about their experiences.

Has the pacing or style of your research shifted with your career transition between television/journalism and documentary film?

Definitely, it’s allowed me to go so much deeper into subjects. Exploring people and their lives in a much more intimate way than before. In short, I feel privileged.
But it’s also been a big challenge to organize my time and resources in the most effective way, when I know that the deadline for a specific task isn’t due in weeks or months. My experience says that it’s always good to document whatever I’m doing and keep a close dialogue with the director.

Can you share a bit about how archives function in Swedish culture and documentary film production?

Sweden has a great tradition of archiving. Especially public archives. There’s so many skilled people that are willing to help out and make their archives visible and useful. I’ve worked a lot with the archives at Swedish Television (SVT) and Radio (SR), whose collections range back to the starting of the mediums. When working on the music doc, A Thousand Pieces (2014) (Swedish title: Tusen bitar), about the Swedish musician Björn Afzelius, we found a lot of previously unused material of him. Together with his vast personal archive the director Magnus Gertten and editor Jesper Osmund managed to create scenes that feel both real and intimate. It’s amazing to see what can be done with archive material in the editing room.

What’s your favorite boutique archive in Sweden?

Nordiska museet in Stockholm has an amazing photography collection and have digitized a big part of it. The collection spans over everything from 19th century portraits to architecture and contemporary art photography.

If you could work on an international project in any country, where and what would it be?

The street skateboarding culture has expanded and spread to a lot of new places during the last years. And seems like it always attracts interesting people. It would be great to explore some of the more remote areas where people have started skating. For instance, I read an article about street skaters in Uzbekistan the other day.

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