Swedish Helmer Jan Troell Adapting Niklas Radstrom’s ‘The Guest’

GÖTEBORG, Sweden – Jan Troell, the 91-year-old Swedish director and 1972 Oscar nominee for “The Emigrants,”  is giving interviews in a Göteborg hotel, his leg propped on a chair, a walking stick, his daughter, Johanna, and wife, Agneta, both collaborators on his films, by his side.

The director, who turned down a ten-year Warner Bros. contract to return to Sweden, has been awarded the 2023 Goteborg Festival’s Nordic Honorary Dragon Award. The prize reflects a life-long connection to still-and-moving images that began when his mother brought him home from the hospital and his dad began filming.

Some of that footage, as well as excerpts from his films, will be combined with new dramatic scenes, for a new film project “Dyning” which is a memoir. 

“I’m enjoying editing ‘Dyning’,” said Troell, adding. “I don’t totally identify with my age. I do physically but I still have the same lust for making pictures and images, filming, and so I haven’t stopped yet.”

Troell is also making a feature adaptation of author Niklas Radstrom’s “The Guest,” together with daughter Johanna Troell, an actress and composer.

Radstrom’s book is based on a real life encounter between Charles Dickens and H.C. Andersen in 1857, when the Danish author became an unwelcome guest staying at Dickens’ Kent home for five weeks.

The filmmakers are in negotiations with a producer, after an earlier attempt to put the project together stalled. The father and daughter will co-direct from a script lead by Johanna Troell. The dramatic comedy is set in England. 

“It’s an international subject because it’s about H.C. Andersen meeting Charles Dickens, based on a real life incident, covered in his wonderful novel,” said Troell. 

Troell has made very well received films, such as 2001’s “As White as Snow” and 2008’s “Everlasting Moments,” well into his seventies. “The Last Sentence,” Troell’s most recent film, was the 2012 portrait of  the Swedish newspaper editor, Torgny Segerstedt, a critic of Hitler and the Nazis during a period when the Swedish government and monarch were trying to stay neutral.

“I’ve been working on a few projects since but it it’s hard to finance films,” he said. 

How did Troell’s career begin?

“I’ve been fascinated by images all my life,” he confessed. “The first day I came home as a baby with my mother and met my father, he was there with a Kodak camera. I was used to seeing moving images. I was used to seeing cartoons, “Felix the Cat,” “Dr Dolittle,” “Die Jungfrau.” We had a cinema across the street. 

He added: “Through still photography I progressed. I used my parent’s simple folding camera. I never dreamed of becoming a film director. It wasn’t in my mind. I wanted to make short films about nature and animals, but one day I got a call from Bengt Forslund who was a producer at Svensk Filmindustri. He had seen some of my short films and asked me to direct a film based on a short film I had made.”

The self-taught director, who read one book on making films, found his way in Hollywood with agent Paul Kohner who represented him alongside other major Swedish talent like Ingmar Bergman.  “The Emigrants” opened doors. Producer Dino De Laurentiis asked him to do “The Hurricane,” “because he said I made people look natural in ‘The Emigrants,’” he recalled.

In the U.S., Troell discovered he couldn’t keep his hands on the camera because of Guild laws. “I couldn’t have final cut,” he said, and so he decided to return to Sweden and turned down a Warner Bros. contract. 

His American films include “Zandy’s Bride,” with Gene Hackman and Liv Ullmann. The 1979 American film “The Hurricane” with Mia Farrow, allowed him to make his 1982  film “The Flight of the Eagle,” which was nominated for a Oscar. 

How does Troell feel about the Goteborg Award?

“It feels O.K.,” he told Variety. “The festival has been a part of my life, in a way, because I’ve been here since the 1980s. A very special occasion was when my documentary “Land of Dreams,” opened here and got a great start, going on to run for a year in Stockholm. They have invited me several times, so it felt like coming home.”

Does he regret turning his back on Hollywood?

“Hollywood was an adventure and gave me a hundred times more money than Sweden, which gave me the opportunity to do ‘Eagle’ which is why I finally said yes to ‘Hurricane,’” he said. 

“Every so often I receive a check from America that is smaller than I have to pay to cash it here – 100 Swedish crowns,” he chuckles. 

Originally published at variety.com

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