Swedish director Stig Björkman’s (pictured) new documentary Ingrid Bergman, In her Own Words will have its world premiere at Cannes Classics on May 19, as part of the festival’s tribute to the iconic actress and to mark the centenary of her birth. The director spoke to us.

This is the fourth time you are selected at the Cannes Film Festival, but having the main character of your film featured on the festival’s official poster is quite a coup…
Stig Björkman: Yes it’s fantastic! We are getting free PR with the posters all over Cannes. Aren’t we lucky!!

Can you tell us how your film Ingrid Bergman-In Her own Words came to life?
It all started in Berlin, four and a half years ago. There was a big Ingmar Bergman exhibition and I was there with Harriet Andersson to talk about Ingmar. Isabella [Rossellini, daughter to Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini] was also at the Berlinale as President of the jury. One evening Harriet and I were having dinner and Isabella joined us. She sat next to me, suddenly turned to me and said:…’shall we make a film about mamma???’ I said YES! That’s how it started.

Later on I met with Ingrid’s children, Pia Lindström, and Isabella’s two siblings Roberto and Ingrid. They all gave me full access to Ingrid’s archive material stored at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut. 

Ingrid’s archive is huge. It consists of diaries that she started writing when she was 10, storybooks, photos, and most interesting to me were the films she made in super 8 and 16mm. I used a lot of that filmed material.

Nothing had been used before?
No. Pia Lindström did make a short documentary about her mother for television, but only a small part of Ingrid’s archives were used.

What documentarist approach and structure for the film did you choose and was it an obvious choice from the inception?
My initial idea was to start with the archives, pick up items and tell the story. BuT I was not allowed to film in the archives room at Wesleyan University. Then together with the editor Dominika Daubenbüchel, we thought about making a linear story. It didn’t work so well, so we changed again. Now the film starts when Ingrid is 14 years old and has lost her parents. The film is told from Ingrid’s viewpoint, through her own words. I have used Ingrid’s own voice from interviews, newsreels, as well as Alicia Vikander’s voice who reads Ingrid’s diaries. Former colleagues to Ingrid also speak about her such as Sigourney Weaver and Liv Ullmann.

What were the biggest challenges for you?
The sheer volume of archive material that we had to go through and having to choose were the biggest challenges.

Digging into the archive material must have been like going on a treasure hunt. What particular aspects of Ingrid’s life and items from the archives struck you the most?
SB: A long time ago I had read her autobiography, but what struck me the most, when compiling the material, was that she was a true modern woman, ahead of her time. She was not politically active, but the way she lived and split her private life and career were very much revolutionary, and she made very courageous choices. She went to Hollywood when she was 23 years-old. There was a note in her diaries after she made three Swedish films where she wrote…’and maybe Hollywood, but I don’t speak any English!’ She actually is the only actress I know who has acted in Swedish, English, French and Italian both on stage and on screen. She had amazing abilities.

How was the quality of her home movies? Did she actually have a talent as filmmaker that she could have exploited?
At one point she complained to her children when she was becoming older, that there were few interesting parts for her to play on screen, which is why she turned to theatre. One of her kids said: ‘why don’t you try to direct?’ But Ingrid said: ‘no, I wouldn’t dare to try that’. However when you see her home movies, they are not so amateurish. What’s nice is that sometimes she gives the camera to her husband or friends, so some material is also with her.

Tell us about your collaborators.  Eva Dahlgren for instance is listed both as co-music composer and co-cinematographer. Why?
Eva is my neighbour in Stockholm and a friend, and she’s the one who approached my producer Stina Gardell. In her own work, she uses projections behind the scene and also films in Super 8 like Ingrid Bergman. So she’s collaborated with our cinematographer Malin Korkeasalo. Eva also composed the beautiful theme song that closes the film called ‘the film about us’. The score itself was composed by Michael Nyman who had collaborated with me on Fanny, Alexander and Me.

What is the release strategy in Sweden and internationally?
The film will come out in Sweden on August 28, one day before Ingrid’s birthday to coincide with the centenary of her birth. It will open in cinemas in France and other territories.

Will you do a TV version, using more material?
No, but we will probably use other materials for the DVD release. The film has taken a long time to make and edit. It feels so good that it is finally in the can, and I can’t wait for the official screening in Cannes!