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Stefan Jarl’s acceptance speech

First of all, I would like to thank you for your generosity to give me this award. Now this year, exactly 100 years after the bread rebellion and the hunger riots, which actually took place precisely this April week, culminating in the bloodbath in Gustaf Adolf’s square in Stockholm later in the fall when the workers were cut down by the police. 100 years of struggle for A Decent Life.

The award gives me a guarantee to complete my new feature film, “Aftonland”, which tries to give a picture of the brutalization that our societies are now undergoing with war, migration and large-scale conflicts, where primarily children become victims of the greatest suffering. I feel both shocked and confused this day after the terrorist attack in Stockholm, which affected me deeply. The scenes that took place on Drottninggatan could have been a scene from the film we are now editing…

My dad was a baker. My mother worked in the store but was also a “house slave” and took care of me and my brothers. They lived and worked so that we children could graduate, something they themselves had not been given the chance to do. I had the privilege of growing up in what came to be the “best country in the world” where education, justice, work for all, healthcare and equality had been won. Through books and movies, I eventually found my own way.

I applied for a job, in 1959, as an errand-boy and helper to the Oscar-awarded film director Arne Sucksdorff. He came to be my teacher and Guru. Since then I have made over 40 films.

That the upper class has taken revenge, that the banks have enriched themselves and that the middle class have gotten more money in the wallet while the underclass is struggling, we can read about in the press. But how could we end up in a debate about how much a “pee diaper” may cost in the elderly care?

That question I asked myself in my latest film, “Decency”. It has the subtitle: “About the loss of the communal”. It depicts how our country has become increasingly unfair in area after area, how the welfare society has eroded step by step in the light of the bourgeois politicians’ contempt for weakness. The precedence of the rich has been manifested. The less fortunate are left to do the best they can in the name of freedom of choice. Let he who falls lie! The growing inequality has made friend into foe and has given the Grim Reaper more work. People feel bad, not least the young.

When “Decency” would appear in SVT, the showing was stopped. In solidarity, nearly 10,000 people signed an appeal for the film’s showing. But SVT stood their ground. Chief Executive Officer Eva Hamilton said that the film was “critical of the system”. She explained that it “criticized capitalism”, the very foundation of our society. That was were the line went.

The picture of what was not shown was a capitalism that had been allowed to run amok. And had resulted in an extremely unequal world where a busload of super rich owns 90% of everything, 8 people half of the poorest. As if this was not enough, the great Panama revelation shows that thousands of billions of dollars have been hidden away with the help of the unscrupulous big banks by a mix of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and heads of state. A gigantic betrayal against solidarity with those who do not even have food for the day or a roof over their heads. I really hope there is a special place in hell for these people. And sure as fate, we have got an increasingly violent underclass that kill each other in the streets. The unequal society produces its criminals. I have seen it with my own eyes. “Inequality Kills”, as one of my short films is called.

The destruction of equality has gone faster here at home than in any other European country. The privatization of welfare has caused greater problems than it claimed to be able to solve and hence set the table for right-wing populism and neo-fascism. The monstrous expansion of greed has made possible the market forces’ almost total victory. The People’s Home rots before our eyes. The progressive ideals have been betrayed. Babylon rules.

27 years ago, my feature film “Good People” premiered. The film is about a boy who takes care of an injured falcon. In a sequence, the boy builds a small altar in memory of Olof Palme, who had just been murdered in the open street, A murder that came to put a final end to the dream of economic democracy and opened the floodgates for the privatization’s occupation of our common property. In one newspaper, a reviewer wrote: “This film is made by a man who dislikes American film and celebrates a narrow European variant. Such people, one should watch out for.” My films try to give voice to the man/woman in the street. When it became allowed by law to request the records from the security police, SÄPO, I did so and was surprised to learn that I had been supervised as “an enemy of society” already in 1968.

The fight for our rights must be conducted every day. If I wanted to work with films, it was necessary to constantly be prepared to conquer Freedom of speech. Together with Ulf Berggren, I started the Folkets Bio-movement with a common platform with Folket i Bild, Folkets teater etc.: Freedom of speech, Anti-imperialism, For a culture of the people! Those were our slogans. At the same time, we built up our union platform.

The Folkets Bio-movement became a guarantee to be heard and at the same time a tool for taking film out of the misery of production industry. Folkets Bio can now be found in just over a dozen places around the country. When other commercial distributors and cinemas have gone bankrupt, we remain and have survived thanks to our non-profit work. The community, the team spirit, has been victorious and perhaps brought me some of the greatest experiences of my life: the joy of the collective work.

When I cleaned up the office the other day, I found an old briefcase, in which lay a small magazine “Microphone”. On the front page, there was a headline about the funeral of Herman Lundin in 1931. He was my grandfather’s brother, who was a friend of the agitator August Palm, together they arranged political meetings in the 1880s and 90s. He started the telegraph workers’ union and also became its chairman. I remembered how I once found a small museum that was located in Östermalm in Stockholm. There, among all the telephone sets of different times, the union’s gavel and their banner were also kept in a neat glass display case. It filled me with a certain pride. I stood in front of one of those who built this land “of honey”, who gave me the chance to, as Gunnar Ekelöf says, “become who I wanted to be”. In the newspaper I then read that the small museum had been demolished. All the phones had been moved to the Technical Museum. But the glass display case with the gavel and the banner was not there. Everything had been thrown away during the move. It is not just “all that is solid melts into air” but also our collective memories. I am happy that Folkets Bio lives – so far.

I am naive enough to believe that art can change the world. I see the scholarship as an encouragement to my continued work, which is permeated by 3 fundamental values: freedom, equality and brotherhood. When the freedom fighter Diderot during the French Revolution was imprisoned for being considered “très dangereux”, very dangerous, it was because he had published an essay entitled “Letter on the Blind for the Use of those who can see”. I would have liked to see that as a title for my films.