The seventh Bergman Week offered guests unprecedented access to the legendary film director’s home and screening theatre — which have found a new lease of life as an artists’ retreat. Screen editor Mike Goodridge reports.

One of the most unusual invitations I’ve had in years was to the Swedish island of Faro at the end of June to attend the seventh annual Bergman Week, a celebration of the art of Ingmar Bergman who made Faro his home in the 1960s and lived there — bar a brief two-year tax exile in Munich in the 1970s — until his death in July 2007.

I was one of eight international journalists hosted by The Swedish Institute on Faro (pronounced ‘Foor-er’), which sits in the Baltic Sea off the north coast of Gotland and has a population of just 500. Bergman prized the island’s solitude and barren beauty and had lived in relative isolation there, his privacy protected by the islanders and the location of the hidden coastal house he built there in 1965.

This year was a fortuitous one to visit Faro. Bergman’s daughter, Linn Ullmann, has established a foundation called The Bergman Estate which employs the director’s house and compound as an artists retreat. It was used for the first time in May by Norwegian theatre company Riksteatret to rehearse a production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The cast is headed by Bergman’s longtime muse and onetime partner Liv Ullmann, who is of course Linn’s mother.

The story behind The Bergman Estate is a dramatic one. The film-maker had nine children from various wives and lovers and decreed the house and its contents be sold on his death, the proceeds to be divided among them. The furniture was duly shipped last year to Stockholm for sale at auction, but in the meantime Linn Ullmann campaigned to keep the estate together and at the 11th hour persuaded Norwegian millionaire Hans Gude Gudesen to become an angel backer for her dream of turning the house into an artists retreat. Gude Gudesen proceeded to buy all the movable assets in the auction as well as the house and donate use of them to the foundation.

Behind the curtain

Linn Ullmann was present around Bergman Week, as was Gude Gudesen on occasion. Liv Ullmann gave two on-stage interviews to packed houses of locals and guests. She spoke movingly about her return to the rooms she shared with Bergman for five years.

Her daughter also met our party at Bergman’s private screening theatre, a converted barn up the road from the house. The Swedish Film Institute screened four upcoming Swedish productions to us in the theatre, a beautiful wood-panelled room furnished with plush armchairs in which Bergman would watch two films a day. His armchair is left empty to this day as a mark of respect. A stunning tapestry by Anita Grede, in which Bergman himself is portrayed in the landscapes of The Magic Flute, hangs on the wall, his editing suite is one storey up.

As an unprecedented treat, our group was granted access to the Bergman house itself, newly vacated by the Oslo theatre group. Scouring the shelves of his library or VHS collection, or eyeing the notes and thoughts he scribbled on several tables and nightstands in the house, we all felt a deeper connection to Bergman’s day-to-day existence. I was particularly taken by a lithograph of Hogarth’s Beer Street which hung in his main living room. The print was a gift from the British Film Institute on the occasion of the first season of his films at the National Film Theatre in 1959.

We roamed through Faro and visited the locations of many of the films he shot there. Behind the screening theatre stands a house which acted as the holiday home for Johan and Marianne in Scenes From A Marriage. Some 500m away from Bergman’s home is the beach where key scenes were played out in Persona. We even walked down the beach onto which the four principals emerged from the sea at the start of Through A Glass Darkly, shot on Faro 50 years ago. It was for that film, in fact, Bergman first visited the island, decreeing soon afterwards that he would live there for the rest of his life.

Bergman Week itself, run by Jannike Ahlund, screened a selection of the director’s films, Stig Bjorkman’s second feature of behind-the-scenes footage…But Film Is My Mistress and some of Bergman’s favourite pictures from the past such as Claude Sautet’s A Heart In Winter (selected by his son Ingmar) and Victor Sjostrom’s 1924 silent He Who Gets Slapped (selected by his daughter Lena).

It’s a rare film event or festival which impresses a bunch of cynical critics, but Bergman Week did just that. Soaking up the stories of his collaborators and the Faro locals while sharing one’s enthusiasm with other Bergman-philes proved to be an immersive cinematic experience like no other. ns