Tove Torbiörnsson In Our Hearts

One of the brightest stars in the constellation of Swedish documentary filmmakers – director, film consultant and head of the Film/Society department at the Swedish Film Institute, Tove Torbiörnsson – passed away last Friday (30th of October 2015), just 49 years old. She has played a huge role in boosting the status of documentary filmmaking as an art; her sharp eye and constant mental presence were loved and respected both nationally and internationally. She was also a highly appreciated guest lecturer here at the school (Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts/ SADA), and in 2011 she headed one of its most inspiring courses, the Dramaturgy of Documentary Filmmaking.

Her door was always open to her students for meetings and discussions, for challenges of national and international character. Nothing was impossible for Tove, and her defining characteristics were unexpected perspectives, absolute honesty and a passion for knowledge and the art. She has also been the main driving force that brought many visitors to the Swedish Film Institute, including Germaine Greer, D. A. Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus and Agnes Varda, whom we had the pleasure of meeting not only at SFI, but also here at the school. When I proposed – early in my doctoral work – that SFI and SADA should jointly invite in director Pirjo Honkasalo, this was possible because Tove Torbiörnsson was on top of things, alongside others such as Fredrik Oldsjö (then head of the education and research unit). The same was true of my workshops with Diane Torr (Man For A Day, Woman For A Day). Good initiatives often require the collaboration of several creative people, so we can make the most of our creative impulses.

Tove was also my classmate back at the University College of Film, Radio, Television and Theatre (1992–1995, free filmmakers) and in recent years she was my primary advisor in my doctoral studies, at the suggestion of former vice-chancellor Bo-Erik Gyberg. When he suggested her, I looked at him and said, “You do know that we’re former classmates and friends?” “No, I didn’t know that,” Gyberg said, “but you’ll get over it.” And we did. We had the most incredible – and straightforward, honest, deep, trying, head-butting – conversations about documentary filmmaking, the art, life and about daring (not chickening out). It was always a joy to interact with Tove Torbiörnsson’s sharp intellect and solid education in these conversations. Lifting someone out of their doubts to find their own path is a difficult task, one that few master. But she did.

And now that bright light of meetings and discussions, education and wisdom, that burning passion for film as an art, the intellectual radiance that was Tove Torbiörnsson is gone, far too soon.

It hurts. May her memory live on. She has also written a book of poems, which I warmly recommend: Befinner Mig i Sovrummet, with illustrations by Julia Herskovits (2014). It’s available at Hedengrens and Rönnells, in Stockholm, among other places.

One of the poems says:

Get your act together. Get your act together. Get your act together.

Tove said this with a unique warmth and authority. A wonderful person, an inspiration and a time traveller.

Kirsi Nevanti
PhD Candidate, documentary film /director
Monday, 2 November 2015