One of the most lauded films of this year's Scandinavian Film Festival, Amateurs follows the residents of the fictional Swedish town of Lafors. Once bustling thanks to its many tanneries, times have changed, and although a few factories remain, the town is struggling to adapt to the modern world. Amidst this decline, the city council gets word that a German discount megastore is looking for a new location in the region - and Lafors is on the top of the list.
Keen for the jobs the new megamart will bring, the council looks to catch the eye of the Germans by commissioning a short film showcasing Lafors. But the city's coffers are bare, so council member Musse (Fredrik Dahl) decides to look for some cheap labour. He hits upon the idea of using students at the local high school to make their own films about life in the town. The idea sparks excitement for students Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (Yara Aliadotter), who fancy themselves already as filmmakers.
The councillors soon head to the classroom to see the students' work. But the first few films are way off-brief and entirely awful. The councillors pull the plug and leave the classroom just as Aida and Dana's film comes on. The council decides to change tack, and with financial support from a local company, engages the services of a professional filmmaker to produce something more traditional.
Musse helps with the making of the authorised film - it's a cliched promotional video complete with green fields and setting suns. But at the same time, Aida and Dana continue making their own unauthorised film, interviewing locals and getting them to speak candidly about life in Lafors. All the while, the clock ticks as the announcement that will supposedly save Lafors nears.
Directed by Gabriela Pichler, Amateurs is a delightful film, which despite its light and bubbly premise, does dig into heavy fare. The examination of a community with its glory days well behind it is one of the most interesting themes. The notion that a new shop will save the town, accepted as a fact by the council, is challenged by many of the residents who are aware of the town's decline but still live there and still take pride in living there. It takes Aida and Dana's often candid interviews to reveal this, and to show that the people who live there aren't idiots. All of them together represent Lafors and it give it meaning, much more than pretty shots of lakes and bridges.
The film also manages to reveal more about the liberal-seeming facade of modern Sweden. This is apparent when Musse, who is Swedish but of South-Asian descent, is discouraged from appearing on-camera in the officially sanctioned Lafors film because he doesn't look 'Swedish' enough. The irony of this is furthered when Musse visits his mother in a nursing home. His mother is ailing with dementia and has reverted to speaking only in her native Tamil - Musse can't speak to her anymore: he only knows Swedish and English. The issues of immigration and class also appear when Aida and Dana's filmmaking causes problems. One parent, a blue-collar immigrant, discourages further filmmaking, while the other mother, a wealthy former journalist, encourages Aida and Dana to keep stirring the pot.
Amateurs is a confident and deft portrayal of modern Sweden, helped along by fantastic performances from its lead characters. The film questions identity and community, as Lafors tries to decide which version of itself to present to the world.
Amateurs is playing as part of the Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival.
Find information on session times, locations and tickets here.