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Documentary film maker Tom Alandh wins the KTH Great Prize for 2020

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Tom Alandh is awarded the 2020 KTH Great Prize. Photo: Cato Lein
Published Jul 01, 2020

After 50 years at Sveriges Television and with over 100 documentary films that have touched and entertained the Swedish TV viewers, Tom Alandh has become a national treasure in Sweden. This master of documentary reporting has now been awarded the KTH Great Prize for 2020.

“When KTH got in touch, my initial reaction was that they had called the wrong number. KTH is giving this fantastic prize to a guy who is absolutely useless at technology and computers,” Alandh says.

His documentaries have covered everything from jailbirds and drug addicts to athletes and artists, such as football legend Nacka Skoglund and trumpeter Jan Allan. With a genuine interest in the people he interviews and the ability to actually listen to them, he is able to get his interviewees to open up in a way that brings the TV viewers closer to what´s going on. This has enabled journalist Alandh to gain an undisputed position as one of the leading documentary reporters in Sweden. This is something that KTH now has chosen to honour by awarding him the KTH Great Prize for 2020.

From the award citation:

“With his magnificent ability to really listen, even when someone is whispering, Tom Alandh opens new avenues for recognition. His curious and at the same time cautious eye for the enduring humanity in each individual he portrays also reflects the society and age in which the person lives…”

Tom Alandh has been awarded a great number of prizes over the years and can now add the KTH Great Prize to this list. Photo: Cato Lein

“I am incredibly honoured and delighted. Of all the awards I have received, I don’t think I have ever got such a wonderful award citation,” Alandh says.

Sound is important

Although he himself claims that he is hopeless when it comes to technology, there is one important technical aspect in his documentaries, namely, sound technology. According to Alandh, sound engineers have very much been eliminated from TV reporting today, as these days, it is normally just a reporter and a camera person who are out there doing the jobs.

“Sound is incredibly important to me. I think I am one of the few documentary film makers and reporters in Sweden still working with sound engineers,” he says.

Alandh’s documentaries always have a certain sound, a tone that creates the atmosphere and the framework to support the narrative.

Music is another element that plays an important role in his reporting. At the moment Alandh and his editor Heleen Rebel, are editing a film about his father, and he has managed to find a soundtrack that he thinks works really well.

“My dad was married to the actress Lizzie Alandh, and then they got divorced. And I have found an incredibly wonderful melody with Nat King Cole that plays from the time we see the divorce papers to the point dad moves on with his life. A clip like that can make my day.”

Shows respect for his interviewees

A deep sense of respect f0r the people he is interviewing is an important part of Alandh’s storytelling. He is well aware of the power TV as a medium can have when it comes to distorting, improving or even impairing and actually hurting a person them if you are not careful.

“Since I have filmed a large number of jailbirds, drug addicts and the like, I think it is important not to engage in creating sob stories. I think you should try to find the power, strength and happiness even in people who seem to be hopeless cases.”

He spends a great deal of time on research when it comes to finding subjects for his documentaries. He is an avid reader of newspapers, where he has found numerous interesting interviewees. One example is the bailiff in the documentary “The bailiff calls – whose fault is it?”, a story he found tucked away in a subordinate clause in an article about a small provincial Swedish town in the national daily Dagens Nyheter: “…and there the bailiff comes on his bike”.

“A cycling bailiff. Who is he? I need to find out about him.”

Other times, Alandh finds his subjects by pure chance, such as in the documentary about famous film director Ingemar Bergman’s housekeeper.

“All my life I had wanted to do Bergman. But Bergman didn’t want to be done by me. But then it so happened that I heard from a colleague that Bergman had a housekeeper. So I got in touch with her and we made good contact. And so I was able to make a film about Ingemar Bergman, but through the eyes of his housekeeper.”

Documentary film production is a team effort

Tom Alandh has been awarded many prizes previously, including several journalist and literature awards. However, he is keen to stress that by no means is the production of the documentaries he is getting awards a one man job. On the contrary, it is very much a team effort.

“I know where my strengths are, purely journalistically. But without a camera person, sound engineers and editors, I wouldn’t have got any awards.”

When he got the news that he is awarded the KTH Great Prize, Alandh thought it would be quite fascinating to look at the list of previous winners. He mentions laureates like composer and singer Evert Taube, cinematographer Sven Nykvist as well as his his old colleague from Swedish Television, Bengt Feldreich.

“And then when I go back even further in time, I see that Elise Ottesten-Jensen (Norwegian-Swedish sex educator and journalist) is also on the list. I met her when I had just started at Swedish Television in 1970. I was a researcher for a programme called “Gäst i ettan” (Guest on Channel One), where a great many famous people were being interviewed. Elise was one of the guests. I recall spending a whole afternoon with her in her apartment in central Stockholm.”

Håkan Soold

Jury citation in full:

 “With his magnificent ability to really listen, even when someone is whispering, Tom Alandh opens new avenues for recognition. His curious and at the same time cautious eye for the enduring humanity in each individual he portrays also reflects the society and age in which the person lives. Tom Alandh enables viewers to come closer – always with a genuine respect for the person he is filming and interviewing. As an unassuming master of documentary reporting, Tom Alandh is a most worthy recipient of the KTH Great Prize.”

About Tom Alandh:

Profession: Journalist and documentary film maker

Born: 13 June 1944 in Stockholm

Education: Stockholm College of Journalism 1969–1970

A few of Tom Alandh’s documentaries: “Oscar och Greta och huset de byggde” (about Tom Alandh’s foster parents and the Swedish welfare state), “Hellre en skrynklig själ än ett slätstruket liv” (about lyricist Lars Nordlander), “En rufflares väg” (about business executive, horse owner and gambler Ulf Berner), “Jan Johansson – en liten film om en stor konstnär” (about the Swedish jazz pianist), “Gymnasten som lärde sig gå” (about gymnast and KTH student Marcus Lilliebjörn and his way back after suffering a spinal injury).

Interests: Passionate about harness racing: “I am a pretty restless person, which simply makes harness racing a good fit. You can go to the local race track and forget all about the editing, interviewing and new TV programmes. My editor Heleen says harness racing is my yoga.”

What will he do with the prize money? “To be honest, I’ve not had time to think about that really. However, I think narrative reporting is so important and I am pretty old now, what use do I really have for all that money? So I am thinking about using half the money to set up a fund for a Tom Alandh Prize for narrative journalism on radio, TV and the press. Plus, I am going to buy myself a really good bike. My old bike got stolen.”

About the KTH Great Prize:

The KTH Great Prize, that this year amounts to SEK 1.1 million, is funded by income from investments from the KTH Great Prize Foundation, established by an anonymous donation in 1944. The Prize is to be awarded to a Swedish citizen who, via epoch-making deeds or the discovery and creation of new values, especially within technology but also within art and science, promotes the well-being of our people. The KTH Great Prize has been awarded since 1945, except for the years 1951, 1953, 1957, 1963, 1965 and 1968.

As winner of the KTH Great Prize, Alandh joins the company of former Prime Minister Tage Erlander, Physics Professor and Nobel Prize laureate Hannes Alfvén, politician and diplomat Alva Myrdal, inventor Håkan Lans, artist Robyn, plus physicist and cosmologist Max Tegmark.

Here´s the full list of award winners.

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Last changed: Jul 01, 2020