Documentary film maker Tom Alandh wins the KTH Great Prize for 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…”
“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.”