Folke Rydén, traveling journalist, freelancing producer and director based in Stockholm
Interviewed by Sofie Kinnefors
Blink and you might miss him. Internationally acclaimed reporter Folke Rydén reports, produces and documents current events from all over the world. After seven years in Washington DC and two in Hong Kong, Rydén is currently working as a travelling freelance journalist based in Stockholm, Sweden. In his latest documentary, From Clinton to Clinton, Rydén revisits the American people he interviewed in 1992 to learn whether or not their political views have changed since then.
Please tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in Uppsala, Sweden and earned a MA in journalism from the University of Stockholm. I have worked as a foreign correspondent, based in Washington, for Swedish national television, SVT, from 1989 to 1996. I also worked as a reporter in Hong Kong 1996-1997. I am currently working as a freelancing producer and director; based in Sweden. I travel a lot.
Please also tell us a little bit about your role as a director and producer.
Through my production company, FRP AB I have made documentaries focusing on current affairs, social issues, human rights, history, politics, science, culture and sports. The most current documentaries being Africa with a broken neck, about a paralyzed physician who decides to help others suffering from spinal cord injuries, and newly released documentary From Clinton to Clinton, focusing on the American people’s thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Election. I made a documentary by interviewing people in the US on their political views in 1992. The film was internationally awarded and received great reviews. In From Clinton to Clinton, I return to interview the same people to find out how their views have changed and how they feel about the then presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
In which areas do you feel Sweden contributes most globally?
Sweden plays a major role on a diplomatic level internationally. We value and play an important role in the United Nations and our seat in the UN Security Council is vital for Swedish foreign policy and diplomacy. Sweden also plays an important role commercially through major corporations, such as Ericsson, IKEA and Volvo. Skype and adventure/building game Minecraft are Swedish inventions and these areas will most likely expand. There are also many “Hollywood-hyped” Swedes within entertainment and sports around the world. Most people have, for example, heard of Zlatan.
You worked as a U.S. Correspondent in Washington for seven years for SVT. Please give us a few thoughts.
I arrived in the US in September of 1989. I was set to report on power politics and disarmament negotiations affecting the whole world. However, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9 that year and all of a sudden everyone rushed to Berlin. I was left in the US and did not have many issues to cover. Then the Gulf War with the invasion of Iraq by George Bush Sr. and a United States-led coalition began and very quickly I had plenty to cover. I traveled to different states (all but Indiana) to capture the American people’s opinions and attitudes. I reflected decisions made in Washington, focused on the average American. Their mentality is very different from the Swedes. Swedes think that they resemble Americans, but they don’t. We misjudge the Americans’ mindsets. I followed the news and went where they took place to report. I also made documentaries, in which I described ordinary Americans. I wanted to get a better understanding for how they reason and identify. It was interesting and my films were acclaimed.
How are Swedish mindsets different from those in the US?
Swedes are generally more liberal and secular compared to Americans. Swedes also expect the government to play a greater role in everyday life. Americans, in general, want as little involvement from the federal government as possible. Americans are generally more optimistic and easy going as compared with Swedes.
Do you think the image of Sweden is changing and developing internationally and particularly in North America?
While working in the US in the 90s, I noticed an opinions survey asking people; “who they believed to be the most famous Swede.” Most answered “the Swedish Chef in the Muppet Show.” This was, of course, very out of the box, as he is not even a real person. I also interviewed the American Vice President, who when I was about to leave said, “by the way, I love your watches.” One has to be humble. I think Americans today have a somewhat better understanding of where/what Sweden is.
How do you think Sweden has achieved the success it has, despite being such a small country population-wise?
Due to the same reason as any other country, which is successful: skills, competence and spirit. I do not think that Sweden has succeeded better commercially than any other small western European country.
What aspects of Swedish culture and life are you personally most passionate about promoting?
Swedish documentaries are very successful. Searching for Sugarman is a good example. The film recently won an Oscar. I enjoy documentaries that depict complex processes. I also feel that Swedish pop music and the Swedish gaming industry have received well-honored international recognition.
Are there any other current or upcoming projects or events that you would like to mention?
From Clinton to Clinton premiered on October 23, 2016 and is available to watch on svtplay.se. I have also made a series of documentaries on the Baltic Sea (Östersjön).
The Baltic Sea is surrounded by some of the world’s most environmentally conscious societies. And scientists all agree on the most important steps to take. Still, in many respects, the state of this sensitive and almost landlocked sea is deteriorating. The efforts to save the sea are spoiled by national disagreements and short-term interest. The future and life quality of 90 million people are affected by the Baltic Sea environment.
Filmmaker Mattias Klum and I have spent almost ten years documenting efforts to save the Baltic Sea. Our work has resulted in the documentaries; For Cod’s Sake released in 2009, Dirty Waters released in 2011, The Second Wave released in 2013 and Shipping Pollution released in 2015. Our fifth film, an international feature documentary on the topic, will be released in 2019. We are also putting together a range of interactive educational material for use in the whole Baltic region. Our Baltic Sea Media Project is supported by a grant from the BalticSea2020 foundation.
For further information see; www.ourbalticsea.com
You have won numerous prestigious awards for your work as a reporter. Which are you most proud of?
I am proud of being awarded the Bonnier Grand Prize in journalism, the most prestigious journalism award in Sweden.