INTERDEPENDENCE: A Short Film about the Swedish Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Over the past couple of months countries and cities have had to rapidly devise responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. While more or less strict lockdown measures were implemented in most countries, Sweden opted for a different model, leaving the responsibility for shut-downs and social distancing almost entirely to its citizens — whether in schools, cafés, or public life in general. Stockholm-based architecture and design curator James Taylor-Foster, along with filmmakers Frans Wiklund and Ludwig Mattsson, created the video essay Interdependence. The film documents the streets of Stockholm over the past few weeks, along with text reflecting on the special Swedish context and response. The film ends on a paraphrased citation borrowed from Ingmar Bergman’s classic plague-themed film The Seventh Seal (1957).
What motivated you to create Interdependence?
Towards the end of April, I had a conversation with designers and filmmakers Frans Wiklund and Ludwig Mattsson of Studio Reko. I’d been ruminating on the bizarre dissonance of being in Stockholm at this precise moment: that life is continuing without much of a change, while the rest of the world has and is experiencing varying degrees of lockdown. Throughout March and April, friends from all over started to send me an ever expanding folio of articles and videos debating Sweden’s response to COVID-19 — a combination of confusion, curiosity, praise, and anger. In Stockholm, we three hadn’t seen any considered reflection from the “inside,” so we began to film in the city and think about what that might look like. The result is a short film that serves as one lens, one context, to reflect upon a unique moment. I’m sure that some of the scenes in this film will be surprising to some, the lack of protective measures taken by people in public (myself included), the apparent disregard for the severity of this pandemic. I believe that there’s an interesting societal explanation (not defense) for these scenes, and that’s what Interdependence is trying to offer in its own modest way.
What has been your experience living through the “Swedish model” of lockdown?
The core experience is simple: Life has not changed drastically for me. Sure, people are anxious, and that in turn has an effect on my wellbeing. The idea of “being in it together” has plumbed new depths. Some close friends in Stockholm are in self-imposed isolation. But I take public transport daily. I work from home occasionally, but not most of the time. I am very much in the city, with very many other people, keeping a little bit more of a distance, but going to restaurants, shopping, visiting people. Up to this point, I have no lived experience of what a lockdown looks or feels like. Alongside being an ethnically and economically segregated city, one thing that should be acknowledged is that Stockholm is relatively dispersed at an urban level. This lack of density makes public transport particularly important, especially in connecting the suburbs with the inner city. Parks and green pockets can be found practically everywhere, and most neighborhoods connect to small forests. It’s a capital city that, in many ways, is designed to accommodate separation by degrees. Context is at once everything and nothing.
Sweden has seen some of the highest per capita death rates from COVID-19 in the world. What can be learned from the results of this experiment of “herd immunity” both in Sweden and globally?
Some days I will hear Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist and the person labelled by many as the “architect” of Sweden’s response, and agree with his explanations and recommendations. Other days I will take issue with them. On the whole, there is a consensus here for most of the incremental decisions that have been made since March: to not lockdown, to limit public gatherings to no more than 50 people (although this particular rule has exceptions), to not travel within the country and internationally unless absolutely necessary. But there have also been explanations that feel inadequate. Sweden has taken an exceptional approach, in line with its own understanding as a place of exception, and that’s that. The per capita death rate here is a tragedy, whatever the long-term implications of taking this direction might be.