HELSINKI, Finland — Nothing about Donner is predictable, save his unpredictability.
--Peter Cowie in Scandinavian Review
Most film producers are unknown beyond the narrow confines of their celluloid world. Film stars are known. And some directors. Even a few screenwriters. But a producer?
Very, very few. Jorn Donner is a member of this select pantheon, and he is no ordinary producer. He is the producer of Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander."
This is the man who keeps the Oscar it won in 1983 on a cluttered shelf in a far corner of his office here. "Bergman didn't want it," he says with a gesture in its direction. "He's not interested in such things. He thought that I, as producer of the film, should have it."
Jorn Donner is not that interested in such things, either. There is so much else to do--and think about.
For example: Donner enjoys the implausible honor of being the only film producer in the entire world to have been a talk-show host in Stockholm and a member of the Helsinki City Council at the same time. He is no longer a talk-show host; he is still a member of the City Council.
During the energetic decade of the '60s, he also was writing, directing and producing films. One of them, the first he directed, won an award at the Venice Film Festival in 1963. Not content with directing, he founded his own production company in 1966 and has produced 36 films during its 20-year history. (Donner directed 11 of them.)
He is acerbic, cryptic, critical, analytical, verbal, charming, multilingual, an incessant cigarette smoker, and, without much likelihood of disagreement, the most prodigious and prolific creative spirit in Scandinavia today.
Even people outside the movie business know Donner from his television show and his novels. His name is, if not a household word, a familiar one. His powerful personality and opinions prompt strong reactions. No one feels neutral about Jorn Donner. They either like him or hate him.
Author Peter Cowie, writing on Donner in the recent issue of Scandinavian Review says: "Another person equipped with Donner's gifts might have emigrated to Hollywood or Manhattan. To remain in Finland for such an individual implies more than patriotism. It signifies a profound yearning for the rhythms of Nordic life. Nobody who scans Donner's output can fail to acknowledge that here is one Nordic personality whose sheer productivity is beyond question."
From an office in what used to be the living room of a yellow frame cottage in a tree-shaded courtyard, Donner keeps in touch with film making all over the world. He lives only a few yards away in a somber gray stone building that faces the Helsinki harbor with its imposing fleet of massive ice breakers.
And from a fire-placed room lined with bulging bookshelves, he expresses his opinions on film activities everywhere.
Donner's opinions are studied and reasoned because he is involved. He subscribes to magazines all over the world, Daily Variety among them. He goes to Cannes; he goes to Venice; he even goes to the Philippines. And he has been to the States frequently to promote Scandinavian films. Closest to his heart, of course, is film making in Scandinavia. His roots are here. He is a native Finn and an "adopted" Swede. He knows the territory.
He is concerned. And he is critical--not at all sharing the optimism of his counterparts elsewhere in Scandinavia.
His face clouds when he ponders the future of film making because he sees so much "complacency and laziness in thinking."
"I'm not losing hope in the sense that there can be audiences and there can be film makers but, with the mental laziness of people, it's not easy."
As a former director of the Swedish Film Institute, Donner is particularly sensitive to film making in Sweden. And particularly familiar with what he sees as its shortcomings.
"Sweden is not, generally speaking, an artistically interesting country. Literature is not very good. Novels, often the basis for films, are not very good. Drama. Music. Pop music, O.K. Television drama not very good.
"So who says that you need the arts?" he asks rhetorically. "They (the government) are putting very much money into culture, into the distribution of culture, in films, libraries, in all forms, but the main part of this money is put into distributing activities. And that doesn't solve creative problems.
"Maybe it's the same thing elsewhere--I don't know--in countries where you have full public financing. West German cinema isn't that good anymore. It's very uneven. French the same. They make 150 films and what do you see of them? Five at the most. This is an exaggeration, of course. Italy, except for the established old film makers--I know all the Italian film-makers because I went there as a journalist when they were young--but every year the same faces pop up. There is nothing new.