When big industry closes what fills the hole? In places like Detroit not much. Famously the city’s population has shrunk by more than half from its peak of two million in the 1950s.
In Trollhättan, Sweden, the scale is somewhat different. The town is home to 55,000. But, like Detroit, it’s relied for decades on automobiles, an industry that’s been on the decline there for many years, and which could disappear altogether very soon.
GM, which offloaded the Trollhättan-based Saab only last year, is blocking a potential sale to two Chinese companies. 3,500 jobs are on the line.
From water turbines to silver screens
But Trollhättan, where once water turbines, diesel engines and the like were produced hasn’t stood still. Most prominent among the success stories is the movie industry, known, you’ve guessed it, as Trollywood.
Around 40 movies a year now roll off the production line, the latest of them out in the U.S. only last week – Lars von Trier’s science fiction drama, Melancholia, with Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland.
They’re turning out movies quite literally on the spot where they once turned out locomotives, and that’s partly why they came here in the first place.
“It’s one of the oldest industrial sites in Sweden but it was nearly empty,” explains Tomas Eskilsson, chief executive of Film iVäst, a regional film fund founded in the early 1990s, thatmoved to Trollhättan in 1997.
“There were a lot of old factory buildings, so we didn’t need to spend a lot of money creating facilities.”
There was another reason. Eskilsson laughs. “Well, I lived very close to here, so it was convenient.”
The benefits of no paparazzi
Trollywood has exceeded expectations. Lars von Trier first came here in 1999, to shoot Dancer in the Dark with the Icelandic singer Björk. All his subsequent films have been made in Trollhättan.
For Eskilsson, Trollhättan’s size (55,000) and location – 50 miles from the nearest big city, Gothenburg – have been advantages.
“Big productions can work extremely easily in this small town, because people leave us alone,” he says.
“We don’t have paparazzi here, so we can have really big stars working here and they can work absolutely freely. When we had Dogville here with Nicole Kidman starring she had demanded a lot of security at the beginning, so we had guards all over the place and they had put up fences and things like that and after I think 48 hours she herself said basically that we could take everything away because there’s no need for any security here.”
Not quite Hollywood
In the early days there was a suggestion that Trollywood should ape its big brother in California and install a sign on the rocky mountainside across the river proclaiming its existence in the same kind of lettering. Eskilsson wasn’t in favour, and says he didn’t like the name or the association.
“We thought that we are nothing you can compare with Hollywood. We are interested in a different type of film, we are not the same kind of industry and the risk was that the word made us smaller instead of bigger, because it was easier to joke about it,” he says.
Today he’s changed his mind because of how well the movie business has taken to life in the Swedish countryside. “Today it’s used internationally and so of course in the end you need to embrace it.”
The film industry has provided around 1500 new jobs regionally. That’s positive, but needs to be seen in perspective. It’s never going to be the employer heavy industry once was.
Nor will it ever rival its counterpart in LA. The Walk of Fame in downtown Trollhättan is somewhat smaller than the original with 16 stars compared to over 2,400 in California. But it already boasts some movie heavyweights.
Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgård of Pirates of the Caribbean fame are all immortalized in the paving of a downtown Swedish sidewalk.