Despite her short life, Birgitta Jansson had an influence on animated films both in Sweden and around the world. Her international breakthrough came with the short film Semesterhemmet (‘The Vacation Home’), which scooped three awards at the Annecy International Animation Festival in 1981. This established her as a pioneer of a new way of making animated documentaries based around real-life soundtracks. In the film she used claymation techniques at around the same time as Peter Lord and David Sproxton started making similar films at the British company Aardman Animations.
Jansson was one of the best-trained Swedish film animators of her day. Following studies at Stockholm’s University College of Arts, Crafts and Design; Beckmans College of Design and the Munich Academy of Arts, she took a one-year course in animation in The Hague. In 1973 she worked as an animator at Sveriges Television in Malmö, followed by work on the animated feature Dunderklumpen! (‘The Thunderclump’, Per Åhlin, 1974). “That was when I really learned to animate,” as she put it. In 1975 she was in Belgium working on the television series Pierrot and the feature film The Smurfs and the Magic Flute (La flûte à six schtroumpfs, Peyo, 1976). Back in Sweden in 1978 she worked as an animator on the television series Farbrorn som inte vill va’ stor (‘The Man Who Doesn’t Want to Be a Grown-up’, Peter Cohen, Olof Landström, 1979). She also taught animation and, in 1980, wrote the practical handbook “Animation”. As part of a project for the Swedish Exhibition Agency she produced an animation box which demonstrated various techniques under the maxim “what matters most is that film belongs to everyone”.
Herfirst film as a director was entitled Där borta där lyckan bor (‘Over There Where Fortune Resides’, 1978), a short cel animation about the consequences of our need for dreams and myths. She followed this up in 1981 with Semesterhemmet, with a sound track recorded at an actual Swedish care home. This stop-motion claymation short about a day at the home is based around real voices and personalised in minute detail. It concludes with a live action scene in which the real life characters pass comments about the clay figures that represent them. As the producer and originator of the film Birgitta Jansson was able to control everything from the sets and filming in an apartment in the northern Swedish town of Östersund, to editing and post-production at Filmverkstan in Stockholm. But the festival success and its costly administration took its toll on Jansson, who despite her strength and dynamism was also fragile.
Jansson was both the director and principal animator of her next film, Ur en kos dagbok (‘From a Cow’s Diary’, 1984), which was based on a book by Beppe Wolgers and Olof Landström, and produced by the Swedish Film Institute. A success on all fronts, this cartoon short about the world from a cow’s point of view won an honourable mention from the CIFEJ at the 1985 Berlinale. Together with Cyndee Peters and Claes-Göran Lillieborg Birgitta Jansson also began work on a new claymation film, Lördag i North Carolina (‘Saturday in North Carolina’, 1986), – a film that was finished after her tragically early death in 1985. Among her other unfinished projects was a film about Atlantis for which only a series of sketches were made.
Founded in 1985, the Birgitta Jansson Memorial Fund for Animated Film is a grant-awarding body administered by the Swedish Union for Performing Arts and Film.
Elisabeth Lysander (2015)
(translated by Derek Jones)