Remember Be Kind, Rewind? Most people don't because most people didn't actually see the movie. A 2008 box-office bomb that barely recouped half of its exorbitant budget, Michel Gondry's comedy told the tale of a video store employee and his klutzy friend who inadvertently erase the content of every VHS tape in the shop. This prompts the cinephilic duo to remake all of the famous films in single takes, without a budget, creating a phenomenon in their town.
Taken from the film's parlance, the term for a short, penniless, laughably bad remake is known as a "swede." This word and concept inspired a festival of outrageously questionable remakes right here in South Florida, Swede Fest Palm Beach. Their tag line is "bad
movies by good people."
Truncated "cover movies" have been around longer than 2008, of course, and
sketch-comedy series have parodied hit films. In the late '80s, a then-unknown comedian named Ben Stiller created a five-minute parody of The
Color of Money that went viral before things could even go viral. But If
Be Kind, Rewind is remembered for one thing, it's entering the style
into the amateur filmmaker's lexicon. A Google search for "swede movie"
yields more than 26 million hits -- and most of them have nothing to do
with Ingmar Bergman or Noomi Rapace.
This brings us back to Swede Fest Palm Beach, where (mostly) local
filmmakers create three-minute-or-less renditions of Hollywood blockbusters. Participants submitted entries for such films as Avatar, District 9, The Hunger Games, and Million
"The appeal of making a swede is twofold," says local film critic and
director Steven Lebowitz, who contributed a version of I Am Legend to
Swede Fest. "First, I've always had a knack for making
comedies, and second, swede films are not expected to have a big budget
behind them. Actually, they're expected to have no budget, which fits
right into what I can afford."
This is the nation's third festival under the Swede Fest brand. The concept began in 2008
in Fresno, California, by two friends. The result was so popular that they've
hosted eight additional Fresno Swede Fests in four years. (A gold
standard for the swede is director Kevin Searcy's hilarious take on Pulp
Fiction, which dilutes the movie's violence into sketchy absurdism
while remaining faithful to Quentin Tarantino's camera positions.)
"I heard about it on NPR, back in October of last year," says Belle
Forino, event organizer for Swede Fest Palm Beach. "I thought, Oh, my God, this sounds so fun, so cutting-edge, so creative. I'd love to get
that in our area. So I contacted the Swede Fest guys out in Fresno, and
we chatted for a month or so and got the trademark."
Sometimes, swede films can even improve on the originals, correcting
their flaws. For his I Am Legend, Lebowitz honored the graphic novel
on which the movie is based by making its creatures vampires, not those
icky, Gov. Rick Scott-resembling humanoids from the Hollywood movie.
The festival's winners will be chosen by audience vote; the recipients
will receive a private tour of the state-of-the-art Digital Domain
Institute in Port St. Lucie.
Tickets to Swede Fest Palm Beach cost $5 in advance or $6 at the door. Visit
swedefestpalmbeach.com. The festival takes place at 7 p.m. Friday, August 3, at the Borland Center of Performing Arts in
Palm Beach Gardens.