At Swede Fest 18, bad is good, and movie perfection is way overrated

Fresno’s wacky and wonderful Swede Fest 18 had a sweet time on Sunday evening, and I did, too. The crowd was big and jovial, the short films were goofy and lively (and some, thankfully, quite short), and the 10th anniversary angle gave the proceedings a celebratory air.

Pictured above: a screenshot from ‘Captain Marvel (Sweded)’ showing Hawk Duncan as a doppelganger for Jude Law.

There are no awards given at Swede Fest by the organizers. So I decided to give my own! All in good fun, of course. But before I get to that, let me indulge in just one paragraph of bookish reflection before getting to the good stuff:

The very idea of Swede Fest — in which amateurs inspired by favorite films do short remakes in fun, creative and extremely low-budget ways — fits in an interesting way into the tenor of our times. On one extreme, audiences today are accustomed to extraordinary visual effects and superb production values in almost all of our filmed and live entertainments. (Feature films today boast computer-generated imagery that would stun viewers from 20 years ago, and the most middling network TV crime procedural has knockout cinematography. Even the NFL, with its animated graphics and cameras that smoothly swoop over the field, trains our eyes to expect visual extravagance.) On the other extreme, we live in an age of amateur everything, from YouTube channels to news sites. It’s no surprise when a quickie video goes viral and ends up getting many times the views that a meticulously filmed art film will ever receive. Swede Fest somehow rests between these two extremes, both mocking the sophistication of filmmaking but also celebrating it.

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OK, now for the fun stuff. The program included both new submissions and some classics from Swede Fests of yore. Here are my completely arbitrary awards, all the while acknowledging that in the Swede universe, bad can also mean good:

Best introductory joke: To kick off the evening, Swedefathers Roque Rodriguez and Bryan Harley offered a few remarks. Harley mentioned that there is a group in Fresno that for a couple of weeks is “live Sweding” a version of “The Lion King. I fell for it completely. I thought: “Hmm, haven’t heard of that, I must get out there and do a story!” (And also, inexplicably: “Are they doing it around the clock?”) When Harley added the detail that this so-called live Sweding was being done at the Saroyan Theatre, I got it. I’d been had.

Best set decoration: The program kicked off with the classic Swede “Raiders of the Lost Ark” from Dumb Drum (Rodriguez and Harley’s filmmaking venture) done oh so many years ago. What I love about the recreation of “Raiders,” which uses the interior of a very much lived-in house for exteriors of jungles, ark raiding, etc., is how the filmmakers didn’t even clean off the dining-room table before the shoot. Now that’s Swede authentic.


Best visual effect: The closeup of the baseball “flying” in slow motion toward the viewer in “The Sandlot” (Three First Names Productions). You can see the fingers around the ball as it comes at you.

Best guns: The bananas in “Pulp Fiction” (Kevin Searcy). Reminds me of playing cops ‘n’ robbers when I was 5 and a banana became a gun and an orange a nuclear bomb. (OK, so I was a weird kid suffering from residual Cold War anxieties.)

Best vocal impression: Michael (played by Eric Deberdt) in “The Office” (Minarets High School). The voice and inflection when he recites his “farting noises” line is uncanny.

Best biggest eyes: James McLane, playing all the roles in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” another classic Swede. I did not know that Eyes. Could. Get. That. Big. A wonderful and weird moment (and an inspired Swede).

Best rapsy voice: The title character in “Beetlejuice” (Larry Kenshalo). There’s more gravel in those vocal cords than you’ll find in a CalTrans warehouse.

Best original dialogue: In “Armageddon” (Dead in 60 Years), this memorable line: “We must make this movie more emotional and poignant, so one of us must stay behind and die.”

Best use of fire: “Thor: Ragnarok” (Akos Varga). Those looked like real flames. Seriously. Did the fire marshall get involved?

Best Swede Fest product placement: “Looper” (John Rios). One way to become a festival critical darling is to work said festival into the plot, time-travel style. Very clever.

Best costumes: “Captain America: Civil War” (Matthew Porter). The bar was set pretty high for comic-book-movie costumes in this year’s festival, but this entry stood out. They looked sort of authentic and sort of made-from-scraps amateur, as if the real Captain’s real wardrobe budget had been slashed.

Best use of white plastic clothes hangers to simulate a monster: The depiction of Mothra in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (Parlier High School). And it was done for one-millionth the cost of the effect in the original trailer. Who needs CGI? (Also, I love the shampoo bottles next to Godzilla’s ocean of a bathtub.)

Best doppelganger, Part 1: The actress who plays Ally Sheedy in “The Breakfast Club” (John Rios). She has the look and the angst.

Best awww moment: In another classic Swede, the part in “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” (Ornitorrincs) when “Elliott” (played by a man I’m assuming is the father) lifts up E.T. (presumably his child) to go home. I felt a pang, and I think most in the audience did, too.

Best vibe: “Ghostbusters” (Raw Artworks). Who you gonna call to Swede Fest? This lively, rambunctious entry crackles with woman power.

Best doppelganger, Part 2: In the painstakingly and creative shot-for-shot remake of the “Captain Marvel” trailer (Dumb Drum), the Jude Law character (portrayed by Hawk Duncan) made me think the filmmakers simply slipped in the shot of the real actor. Same with the Clark Gregg character (portrayed by Matt Hackney). Take the time to watch the shot-for-shot comparison below. You’ll be amazed. Seriously, it’s an amazing piece of work, and I can’t fathom the number of hours that went into making it. Upon rewatching the whole thing, I think I’m most impressed with the simulation of the Captain Marvel actress (played throughout the trailer by Briana Salais, but in this shot featured stunt double Natalie Berg) being enveloped by an explosion/force field. (You can see it at about the 1:35 mark.) When you watch it in slow motion, you realize it’s just a bunch of cardboard and blue cellophane unfolding, but in real time the moment seems to, well, explode with color. The filmmakers figured out a clever way to tricking the eye into thinking it’s seeing something else. And that’s the magic of movies, right?

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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