Swede Fest goes virtual this year, but the crazy creativity continues

Swede-sons greetings, Fresno. It’s my pleasure to report that one of our city’s most distinctive and creative cultural institutions is soldiering on during the pandemic. Swede Fest 20 will premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, with a live, free online presentation available on all sorts of platforms. Here’s a rundown:

Pictured above: On the set of Dumb Drum’s swede shoot of ‘Barbarians.’ Photo: Dumb Drum

What’s a Swede?

We’ll get the rudimentary stuff out of the way first: Besides the definition that most people would ascribe to the word — i.e, a citizen of a cold, rich, fish-obsessed Nordic country — a swede is a weird, homemade remake of a favorite movie. (Think of a “Star Wars” spoof with R2-D2 depicted as a garbage can on wheels, say, or “The Fast and the Furious” remade with fuel-efficient sedans.) The term was coined in Michel Gondry’s 2008 film “Be Kind Rewind,” and thanks to a gaggle of committed swede aficionados in Fresno, the concept has been lovingly nurtured for more than a decade.

OK, so what’s a Swede Fest?

It’s a short-film festival consisting of swedes. Entries come from all over the world. We are now on the whopping 20th installment of the event. (When it started in 2008, the festival used to be staged twice a year; now it’s an annual occurrence.) Time limit for a swede is four minutes.


What’s different this year?

Biggest thing is it won’t be held in person. The Tower Theatre is the festival’s swedelicious traditional home, and I can tell you that the evening is a raucous, happy affair, with many of the stars of the current entries holding court in the lobby before and after. (It’s like the Oscars without designer gowns and Ryan Seacrest.) In the YOTP (Year of the Pandemic), it’s all about the online thing. Something else new: After the entries are screened, there will be a live Q&A with some of the filmmakers. You’ll be able to post questions on Facebook and YouTube.

What’s the same?

Our beloved swedish hosts — Bryan Harley and Roque Rodriguez, the guys behind the powerhouse local studio Dumb Drum who have earned the equivalent of doctoral degrees in the history, production and curation of the art form — will be back, this time streaming from their respective homes. They’ll introduce the festival and lead the live Q&A.

How many entries are there?

This year 25 new pieces were submitted, about the same number as in previous festivals. Spoofed titles include “The Mandalorian,” “Home Alone,” “Toy Story,” “Paranormal Activity” and “The Quiet Place.” There will be a few classic swedes from earlier festivals sprinkled in for nostalgia’s sake. “We thought our numbers would be lower this year, but we got as many submissions as we would normally get in a regular year,” Harley tells me. As in years past, most of the entries are local, but there are also entries from England, Australia and Tampa, Florida.

What is Dumb Drum’s entry?

Savvy Swede Fest fans know to look forward to each festival’s entry from Harley, Rodriguez and their dedicated team of sweders. (Is it just me, or have I used more new forms of the word than in any previous article? I’m on a roll.) This year, the Dumb Drum swede is extra special. It involves a Hollywood player so big and powerful that even grown talent agents quake at the sound of its name.

Wait a second …  Are you saying that Netflix is involved?

You are clairvoyant! Yes, the Streaming Service That Rules Them All tracked down Dumb Drum a few months ago with a proposition. Netflix was looking for a novel way to promote a new series titled “Barbarians,” which is about those rough-and-tumble Germanic tribes who made life hellish for the Roman Empire. (The series is in German and Latin with subtitles.) The idea: Remake the “Barbarians” trailer as a swede.


Yes, Harley and Rodriguez thought so, too. Even though they were given an impossibly truncated timeline (about a week and a half), the pair leaped into action — which was a stretch because they, like the rest of us, have essentially been couch potatoing it for many months — and organized a socially distant, pandemic-safe backyard shoot. It turns out that the Dumb Drum squad was only responsible for part of the trailer; Netflix assigned some of the shots to teams in Japan and Australia. Still, Dumb Drum provided the major character actors and had a bulk of work.

What was the toughest part of recreating the trailer?

There were several night shots with battle scenes requiring big plumes of fire and smoke. “That was somewhat challenging to recreate,” Harley says, “because we didn’t want to set Roque’s backyard on fire.” Also, there were several times when characters had to mime German and Latin words.

What did Netflix think?

The only note was that the title cards looked too “good.” Netflix asked: Can you make them look worse? Dumb Drum was only too happy to comply.

Anything else I need to know about this year’s Swede Fest?

It will be broadcast on Facebook Live, live on YouTube, and on CMAC Channel 2. You can watch the show on demand on Facebook and YouTube afterward. You can find all the details on the Swede Fest page. And Harley wants to give an extra shout-out to the Tower Theatre and Fresno Filmworks, which have always been big supporters of the festival. Swede Fest 20 is free to view, but he encourages people to donate to both organizations during these tough times.

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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