'I Have to Trust My Intuition': A 40-Minute Chat Between Ingmar Bergman & AFI Film Students

Ingmar BergmanIngmar Bergman is one of the giants of cinema, to the point that some images from his films have become so iconic as to make up a visual shorthand, possessing an allusive quality (the Knight playing chess with Death comes to mind.) The Swedish filmmaker directed over 40 narrative features and documentaries, both for film and TV, in his 61-year career, and was also a prolific theater director. In 1975, he sat down with students from the American Film Institute, and now a 40-minute audio recording of their conversation is available online. It's a remarkably open and candid talk from a master director, and required listening for any fan, student of cinema, or lover of movies.

This conversation with the students of the American Film Institute, also printed in the book, Ingmar Bergman: Interviewsfeatures the Swedish director answering questions about his process as a filmmaker. Though he worked in many forms and genres, from the cold and artful beauty of Persona to the realism and warmth of Fanny and Alexander, he was a man with definite opinions on the craft of directing. From his thoughts on working with actors:

An actor is always, always, a creative human being, and what your intuition has to find out, is how to make free the -- power, the creative power in the actor or the actress -- I can't explain how it works. It has nothing to do with magic. It has a lot to do with experience. I think that when I work with the actors, I try to be like a radar; I try to be wide open, because we have to create something together --

To the rule of intuition in the creative process:

All those decisions, all those very, very difficult decisions, you have to make hundreds of them every day. I never think. I never have. It's never an intellectual process; it's intuition. I have to go straight into it and I have to trust my intuition, because if you trust your intuition and train your intuition and start to make intellectual discussions with your intuition, you'll make the right things. Afterwards, afterwards, you can think it over.

And, for a man whose films could be filled with hypnotic and symbolic images (many captured in the inimitable black and white of his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Sven Nykvist) that have been analyzed for decades, his views on the "meaning" of his work might come as a surprise to some:

In a way you know, I don't know anything about message or symbols or things like that. I am always very surprised that people ask me about things like message, because I have just wanted to get in touch with other human beings when I make a picture and tell them a story, or just, to be together, or to touch them, and have them to feel them. Sometimes, when I have a message, everything goes wrong.

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8TJ2d7-1e8

It's wonderful to hear such a titan of cinema being so warm and open with these students. Bergman seems to espouse a method that is a sort of rigorous freedom, a set of working conditions that allow the magic of a moment, that most elusive element, to manifest, and thus be captured on film. To hear a master speak so candidly about their craft is a real (and a rare) treat, and we would all be wise to listen to what he has to say.

[via Cinephilia and Beyond]

Check-Out: Professional & Studio Headphones – Top Selling Headphones on Sale this week

With any & every B&H purchase You will automatically be entered into the Monthly Gift Card Raffle.

Your Comment


Marvelous. Poetic. A genius.

July 17, 2014 at 6:07PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Micah Van Hove

i have a Epiphany!!!!!!! TANKS SO MUCH

July 17, 2014 at 7:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Juan Rossi

Its so much liberty in each word that a epiphany listening to him seems to be reasonable easy to achieve..Thanks very much for this page and this audio.

July 20, 2014 at 2:31PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Intuitive is right!!!

I may be remembering this wrong; if so, someone please correct me. But my recollection is that I saw a documentary which showed Bergman directing a scene where a woman returned home to find that her husband had left her. The action was minimal - she slammed her car keys on the hall table. I thought, "That's that - good take." But Bergman walked into the set and showed her how to put the keys on the table more expressively, and believe it or not, it made a big difference. Am I recalling this correctly? And, does anyone remember the name of the documentary? I'd like to see it again.

July 24, 2014 at 3:35PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Bob Cole