Just think of Bob and Judy/
they’re happy as can be/
Putting them on TV
- Talking Heads, “Found a Job”
How prescient was David Byrne back in 1978? He predicted the Internet, YouTube, TikTok — and sweding. Wait, what’s sweding? To “swede” is to remake a classic movie at home, with friends and family, no budget, and whatever props are at hand. It can be a lot of fun. More critically it can be a lifeline to sanity during a time of forced home stays and monthslong lockdowns.
If you want to get a gander at some recent examples, the fourth annual Sweded Film Festival for Creative Re-Creations is live and online as of Feb. 12, courtesy of Pittsburgh-based Rowhouse Films (rowhouse.online). For $3.99 — the money goes to independent theaters and festivals around the country — you can watch home-brewed versions of “Die Hard,” “Gone Girl,” “The Lighthouse,” and eight others, plus four contest winners from recent years. The filmmaking quality varies — but quality is not the point here. Ingenuity, enthusiasm, and a love of sending up the movies you love are what count.
You’re wondering why it’s called “sweding”? Excellent question, and to answer it I direct you to “Be Kind Rewind,” the marvelous 2008 Michel Gondry comedy that introduced the term. In it, Jack Black and Mos Def play two video store employees who accidentally erase their entire stock, forcing them to substitute hilarious self-made garage versions of “Ghostbusters,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” and others. They tell customers that these versions are from Sweden, and the remakes become so popular that people start making more for themselves. Warm and whimsical, the movie celebrates the same democratic DIY ethic Talking Heads were singing about in “Found a Job”: Free your media and your mind will follow.
Of course, sweded movies existed before they were called that. Most famously, three 11-year-old boys in the 1980s decided to make their own shot-for-shot copy of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” By the time they were done with “Raiders!” eight years later, they were being featured on news shows and had the blessing of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. (There’s even been a documentary made about their version.)
In the wake of “Be Kind Rewind,” however, there came a miniature sweding boom, with faithful re-envisionings of “The Matrix,” “Jurassic Park,” and other popular hits. The sweded movies in “Rewind” itself were made by director Gondry, and he continued to carry the torch with a loopy French sweding of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” starring himself. The movement has only grown: Type “sweded films” into the search field on YouTube and you’ll find “Jaws” in a swimming pool, “The Lion King” in a sandbox, and “Mean Girls” with an all-Barbie Doll cast.
Anyone can do it, and it’s the yawning gulf between ambition and available resources that can make for the most fun. Who wants a sweded movie that looks as good as the real thing? In the version of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” that took first prize in the Rowhouse festival, Cameron’s dad’s cherry-red 1963 Porsche Spyder is ... a Matchbox car, dwarfed by the human-size garage in which it’s parked. The slacker-dude playing Snake Plissken in the sweded “Escape From New York” has his beard stubble drawn on with a Sharpie. “Dune-ish,” a sweded version of David Lynch’s “Dune,” is peopled entirely by plastic Minion figurines.
You can tell that a number of the festival’s entries this year were family projects designed to keep the kids (and their parents) from climbing the walls due to COVID-related social deprivation. There’s a sweded “Wizard of Oz” that’s cute as all get-out, with Dorothy and her three friends played by 6-year-olds (they can’t sing, but who cares), Toto cast with a wheezy old Pug, and the witch’s theme music played on an oboe. (When the Wizard says “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” it’s a shower curtain he’s talking about.)
Similarly, the Harrison Ford action film “Air Force One” has been family-sweded so that all the government officials tracking the hijacked flight are elementary-school age and the speakerphone is from Fisher-Price. Sometimes the energy is greater than the execution: Even a sweded movie needs to be in focus, which the Rowhouse entry “Beetlejuice” isn’t. More often, the lack of budget is not just obvious but a point of creative pride: In “No Country for Swede Men,” Anton Chigurh carries a portable beer keg instead of a bolt pistol, and when a dog chases Llewelyn Moss through the woods, it’s a guy on all fours yelling “Bark! Bark!”
The vegetable peeler used as a murder weapon in the sweded “Gone Girl,” the typhoon in a shower stall in “The Lighthouse,” the desperate struggle to scale a 3-foot-tall chain link fence in “Escape From New York” — these aren’t just creative end-runs devised by cash-starved filmmakers. They’re acts of liberation. A great sweding reclaims power from Hollywood, puts the audience in the driver’s seat, and reminds us that genuine creativity has little to do with special effects and high-priced stars. Sweded movies are love letters and acts of demolition at the same time. Every time you watch one, you’re seeing the revolution be televised.