Fresno's creative Swede Fest spawns more inspiration

The Fresno BeeMay 16, 2013 

Without commissioning an in-depth study on the subject, it's hard to tell exactly how many times Swede Fest has been mentioned in local media. It seems like a gazillion. The festival -- and its creators, Roque Rodriguez and Bryan Harley -- have that kind of buzz.

I'd say I've written a lot of that myself.

Yet, as the festival gears up for its 11th installment Sunday night at the Tower Theatre, it seems worth mentioning again.

Let's start at the beginning: A Swede is a low- (or no-) budget, summarized re-creation of a popular Hollywood movie or TV show. It's a parody made by you and your friends, an idea spawned by promotions for "Be Kind Rewind," the 2008 cult film from director Michel Gondry.

The Swede Fest is a showcase of those films.

The first Swede Fest was held in 2008 at an art gallery in Fresno's Chinatown. There were six films projected on a back wall. The whole thing ran about 45 minutes. At the end, it was decided there would be another.

Fast forward to November, when the festival's 10th installment was capped at 20 films and played to a close-to-sold-out audience at the Tower Theatre. That growth in popularity alone makes the festival worth mentioning.

As does the fact that Fresno's festival was the first of its kind in the nation. It spawned similar festivals in New Hampshire and Florida and has gotten national exposure from news outlets such as NPR.

It's also fun, free and family friendly -- an unusual combo these days.

But Swede Fest is really worth mentioning because of what it represents -- a sense of creativity and ingenuity that Fresno could use more of.

The very idea of interpreting a $40 million film with $40 (or less) seems impossible. To do it, you can't be defeatist. There is no room for pessimists. Creating a Swede is about seeing possibilities.

How to re-create an Iron Man suit -- or Vin Diesel's 1970 Dodge Charger RT from "The Fast and the Furious" or a sinking Titanic -- is a large part of the fun. Sometimes, it comes out cheesy (think tin foil and toys on strings).

But sometimes it's masterful.

Rodriguez and Harley's own series of Sweded trailers (which can be seen on their website, have earned them an online following and mentions on CNN's "Geek Out," Ain't It Cool News, Slash Film and more. The Swede they did for Guillermo Del Toro's upcoming sci-fi epic "Pacific Rim" was mentioned by the director during a panel discussion at this year's WonderCon convention and got them an invite to the film's premiere.

They are pretty darn cool. The Swedes are shot scene-for-scene and are amazing in their creative (and artistic) use of cardboard, duct tape and spray paint.

Granted the pair probably has more creativity and experience than most of us, not to mention a better sense with an X-Acto knife. Rodriguez works as a graphic designer and Harley has been working as a local filmmaker since 2001.

Both are huge movie nerds.

They would make Swedes regardless of the festival. They chose to start one -- and work to keep it free and appropriate for all ages -- for a reason.

It's meant as inspiration.

They want you to create. If not a Swede, something else -- maybe a festival of your own.

So, yes. I will mention Swede Fest again (it's 6 p.m. Sunday at the Tower Theatre) because it's an inspiring thing and inspiration makes Fresno a better place to live.

If you go

Swede Fest 11, 6 p.m. Sunday at the Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave. Free and open to all ages. Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" will be shown prior to the festival. The film screens at 3 p.m. and costs $5. Details:

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6470, or @JoshuaTehee on Twitter. Read his blog at

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