Kristina Åberg is the producer behind films like The Nile Hilton Incident, Metropia and Regretters, as well as a reporter at the foreign affairs desks of national news programs in Sweden. Whether she reports from war inflicted areas or produces movies about the darker sides of real life, her stories are often uncomfortable – but necessary. Central to her philosophy is that when you work together, 1 + 1 is always greater than 2. 2018 she was rewarded the prestigious Swedish film price the Guldbagge Award as the producer for The Nile Hilton Incident.
Since you were a journalist before you went into the movie business, what would you say was the most significant transition or the biggest change in your work?
To be a film producer is a lot of management. That’s the biggest difference. As a journalist, you’re only responsible for yourself, but as a producer you’re responsible for hundreds and hundreds of people. In different countries often. And you have the responsibility for the money.
That’s a pretty dramatic change?
No it was a transition. I started Atmo almost 20 years ago, and before that I worked at Swedish Television. I thought it wouldn’t be such a big difference as it actually became. In the beginning we only did TV, and then we started to do documentaries for the TV market, and then documentaries for cinema, and then drama, which is a completely different business.
So now, 20 years later, what would you say to yourself 20 years ago?
A: What is most surprising when you start a new business, especially in the film industry because you’re so dependent on others supporting you, is that it’s important to remember that the people who are in power now are not going to be in power in a few years. And also, everybody gets a no. It’s just a way to say they can’t say yes right now. So then the question is what they need to be able to say yes to my film.
Is that like a secret language you had to learn? Or a process to get to know this world?
Yes. But there is always a solution. When I worked as a journalist I worked in troubled areas around a world so I was already used to ‘there always a solution’. So I can use my experience as a journalist as a film producer as well. There is always a solution. Don’t give up. And if you give up, you should get another job.
Are you surprised by how much journalism and producing overlap like this?
No I don’t think there’s such a big difference because we tell stories. I used to tell stories as a journalist and now I coach others to tell stories. Even if we do drama, it is often based on a true story. Because reality is always the best. It’s the same passion. I want to change people’s way of thinking.
Is there a time or a moment where you felt like you did?
Yes, absolutely. Our first full-length documentary for cinema was Gitmo, about Guantanamo, and the directors were the first Swedish people who actually went to Guantanamo. And one of our latest films, the Nile Hilton Incident, that takes place in Cairo and deals with the corruption amongst the police force there had such an impact the film is forbidden in Egypt.
Do you feel like you’re working with the same kind of stories within your industry as well, as a producer and as a woman in the movie business?
Actually a majority of movie producers in Sweden are females today. But I’m proud of being able to coach younger people and females, but also people from different parts of the world. Atmo have always had staff from different countries because we have always worked internationally.
You think, with post-Metoo and so on, that the stories you tell on screen should be reflected off-screen?
Yes, absolutely. I’m very happy that it happened. But I’m very present in the production, I’m on the floor, on set. That’s a way to avoid problems on set. That I’m there. That’s quite enough, to be there.
That’s the same as being a journalist again, to be very hands on. Is that important for the creative process?
Yeah, I mean, if I’m to do this, to make a film, it takes 5 years of my life. I need to have fun and I need to like the people I work with.
What advice would you tell younger people starting out?
To work together. Take care of your relations. To make a film is not a one-night stand. The longer relationships you have, the better the film is going to be. You need to trust each other, especially with producers and directors. There are a lot of challenges, so I need to feel great about it often.
What is the thing that keeps you going?
Passion. It’s the passion. And taking control of my life.