Pär Lagerkvist in Selected Poems of 1965:
One day you will be one of those who lived long ago.
Earth shall remember you as it remembers the grass and forests,
its rottened leaf.
As the soil recalls
as the mountains remember the winds.
Your peace shall be as the sea.
The Farmer I knew in Life and Death
If I walk through the forest about 25 minutes from my home in Flathult, near Oskarshamn in southern Sweden, I end up in the village of Hyckinge. This is where my first film was shot, Life and Death of a Farmer. The farmer in question is Styrbjörn Ejneby, the most knowledgeable and dedicated person I’ve ever met when it comes to nature conservation. We got acquainted shortly after I had moved to the area in 1978 and quickly developed a mutual understanding. Styrbjörn and his wife Solveig said that they felt “honored” when I started documenting their life and deeds, first as photographer, later as a filmmaker. Their hope was that my pictures and the film would serve as an inspiration for future generations.
Styrbjörn lived under a stern motto: “I have not the right to eradicate even a single species that I have inherited from my father! A good farmer should rather add new species to the farm, so that the web of life becomes even stronger.” To live up to this standard, he ran the farm on horsepower, ecologically, without pesticides or fertilizers. Styrbjörn wanted to show that it is possible - if you have the right skills.
He was a natural leader in the fight for greater biodiversity and nature conservation, founder of the Döderhult Nature Conservation Society (SSNC). He went around in the villages with a thermos of coffee and some cinnamon buns, inspiring people with lectures about nature and the local environment. Almost everything I know about animals and nature conservation I’ve learnt from Styrbjörn. He, in turn, liked to use my photos as illustrations for his presentations. Almost 5 % of the population in the municipality signed up to become members of our society.
I was always impressed by Styrbjörn’s amazing knack for storytelling and his effective pedagogy. I learned a lot about the psychology of presenting your case and how photos can touch emotional strings in the audience. We fought together against the part of Section 21 of the Forestry Act that deals with nature conservation and the methods of clear felling, which opens up wide scars in the landscape with devastating consequences for the environment.
My career as a filmmaker started in 2000, when I borrowed a simple DV-camera and started documenting Styrbjörn and Solveig. I had no plan, no scenario for the film. But already on the first day of shooting, the plot presented itself with devastating force. I had showed up at dawn in a field, where Styrbjörn was busy harrowing with one of his horses. He’d already been at it for some time, so he took a break and came up to me, talking in his normal straightforward manner: “It’s a good thing that you’re here filming now. I just walked into the forest to relieve myself, and I noticed there was blood. I think I have cancer. During the winter I’ve called the doctor to make an appointment several times, but it seems that whenever I have time to go there, he has no time for me - and vice versa.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. This powerful man, Styrbjörn, ill with cancer. It seemed impossible. But he was right and the film basically develops around Styrbjörn’s fight against his disease and the urgency he feels to express why biodiversity is so important, before his time on this earth comes to an end. And when the end is near, he makes a paraphrase on the Lagerkvist poem: “Soon we will be the ones who lived long ago.”