The Lost Films of Rolf Forsberg

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Back in the Sixties, God was dead (or so the rumours had it), mainline churches were dying (though they didn’t know it yet), and the Jesus People hadn’t yet been born (again). If you happened to love God and the movies, you were pretty much stuck with Bergman and Bresson – not that that’s necessarily a problem, unless you’re prone to depression – and the occasional Cool Hand Luke angry young Christ figure.

But a faith-filled few fought the good fight, in church basements across the continent. Chief among them, Chicago-born Swede Rolf Forsberg, who brought a live theatre background (he directed Ed Asner in “The Tempest” in the late Fifties) and art house enthusiasm to some distinctive short films.

PARABLE (1964, USA, Rolf Forsberg)
Commissioned by the New York City Protestant Council of Churches for their 1964 World’s Fair pavilion, this 22 minute clown-Christ circus allegory is reputed to be better than you might expect, a film without dialogue that aims for something like Fellini or maybe Bresson. Controversial in its day – even the fair’s director asked for it to be withdrawn! – the film was big in church rentals for the rest of the decade, and you can still find it through some mainline church media libraries.

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ANTKEEPER (1966, USA, Rolf Forsberg)
His wife helped found Second City, Rolf made distinctly weird short films for the Lutherans. Here a gardener sends his son to teach the ants in his garden how to live peacefully. SPOILER: The ants kill his son. Voiced by Herman Munster.

STALKED (1968, USA, Rolf Forsberg)
“Flesh. In motion. Flesh. Illogical. Unpredictable. To me, a vastness of fools. Fools to be exploited, not pitied…”
Between his breakout hit PARABLE and the seventies Christian Scare Classic THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, Rolf (under the influence of Fellini, Bergman and possibly other hallucinogens) created this astonishingly weird short film, sort of a CARNIVAL OF SOULS for Christ. “The Man” needs a break from his day job sculpting gruesome Bible scenes for house of wax, so he flies to Europe, only there’s nobody there to meet him. I mean nobody. Except a guy in wooden shoes, who ends up following “The Man” through the streets of Amsterdam, dancing and pounding on doors. I think he’s supposed to be Jesus: you’ll never hear “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” in quite the same way again. A stranger Religious Ed film was never made – more’s the pity. Available on Fantoma’s “The Educational Archives, Volume Six: Religion.”

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Other vintage Forsberg shorts include Awareness (1968), Ark (1970), King Of The Hill (1972) and Nail (1973). All are exceedingly difficult to find: if somebody can hook me up with a copy of any of them besides Stalked (which I already own, and prize), that would blow my mind.

Son Eric ended up in the biz, specializing in bargain-basement-budget sequels and spin-offs: Night Of The Dead: Leben Tod (2006), Snakes On A Train (2006), 30,000 Leagues Under The Sea (2007) and War Of The Worlds 2: The Next Wave. Grand-daughter Lola continues the family tradition, appearing in several of her dad’s films.

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Non-cinematic footnote: Rolf wasn’t the only with-it Sixties Lutheran. It’s hard not to be a fan of Pastor John Rydgren, whose daily radio program “Silhouette” yielded some pretty far out stuff with a definite Forsberg groove. Check out “The Lord Is My Happening.”

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  • Philip Jones

    Wow, I can’t believe that after all these years I find anyone who knows these films. Thanks! Are they available for sale anywhere? How about “The Jesus Roast.” His last film?

  • http://soulfoodmovies.blogspot.com/ Ron Reed

    “The Jesus Roast.” Wow! Great title. Haven’t heard of that one, but I’m intrigued.

    I’ve tracked down an email address for his son Eric, and have contacted him to learn whether he has copies of any of the films on videotape or dvd. I’ll be sure and let you know what comes of that.

    Besides that, I don’t know a source for any of them, apart from Stalked, which shows up on the “Educational Archives” dvd noted above. I have occasionally heard rumours that the original films can be rented or borrowed from audio-visual libraries held by some mainline churches in some cities. One rumour suggested the Catholics in Edmonton, another an Episcopal media library someplace in Oregon.

    But it looks like Parable has become available on dvd, though it comes with a hefty price tag ($44.95). http://www.inareaumc.org/2004/April_04/awardwinning_parable.htm

  • Mr. N. Keller

    I’d like to find Ark.
    At least in Ark’s case, the film has got to be sitting in a film can in the corner of a warehouse belonging to San Diego Unified School District.
    I wish I could see it again.

  • Eric

    The films are fantasic, truly ahead of their time in so many ways. I love both Rolf Forsberg’s early films like stalked and Antkeeper, and his later movies like Peace Child, and Mother Tiger Mother Tiger. He also made quite a name for himself in the 1990s writing and occasionally directing for The History Channel as well as the travel video market. He is still working to this day – into his 80s.

  • http://www.asupremelarceny.com Scott

    I know where “Ark” is. I am a good friend of both Rolf and his son Eric. We want to get the film transfered to DVD, we are just trying to come up with the money to do so, anyone want to help? Hopefully, other Rolf Forsberg films will follow. You can contact me through my website.

  • Linnea

    I hope all these films get transferred to DVD and are discovered by a new generation.

  • http://www.soulfoodmovies.blogspot.com Ron Reed

    I just received an email from Mr Forsberg. I’m so pleased! Perhaps one of you made the connection. In any event, I’ll let you know how it all plays out: I would dearly love to see other of his films, particularly the shorts made in the nineteen-sixties.

  • John

    I actually OWN a VHS copy of “The Parable”, and I didn’t understand the true value of it until I made some inquiries some time back.

    I was one of the indoctrinated many in St. Ann’s church basement (which doubled as our dodgeball court for P.E.) who saw this film and walked out shaking my head.

    To this day I am still fascinated with the macabre side of religion and their sad attempts to stay “hip” with the kids at the time.

    Did they not know what they created?

    I’ll be placing this on DVD for view VERY SOON, but please contact me specifically – I am going to be sending it back to the certain Methodist ‘media center’ on the West Coast where I apparently ‘borrowed’ it some EIGHT years ago – talk about paying penance for this…!

    • 60’s girl

      Did you return it? Was it to Ecufilm? I don’t want to buy it; just borrow it.
      A 60’s girl.

  • Jack

    Ark is now on Youtube.

    • brewers_2150

      It was loaded on YouTube illegally and will be removed shortly.

  • http://http//www.sdbphotography.com Scott Brown

    I have met with Rolf and I now have the master copy of “Ark”, and we have found some of the other films that he actually owns and can copy and distribute. We are looking into getting them digitized and on DVD. If anyone is interested in getting copies of these films, (list to come next week), please let me know, donations will be greatly appreciated. The expense of transferring is not terribly high, but will add up to several hundred dollars

  • Brian

    Has anyone tracked down where Parable can be purchased along with some of his other films?

  • http://http//www.sdbphotography.com Scott Brown

    Ark is not being transfered into a digital file and will be available on DVD soon, as well as Nail and King of the Hill. Much more to come. There is a new website coming very soon, http://www.rolfforsberg.com check there for updates.

  • http://http//www.sdbphotography.com Scott Brown

    Im sorry, it was suppose to say that Ark is NOW being transfered, typo.

  • Rev, George Restrepo, SJ

    Is PARABLE available for sale anywhere? I remember seeing this award winning film in the New York City World’s Fair in 1964. Fr. George Restrepo, S.J.

  • http://www.soulfoodmovies.blogspot.com/ Ron Reed

    I think it’s remarkable to see the interest that this article has uncovered in the films of Mr Forsberg. Unfortunately, I have been in the midsts of other things when the various responses have been posted since last summer, so I’ve not managed to properly connect with the folks who are working on transferring the films to DVD. I’m going to make a note to follow up on all of this at my next opportunity, and report back. How I’d love the opportunity to see more of those early short films!

  • http://www.rolfforsberg.com Scott Brown

    http://www.rolfforsberg.com is up and running. Ark, King of the Hill, and Nail are just about ready for release. You can contact me through the web site. Parable may be a problem, I am looking into it as we speak. There is more to come.

  • http://www,rolfforsberg.com Scott Brown

    Parable is available here, http://secure.umcom.org/ecufilm/product/Parable,539,61.htm
    Rolf does not have rights to the film. It can be purchased at the above link for $44.95, kind of pricey I know but again, we have no control over that.

  • Terry

    We tried to honor Rolf in our new book, Celluloid Sermons: the Emergence of the Christian film industry 1930-1986 from New York University Press, 2011, and delighted to have some rare photographs from him to enhance the story.  He remains not only a pioneer, but a visionary. Terry Lindvall and Andrew Quicke

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/K2WBJOW4LVGNXYGGRAVRTVX3YE Alberto

    My name is Alberto Camilli, from mexico City;  in 1965 and 1966, I had the great honor to work with Rolf Forsberg, in the production of the film “THE ANTKEEPER”;  with Miss Madhur Jaffrey acting as “La Bruja”;  it was a great experience, and I have pictures with him, at the location in “The Cave” and in the Sound Studio, when we were recording the sound track for this film, with a Mariachi and a Traditional “Jarocho”  Group.   The last time I saw him was in 1967, al Los Angeles, when i was making lab jobs in Hollywood Film Enterprises, and he invited me to the Premiere of “The Graduate” and later to the Ceremony, with Mr Mike NIchols, Simon & Garfunkel and almost all the actors and actresses;  it was something unforgetable.

    I don’t know if he is alive, but it will be great to get in contact.

    My e mal:  aeventos@prodigy.net.mx

  • Lynne Whelden

    Is anyone still maintaining this site? If so, what’s the status of Rolf’s films being available on DVD? Ecufilms went out of business this year (2014) and “The Parable” you can’t buy from them anymore. Where might I find it? Hello? Anybody out there??? Rolf is still alive. I’d contact him if I knew how!

    • M. Leary

      You should try to contact Ron Reed, as he may be able to follow up on this. I have not seen any further news regarding availability unfortunately.