When Tribeca Film Festival handed out their 18th annual prizes, two young Swedish filmmakers took the stage. Not only did Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallins win Best Documentary for Scheme Birds, they also grabbed the Best New Documentary Director award.

Scheme Birds is a poignant yet lyrical portrait of a few Scottish people living on the edge of the society in a run-down area ironically called Motherwell. The title of the film is a local term for residents of the government-housing scheme, where you either get “locked up or knocked up,” according to our heroine Gemma.


Abandoned by her mother as an infant, this rebellious yet sweet teenager is brought up by her loving grandfather Joseph who has a thing for pigeons and owns a boxing gym. Gemma spends most of her time with her friends, never passing up a fight, which besides drugs and alcohol, is the favorite pastime in this fading place of broken promises since Margaret Thatcher closed local steelworks in the 1980s. Gemma is reminiscent of Elin (played by Alexandra Dahlström), the outspoken teen in Lukas Moodysson’s Swedish hit Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål, 1998). We follow Gemma through ups and downs, as she gets pregnant with her boyfriend Pat, and deals with the chilling violence that surrounds her. Fiske and Hallins’s portrayal of Gemma and her loved ones are sensitive and deeply personal, raw and frank. At times it makes you think of Andrea Arnold’s (Fish Tank, 2009) feature narratives, but the Swedes have an original voice. Always respectful of all their characters, the seamless editing and beautiful cinematography pulls you in and shakes you up. This slice-of-life tale flies. So will Gemma. As the tattoo on her shoulder says: “let the free birds fly.”

By Niclas Goldberg