Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

Film student sees family history through camera lens

Potomac native mines grandfather’s stories for inspiration

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Kensington resident Alex Wilson takes on the role of a young boy with an alcoholic father in the short film, ‘‘The Games of Night.”
This spring, student filmmaker Dan Levy Dagerman, formerly of Potomac, was looking for the perfect short story to adapt into a screenplay. Levy Dagerman, a 2003 graduate of Winston Churchill High School and a third-year student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, knew he needed one that would jump off the page.

It was the visual elements that drew Levy Dagerman to a story titled, ‘‘Nattens Lekar,” written in 1947, about a young boy who copes with his alcoholic father by dreaming up imaginative ways to lure him home from the bar. He was also drawn to the story because it was written by his grandfather, Stig Dagerman, who was a prominent Swedish writer in that time.

‘‘I had read a lot of my grandfather’s stories, but this one stood out in my head,” said Levy Dagerman, 22. However, he knows his grandfather only through his work — the author committed suicide in 1954 after struggling with mental illness.

‘‘Sometimes I think about how we might be similar,” Levy Dagerman said. ‘‘When I’m writing, I imagine maybe it was similar for him in his time.”

The story, which was adapted into a short film titled ‘‘The Games of Night,” draws on experiences from Stig Dagerman’s childhood. Funded by a $10,000 grant from the Barbo Pro Suecia Osher foundation, a philanthropic organization geared towards Swedish and Swedish-American projects, the film is slated to be screened at the Avalon Theatre Jan. 6.

Another one of Dagerman’s stories, titled ‘‘Att doda ett barn (To kill a child),” was adapted into a film by Swedish filmmaker Bjorne Larson in 2003. The film was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Born in 1923, Dagerman debuted on the literary scene at 22 with a horror novel called ‘‘The Snake” and quickly earned a reputation as a talented author. Later in his life, the failure of his marriage and an increasing inability to write led to a nervous breakdown and his ultimate suicide.

Family members say Dagerman’s work was extremely autobiographical.

‘‘Much of his writing is very psychological and also quite self-disclosing,” said Lo Dagerman, Levy Dagerman’s mother. Lo Dagerman, a native of Sweden who is currently a Potomac resident, was 3 when her father committed suicide.

Levy Dagerman said that he’s always felt a strong connection to his Swedish roots, but through the film was able to find a connection with the life and work of his grandfather.

‘‘I definitely got to learn a lot more about his background,” Levy Dagerman said. ‘‘I learned about how much Stig meant to other people — how much he touched people.”

Lo Dagerman, who also acted as a producer for the film, said that her son’s choice to adapt a piece written by her father was an emotional one for her.

‘‘He was about the age that Dan is now when he wrote the story,” Lo Dagerman said. ‘‘It is just so powerful for me.”

The film features Alex Wilson, 9, of Kensington, as the lead character, Hakan. Terri Wilson, Alex Wilson’s mother, said the young actor dealt well with the mature emotional themes of the film.

‘‘I think it really boosted his self confidence,” Wilson said. ‘‘... He’s always liked adult interaction, and he likes that he’s part of such a ‘grown up’ thing.”

Alex Wilson said he first became interested in acting through performing in plays at his school, Kensington Parkwood Elementary. ‘‘The character was cool because he has lots of ideas,” Alex Wilson said. ‘‘It was a lot of fun, even though some of the themes were sad.”

Levy Dagerman, who aspires to be a feature film director, is submitting the film to 30 short film festivals in the U.S. and Europe. Levy Dagerman is also currently working on securing funds to produce a full-length screenplay he wrote based on his experiences growing up in Potomac.

If you go

The short film ‘‘The Games of Night” will be screened at 11 a.m. Jan. 6 at the Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington. For more information on the screening, contact the theater at 202-966-6000.