Swede all-star makes homemade masterpieces

Friends of local filmmaker John Rios star in his homemade version of the movie Kill Bill. Via YouTube.
By Andrew Veihmeyer

John Rios recalls the time when he landed his first acting role. With an intentionally awful Irish accent, he played the corrupt ex-cop Keaton in a “sweded” version of the mobster thriller The Usual Suspects.

“I still fear that the great Gabriel Byrne might see that one day and facepalm,” he says.

That was 2008, and Rios was hooked. The Fresno State alumnus and local graphic artist has grown to be a regular contributor to the Swede Fest since its inception. The do-it-yourself amateur film festival, co-founded by local filmmakers Bryan Harley and Roque Rodriguez, presents its 11th crop of sweded films at The Tower Theatre on May 19. (Rodriguez directed the sweded version The Usual Suspects; he and Rios have since become good friends.)

John Rios and his swede collaborators have remade the movies Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, and more. Photo by Andrew Veihmeyer.
When a movie is “sweded,” it means that fans of the original film have lovingly and very modestly re-created it, using cheap, homemade props. The festival has evolved in just five short years. Rios quickly set his swede aspirations higher, and he began directing his own films.

“I literally had no idea how to cut stuff together, shoot, or direct,” he says, “but I was obsessed with movies growing up.”

That simple interest is enough to be a part of Swede Fest, Rios says. He first rented Be Kind Rewind, the film that inspired the swede movement, shortly after it released to home video. For a movie arriving with little fanfare during its initial release, Rios says he is anxious to revisit the original source that inspired the swede tradition. Filmworks will screen the now-classic 2008 comedy – directed by Michel Gondry and starring Jack Black, Mos Def, and Danny Glover – on May 19, right before Swede Fest 11.

Not only does Be Kind Rewind provide context for the festival, Rios says, “you see a movie and then you get to see your hometown doing what the movie was encouraging you to do. It’s perfect!”

What makes swede filmmaking and the event itself so memorable is the community of friends and family involved, Rios says. Planning for his swedes is usually up to him and his wife, Sarah Pittman, and they enjoy getting everyone together. “We try to get movies that have a large cast, to include as many people as possible,” he says.

To his advantage, Rios’s sweded films often retain the same core group of friends and family who play the characters. The process becomes similar to a long-term collaboration between actors and directors, a la Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, he says, where you know who you’re getting and you know it will be fun watching them pull it off.

The elaborately sweded version of The Hunger Games from Swede Fest 9 took Rios six days of shooting, with more than 25 people involved. “It literally almost killed me,” he playfully recalls.

Rios almost didn’t submit for Swede Fest 11, but he put together a last-minute weekend shoot to continue the tradition. The film he chose, which shall remain nameless until the premiere, is on a much smaller scale, but it should have just as much audience recognition, something that Rios says is a must for any good “sweded” film.

“The criteria for me is, it’s got to be an iconic film. Movies like that are the ones that resonate the most with me, and I think [with] the people who watch them,” he says. And while making “swedes” that resemble actual reality is fun to do, Rios admits the most exciting are the ones with outlandish costumes, situations, and big casts of characters.

While the deadline to submit for Swede Fest 11 has passed, Rios encourages those who are thinking of getting involved with the swede movement in the future to be bold and to envision seeing friends, family, and yourself on the big screen one day at the historic Tower Theatre.

“Pick a movie you like,” he says. “Don’t spend any money, be silly, use costumes. Just point the camera, shoot, and put it in your computer and see if you can put it together. It’s that easy.”

For more examples from all-star swede filmmakers, check out Iron Man 3 sweded by Rodriguez and Harley, Forrest Gump sweded by Heather McLane, or Lost Highway sweded by Vince Cosentino.

Andrew Veihmeyer earned his B.A. in communication from Fresno State. He is the Filmworks media relations and communication intern.