Tracks is a combination of two distinct media: audio and video. Because they are never shown together –none of the interviewees speaks on-camera—they remain separated. There is the story of the train operators who share their experience with jumpers, people who commit suicide by letting themselves be ravaged by a passing train. And there is the visual element: fairly uniform images shot from the perspective of the train operator.
The viewer is immersed in the train ride. Without the audio, this could just be another show about beautiful train rides. But the combination with the story leads to something new: rather than a vehicle for a sightseeing tour, the train morphs into a murder machine. The viewer expects a jumper to appear out of nowhere for the camera. And tension gradually builds up as the suicide fails to materialize. Like in a good horror film, you know that a monster will make its appearance, but you don’t know when.
That’s why the film is also an experiment in content and image, according to Gunnar Bergdahl, who made the film with his wife, Annica Carlsson Bergdahl. In content because the media dedicates very little space to suicide, even though the number of suicide victims in Sweden by far outnumbers the number of traffic ones. The reluctance to talk about it stems partly from the self-imposed journalistic media code to prevent copycats. In Tracks, however, the focus is elsewhere. It’s about the perpetrators, but mostly about the very literal impact the collision has on train operators. Preparatory research showed the scope of these effects. Twenty operators were interviewed. Some couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about their experience. But one of them saw suicide-by-train as a form of ‘social interaction’: people were meeting, made eye contact, quickly assessed the other, and a bond of sorts was forged during the last seconds of a human life. When the conductor said this, Gunnar and Annica knew that this had to be in the film.
Visually, the film threads less accessible terrain. It is not the normal documentary with a portrait of the operator, including their everyday life outside of work. In Tracks they are all anonymous. Gunnar got inspiration for his camera work when, 15 or so years ago, he was invited to ride with a train operator on a remote route. The operator called it ‘the most beautiful office in the world’. For Gunnar it was an unforgettable experience: racing through the landscape, the continuously changing perspective, the speed and the peace that came together. This remained with him, and then he got the opportunity to make Tracks.
Tracks has not yet been shown on television, although efforts have been made, not even after it won the best short film award at her Norwegian Film Festival. The Swedish broadcasting climate is not very partial to these forms of narrative journalism, according to Gunnar Bergdahl. The two almost identical senders are focused on amusement, leaving little to no space for experimenting with form, in Gunnar Bergdahl’s view.