Carlota Suzanne Osten (born 20 June 1944) is a Swedish film director stage director and screenwriter. She won the award for Best Director at the 22nd Guldbagge Awards for the film The Mozart Brothers.
Suzanne Osten was born in Stockholm. She is the daughter of toolmaker Karl Otto Osten (1912–1970) and film critic Gerd Osten (born Ekbom), whose frustrating efforts to direct a film in a male-dominated film industry are the subject matter of her daughter Suzanne’s debut film Mamma (1982). Osten's father was a social democrat and resistance man who came to Sweden when he fled from the Nazi regime in Germany. Her parents were married in 1941 but divorced when Suzanne Osten was little. In 1963, Osten graduated from Viggbyholmsskolan, a high school with a curriculum focused on language and creative subjects, and, after this, she studied art, literature and history at Lund University where she began directing at the university theater.
Osten formed one of Sweden’s first fringe theatrical companies, Fickteatern, and began her career as a stage director there in the late 1960s. In 1971, she continued to Stockholm City Theatre, which would be her fixed point for many decades. At that venue, she became a leader in developing the political theater of that time. Together with Margareta Garpe, she wrote the play Tjejsnack [Girl talk] (1971), intended for teenaged girls. Some of the songs from that play, such as the feminist anthem Vi måste höja våra röster [We have to raise our voices] are on the record Sånger för kvinnor och män [Songs for women and men] from 1972. After this, Osten and Garpe wrote the plays Kärleksföreställningen [The love notion] (1973), Jösses flickor! Befrielsen är nära [Gee girls! Liberation is close] (1974) and Fabriksflickorna, makten och härligheten [Factory girls, the power and the glory] (1980). All of these plays have a distinct connection to the Swedish feminist organization Grupp 8.
Suzanne Osten is a pioneer in developing theater for children. Throughout her career, she has advocated for art and culture for children and youth. She asserts that the child perspective is a question of power, about describing power relationships, and about seeing power from the perspective of the powerless, i.e., from an underdog perspective. A child is always more dependent on the adult since children are powerless in relation to adults. Osten has remained true to this standpoint in her writing, directing, and even casting of plays and films. In 1975, she formed Unga Klara, a branch of Stockholm City Theater for the purpose of producing theatrical performances for children and youth. Osten worked there as both stage director and artistic director until the summer of 2014 and developed a process for creating a performance.
The playscript Babydrama (2006) was written by psychoanalyst and dramatist Ann-Sofie Bárány following a period of improvisation and research. This production was controversial because the intended audience was infants aged from six months. Osten had been cautioned that children this young could not comprehend a drama, but she defied critics, and, during this performance, infants, without previous theater-going knowledge, sat as a theatre audience collectively watching the play for one hour. Baby Drama is a cabaret with six actors. The narrative suggests the lived experience of the audience from conception, the time in the womb, birth, meeting with its family, and then on to a life of its own. Osten documented the reaction of the young audience in Baby Drama: A documentary film with the baby as the lens where the viewer sees infants' faces watching the performance. Osten finds this to be proof of adult significance as performers, as art distributors, and of human love for communication. She interprets the reaction of the audience as an innate need in a child for gestures, facial expressions, emotions, language, and bodies from which to learn communication.
Osten’s process involves the entire theatrical company; writers, actors, technicians, mask makers, based on research and extended collaboration with audience groups. This process is influenced by Keith Johnstone’s improvisational theater. Experts outside the theater world, artists, and academic researchers are invited by Osten to contribute with their expertise to the evolutionary and improvisational process of a stage production. Osten put this method of working to the test in Baby Drama when she wanted to investigate how early an audience can be receptive to theatrical performance.
Guest stage director
Osten has been a guest director at theaters other than Unga Klara and in genres other than children's theater. These productions include the operetta Glada Änkan (The Merry Widow) at Folkoperan in 2008, and popular productions at Gothenburg City Theatre, such as Publiken [The Public] by Federico García Lorca and I Annas Garderob [In Anna’s closet] by Ann-Sofie Bárány, inspired by the life and work of Anna Freud. In 2014, Osten directed a major Nordic theatrical collaboration involving artists from Iceland, Finland, and Sweden. Magnus Maria: An opera about the right gender is about Mary Johansdotter / Magnus Johansson, whose destiny begins in the late 17th century in Föglö in Åland and ends a few decades later in Stockholm. The opera premiered in Mariestad, Åland, and toured the Nordic countries.
Osten went from the stage to film with two films made for television; Moa, Östen och Stella [Moa Östen and Stella] (screenplay;1974) and Barn i Afrika [Children in Africa] (director; 1978), before she debuted with the full-length feature film Mamma (1982). Like her stage productions, her films also deal with political issues, for instance Skyddsängeln (The Guardian Angel) (1990) which focuses on political terrorism, although based on riots and demands for democracy in early 20th century Sweden. Tala! Det är så mörkt, (Speak up! It’s so dark) is about the wave of neo-Nazism that swept through Sweden in the 1980s and 90s and its link to unemployment among Swedish young people. For Bröderna Mozart (The Mozart brothers) (1986), Osten was awarded a Guldbagge in 1987 for Best Director. Outside of Sweden, The Guardian Angel, was selected for Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990.
Children’s Film Ambassador
In November, 2014, Osten was appointed Sweden’s first Children’s Film Ambassador by the Swedish Film Institute. In this role, Osten is to work for the development of film for children in the country. This position began in 2015.
The film The Girl, the Mother and the Demons (2016) was written and directed by Osten based on her fictionalized autobiography, Flickan, mamman och soporna [The Girl, the mother and the rubbish] (1998), which was revised for the stage by Erik Uddenberg with the same title. The film, with the release date April 2016, was shot for the age of 11 years and up. However, the Swedish censor rated it from 15 years and up in March 2016. The film had already been screened for selected families in Sweden and marketing was in progress when this decision was made. Osten's colleagues initiated a protest, and the rating decision was appealed successfully. In an article in Svenska Dagbladet, the authors maintained that by denying children the right to see the movie, the Swedish censor demonstrates contempt for children and manifests the conservative winds blowing in Sweden in 2016.