About Katarina and the film Taikon

about Taikon – the film

Directed by Gellert Tamas & Lawen Mohtadi
Script Lawen Mohtadi & Gellert Tamas
Producer Gellert Tamas
Executive producer Malcolm Dixelius
Co-producer Åsa Jacobsson
DOP Kim Silfving
Editing Tell Aulin
Music Per-Henrik Mäenpää
Production Gellert Tamas Filmproduktion in co-operation with SVT, Deep Sea Productions, Natur & Kultur and Film region Stockholm Mälardalen via Gotlands Filmfond. With support from the Swedish Film Institute, The Robert Weil Family Foundation, Gotlands Filmfond via Filmregion Stockholm-Mälardalen and Film på Gotland.

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Katarina Taikon has been compared to Martin Luther King. She was born in a tent, and came to change the course of Swedish history. The story about the young girl who was denied education, learned to read in her late twenties, and later became one of the most read authors of children’s books in Sweden, is also an account of the emergence of the modern Swedish welfare society – and the one group left behind: the Roma minority.

”I don’t know how people will react to my book, all I know is that it’s the beginning of a long struggle.”

With those words Katarina Taikon stepped into the limelight. The year was 1963 and her first book, Gypsy Woman, had just been published. This was also the start of her lifelong struggle for human rights for the Roma in Sweden, aiming to provide access to education, long denied, and the closure of the tent and caravan camps where Swedish citizens of Roma background were forced to live.

Katarina Taikon’s struggle in the 1960’s was hugely successful, but she also became the target of vicious attacks from politicians as well as ”ordinary people”.

In the 1970’s Katarina Taikon started writing the autobiographical series of children’s books about the young Roma girl, Katitzi. The sequence became a huge success and was the most read children’s books in Sweden second only to Astrid Lindgren’s international successes Pippi Longstocking. A whole generation of children in Sweden grew up reading the books about Katitzi.

The documentary paints a dramatic and vivid portrait of one of the most important advocates of human rights in 20th century Europe, set against the backdrop of the developing Swedish welfare state.

The film, directed by Gellert Tamas and Lawen Mohtadi, will premiere in late 2015. The film is based on Mohtadi’s acclaimed biography of Katarina Taikon, The Day I Will Be Free (Natur & Kultur, 2012).

About Katarina Taikon

Katarina Taikon was born in 1932 and grew up in a Swedish society characterized by centuries of suspicion, loathing and discrimination toward the Roma minority. It was in an era of racial politics and Sweden was known for founding the world’s first Institute for Race Biology in 1922 and where forced sterilizations were approved by law as a means of promoting racial hygiene.

The Taikon family had their roots in Central-Europe. They made their living as tinplaters and musicians, at times running amusement parks. Katarina’s mother died shortly after giving birth to her and Katarina spent several years in foster care and an orphanage. ”I do not remember a single day in my childhood when I was not beaten”, Katarina Taikon later said.

The harsh memories of her childhood later came to form the cornerstone of her autobiographical and hugely successful series of children’s books about the Roma girl Katitzi. Taikon depicts the grim living conditions of the Roma minority in Sweden in the 1930’s and 40’s, writing about her own family and other Roma living in tent and caravan camps, without adequate heating and a lack of running water. The Roma were forced to live separated from the majority Swedish population. Like other Roma children at the time, Katarina Taikon was never given the chance to attend school and first learned to read and write in her late 20’s.

When Katarina Taikon was 16 , she starred in the documentary filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff’s short film Uppbrott ( 1948). The film opened a new world for both Katarina and her sister Rosa Taikon. They got to know actors, artists and writers and had several minor roles in both film and theater. Katarina and Rosa Taikon quickly became part of the 1950’s cultural life in Stockholm. Today Rosa Taikon is one of our most respected silversmiths and has received the medal Illis Quorum from the government and awarded the Olof Palme Prize.

In the early 1960’s Katarina Taikon began her great struggle for equal rights of Roma in Sweden. Her book debut, Gypsy Woman, in 1963 instantly made er a fierce and well-known voice in public debate. Taikon wrote in the press, organized demonstrations , co-founded schools and met regularly with Swedish prime ministers Tage Erlander and later Olof Palme.

In the late 1960s, Katarina Taikon felt increasingly despondent. Despite the great success she achieved for the civil rights of Roma in housing and education, she thought the changes went too slowly – racism against Roma was still strong. Taikon’s engagement took a new shape when she started writing books for children. The first Katitzi book was published in the Fall of 1969 and became an immediate success. In total she wrote 13 autobiographical books on one of the most beloved characters in Swedish literature. In 1979-80 the books were made into film and shown on television.

Starting in February 2015 Natur & Kultur are republishing the entire Katitzi series.

Katarina Taikon lived together with photographer Björn Langhammer with whom she also collaborated. In 1982 she suffered a stroke and fell into a coma that she never awoke from. On December 30, 1995, after more than thirteen years in a coma, Katarina Taikon died. She was survived by her three children.