As It Happens

This ER nurse spent a week alone on an island watching movies in a lighthouse

Lisa Enroth usually spends her days working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden. But last week, she got to spend seven days alone on a remote island watching movies in a lighthouse.

Lisa Enroth beat out 12,000 applicants for the Gothenburg Film Festival’s ‘Isolation Cinema’ experiment 

Lisa Enroth spent seven days isolated on a remote Swedish island, watching movies for the Gothenberg Film Festival. (Mika Aberra/Gothenberg Film Festival)

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Last week was a welcome respite for Lisa Enroth. 

The Swedish emergency nurse usually spends her days working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. But she got to spend the week of Jan. 30 to Feb. 6 alone on a remote island watching movies in a lighthouse.

"I slowed down quite a bit," Enroth told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I got to think a lot about the last year and what has happened during COVID and my work."

Enroth was the winner of the Gothenburg Film Festival's Isolation Cinema contest. She beat out 12,000 applicants from 45 countries for the trip to Hamneskär, a small Swedish island in the North Sea, where she was given access to the festival's complete lineup, as well as a one-person cinema installed at the top of the historic Pater Noster lighthouse.

Enroth watched the movies in a special one-person cinema set up for her in the lighthouse. (Erik Nissen Johansen/Gothenburg Film Festival )

As part of the project, she recorded daily video diaries for the festival's website. But otherwise, all communications were cut off. She had no phone and no computer. She wasn't even allowed to bring a book.

"That was the best thing about being on the island, not being able to use your cellphone," she said.  "I learned that I feel better when I put my phone away. And especially if I'm to watch movies now, I'm not going to have my phone nearby because that is such a distraction."

Just her and the movies 

Part of the impetus behind the Isolation Cinema experiment was to explore during the pandemic how isolation affects our relationship to film. It's a topic Enroth has thought about a lot since watching 30 full-length movies and a handful of shorts all by herself. 

In some ways, she says being alone helped her really focus on the films, and allowed them to imprint on her memory. 

But she also found herself, at times, yearning for company — someone to talk to about what she saw, to pick apart the more complicated movies, or provide a bit of love and affection during the emotionally difficult ones. 

"It meant that it was a lot of thoughts, unprocessed in my mind," she said. "But I do love [that] …  I remember all of them and I remember how I felt when I saw them."

The historic Pater Noster lighthouse is on Hamneskär, a small, rocky island off Sweden's west coast. (Erik Nissen Johanssen/Gothernburg Film Festival )

The film that most spoke to her, she said, was A Song Called Hate, an Icelandic documentary that follows the aftermath of a band's decision to wave Palestinian flags during their Eurovision performance in Tel Aviv in 2019. 

"It was a political movie. It was an art movie. There was lots of feelings going on," she said. "And there were lots of people in that movie — and I needed to watch a lot of people doing stuff together."

Communing with nature 

Aside from the movies, Enroth also got to spend a lot of time outside, getting to know the island and taking in the natural beauty that surrounded her.

"Every day I woke up and watched the sunrise, and every night I saw the sun set outside," she said.

Enroth says she loved walking around the tiny island. (Erik Nissen Johanssen/Gothenburg Film Festival )

Once a major contact hub between Sweden and the rest of the world, the island isn't much more than a cliff jutting out of the sea, peppered with just a couple of houses and the big red lighthouse that dates back to 1868.

Enroth slept and ate in the lightkeeper's house, which has since been converted into a boutique hotel that only operates in the summer. 

While you can see the entire island in a glance, Enroth says she never got tired of exploring it. She would often climb the lighthouse stairs just to get some exercise and take it all in. 

"When the environment changed, the island also changed. So when it was snowing, it was a different island [than] when the sun was shining," she said. "It felt like a different place every time I stepped outside."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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