Åsa Holmsen was a television producer and a director who was active from Svensk Television’s inception in 1956 until the 1970s. She was not only responsible for some of the more remarkable documentaries produced during the early years of Swedish television but she also produced a large number of social commentary reports on children, youth, family life, and particularly living conditions for women.
Åsa Holmsen was born Åsa Margareta Hedström in Mällbyn on Frösön, near Östersund, in 1916. She was the daughter of Birgit Hedström, a journalist, and her husband Josef Hedström, a chief accountant. Åsa Holmsen went to school in Stockholm where she gained her school-leaving certificate in 1935. She then spent a couple of years studying Nordic languages at Stockholm högskola whilst also working as an office clerk at Tipstjänst (now called Svenska Spel). During the 1939–1940 period she worked as a script supervisor on films, including some directed by Schamyl Bauman. Around 1950 she worked as a director’s assistant and film-editor along with her husband Egil Holmsen, an actor, film director and writer. They had two daughters during their marriage, which lasted from 1939 until 1955. Åsa Holmsen also spent a couple of years working as a journalist for the Husmodern magazine.
Åsa Holmsen was hired to work in the documentary film section of Svensk Television just as the organisation began to air programmes in the autumn of 1956. That year she, along with Märta Clarence Crafoord, was responsible for the sensational footage of a heart operation performed by Professor Clarence Crafoord and presented in a film entitled Berömda samtida. She also was the co-producer, along with Ingrid Samuelsson-Forsén, of one of the first-ever documentary report series, Bilderbok av baby, recorded 1957–1958. The aim of this series was to document the first year of a baby’s life whilst also serving as an educational programme offering advice to new parents from paediatric doctors. The series was followed up by many subsequent documentary reports produced by Åsa Holmsen.
In 1961 the programme entitled De sex första åren was made, with the help of a number of psychologists including Mirjam Israel and Gustav Jonnson, in response to the perceived lack of general knowledge regarding how pre-school children developed. The 1963 series, Familjens åldrar, focused on the concept of the family, considered to be under threat from the rising number of divorce cases. This series also aimed to be educational. Sociologists, psychologists, and economists were all filmed alongside ordinary folk discussing what could be considered to be typical issues within young, middle-aged, and older marriages. Each episode in the series ended with a family advisor presenting his/her view on how to resolve the issue at hand.
Tjata inte på mig: synpunkter på ett vanligt uppfostringsproblem, filmed in 1962, was based on staged events which served to highlight awkward situations where parental nagging led to unfortunate standoffs. Following each staged situation a psychologist would discuss the resulting events. The 1963 programme called Adoptivbarn: om adoption av svenska och utländska barn, concerned the demands placed on parents who wanted to adopt, including the fact that single parents were not sought after as adopters. Fosterbarn, Lagparagrafer och verklighet, also from 1963, was based on the lack of foster homes and the fact that foster homes preferred to take on young, fair-haired girls as opposed to teenaged boys. Det tål att tala om: tonåringar och föräldrar om sexualvanor idag, recorded in 1965, involved interviewing a large number of youth in Stockholm about their sexual activities before marriage, contraception, and abortion.
Kvinna i småstad: fakta och funderingar om önskningar, möjligheter och fördomar på arbetsmarknaden, from 1966, documented the difficulties faced by women due to the prejudicial attitudes towards professional women in two Småland towns. Other programmes produced by Åsa Holmsen which focused particularly on the female perspective include Kvinnan i religionen: intervjuer och reflektioner, from 1964, Kvinnor och alkohol: samtal om vanor och vård, filmed in 1968, and Som en hel karl: om kvinnans situation på dagens arbetsmarknad, from 1973.
Åsa Holmsen’s serious engagement with the social conditions faced by children and youth, as well as the vulnerable position of women, contributed to raising awareness about the types of relationships which tended to be overlooked. Åsa Holmsen’s experience from working in the film industry lent these staged elements of her documentary reports a level of sophistication that was unusual at the time.
Åsa Holmsen died in Stockholm in 2008, aged 91. She is buried at Norra kyrkogården (the Northern cemetery) in Östersund.