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Jörn (Johan) Donner (1933-2020)


Prolific Finland-Swedish writer, film director, actor, producer, and politician. Jörn Donner's novel Far och son (1985) won the Finlandia Award for Literature. As a film director Jörn Donner built his work on the European art film rather than the national tradition. His first four directorial efforts were made in Sweden. Several of Donner's novels deal with conflicts between different generations. Donner was called a Finland-Swedish Balzac, referring to his skills to combine social analysis with his portrayal of middle-class life and personal and financial intrigues.

He sometimes thought about death. Did it come perhaps like a color or a coldness, or in one's sleep at night. His life was not insured, his wife had often asked him to take her into consideration. If he had a heart attack, a cerebral hemorrhage or something else, was there really any point in thinking of others? They had the villa, after all, and a little money. They did not have him, but he was merely someone who came and went. (in 'Midsummer Eve,' 1961)

Jörn Donner was born in Helsinki to wealthy Swedish-speaking parents of German descent. His father was Karl (Kai) Reinhold Donner (1888-1935), a linguist and lecturer at the University of Helsinki, and mother Margareta (Greta) von Bonsdorff. At the Swedish Lyceum in Helsinki Donner showed his independence and received a warning due to his article which was published at the school magazine Kamraten. Rebelling against his bourgeois background, Donner coedited the radical journal Arena (1951-54) with the writer Christer Kihlman and contributed to the communist-dominated newspaper Vapaa Sana.

In 1954 Donner married the Swedish writer Inga-Brit Wik; they divorced in 1962. Later Wik has described her marriage in the novels Ingen lycklig kärlek (1988) and Bryta upp(1996). Donner's second wife was the journalist Jeanette Bonnier; they divorced in 1988. In 1995 Donner married the journalist Bitte Westerlund; she was 22 when she first met him. They had two children.Donner still maintained his relationship with thr great love of hid life, "H", who lived in Sweden. From his previous relationships, Donner had four children, but he once confessed in an interview that he was never been close to them. When his daughter died Donner did not attend her funeral. ('Hän on Donnerin poika' in HS  Kuukausiliite, helmikuu 2018) Donner's son Rafael, who became a filmmaker, has said that his father's "office is his castle, his church."

Donner graduated in 1959 from the University of Helsinki, where he studied under Jan-Magnus Jansson and Georg Henrik von Wright. Already at that time Donner had made himself a reputation with his journalism and film criticism. He co-founded the Finnish Film Archive in 1957 and established his own production company in the 1960. For three years he edited the literary and political periodical Arena. His friends included such older writers as Atos Wirtanen, Raoul Palmgren, Hagar Olsson, Elmer Diktonius, and Gunnar Bjärling.

Välsignade liv (1951), Donner's first book, appeared when he was 18 years old. This early work from Sturm und Drang period attacked the traditions of Swedish-Finnish upper class – a theme which he took up in the opening volume of his family epic, Nu måste du (1974), a reminiscent of John Galsworthy's novel The Forsyte Saga.

In 1959 Donner began his service in hospital, assigned there as a conscientious objector, and recalled his experiences in the diary, På ett sjukhus (1960). Throughout the 1960s and later on Donner wrote columns for the liberal Hufvudstadsbladet, Finland's largest Swedish paper. His journalistic pieces have been published in all the major newspapers and magazines, among them Helsingin Sanomat, Aamulehti, and Suomen Kuvalehti. Donner's numerous journeys in Europe produced such political travel books as Rapport från Belin (1958, Report from Berlin), Rapport från Donau (1962), Värdsboken (1968), and Sverigeboken (1973). These works combined journalism and intimate observations with sharp literary style. In West-Berlin Donner stayed at Hotel Pensionat at Kurfürstendamm. His report from Berlin was published in the United States with the foreword by Stephen Spender.

While visiting Uganda in 1971, Donner photographed himself on a beach with a naked young woman.  The pictures, which were bought by Hymy, a sensation magazine,  stirred up a lot of debate. When Donner traveled in East Africa in January 2011, he met Western development workers, businessmen and administrators, and asked the question, "Who owns Africa?"

In 1961 Donner moved to Sweden, where he became a film critic for a leading Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. His short film about the singer Monica Zetterlund, Vittnesbörd om henne (1962), failed to convince the critics. Following a study of the director Ingmar Bergman, Djävulens ansikte (1962, The Personal Vision of Ingmar Bergman), Donner directed his first feature film, A Sunday in September (1963); it won a special prize at the Venice Film Festival. Harriet Andersson, with whom Donner had an affair, starred in five productions.

Perhaps the best of them was Täällä alkaa seikkailu (1965, Adventure Starts Here), which was profoundly influenced by Antonioni. Harriet Andersson, one of Ingmar Bergman's favorite actressess and his life companion for a period, played a Swedish fashion designer who has an affair with a Finnish architect (Matti Oravisto). Dubbing, by modern standards, is rather clumsy in this introvert tale, which uses much inner monologues. Helsinki is portrayed as a state of mind. Donner interprets freshly the landscape of the city, hiding the fact that Helsinki has more Eastern European flavour than other Nordic capitals.

Donner returned to Finland in 1967. In the same year he published Nya boken om vårt land, a sharp analysis of his native land. The title ironically referred to Zacharias Topelius's (1818-1898) popular and patriotic book Boken of vårt land (1875). This work was issued on the fiftieth anniversary of Finland's independence, and recommended a plan for a competitive and capitalistic society. Donner's first film in Finland, Black on White (1968), was about a salesman (Jörn Donnner) and his relationship to a young girl (Kristiina Halkola). "The arena of conflict here, as in Donner's subsequent films, is the bed, whosesoever it might be. The point of departure is a family portrait: an ideal image of happiness, a miniature of affluent Finland. The protagonist borders on burnout, and the camera follows the drama of the other disintegrating characters and relationships as if in a laboratory experiment." (Peter von Bagh in Drifting Shadows, 1999)

Portraits of Women (1969), in which Donner played a pornofilm producer named Pertti. His giant penis, seen fleetingly in a long-distance shot, was actually a prop. Fuck Off!! – Images of Finland (1970) was a documentary focusing on people living on the margins of the society, poor, and politically active workers. The documentary, and its song lyrics written by Jarkko Laine, have not lost their critical edge. A man cannot be raped (1978), based on Märta Tikkanen's novel, told of a woman who has been raped and who in turn makes careful plans to revenge it, turning the roles of a victim and culprit upside-down.

Donner's talents as administrator were noted when he worked as the head of the Swedish Film Institute and the Finnish Film Foundation in the 1970s and '80s. In Sweden Donner produced Ingmar Bergman's Fanny och Alexander/Fanny and Alexander (1982), receiving an Oscar for the film. Following his father's footsteps, Donner made several journeys from 2003 to Siberia. The account of his experiences, complemented by excerpts from the diaries of his father, was published in a book form under the title I min fars fotspår (2006) and made into a television documentary, broadcast in 2007.

Most of his books Donner wrote in Swedish. Several of them have been translated into Finnish by the writer and lawyer Jukka Kemppinen. Nu måste du (1974), dealing with the great firm United Metals, opened a series of novels about the fate of a Finland-Swedish industrial dynasty. Donner's dissection of the Swedish middle class is merciless. The saga begins from the eve of the World War II. Gabriel Berggren, the central figure, is a man of humble origins, but he gains money and power. Angelas krig (1976) and Angela och kärleken (1981) told of a woman, Angela, and her wartime affair with a German officer, who turns out to be bisexual.

Other novels in this cycle include Jakob och friheten (1978), which introduced Angela's younger brother Jakob, who is involved with Soviet agents in cold-war Berlin. Gabriels dag (1982), Far och son (1985), and Frihetens fångar (1988), which revolves around the plan of Gabriel Berggren's successor to rationalize and dehumanize the old firm. Angela ja ajan tuulet (1999, Angela and the winds of time), a television series in 12 parts, was based on Donner's novels Nyt sinun täytyy, Angelan sota, Jaakob ja kylmä rauha, and Angela ja rakkaus.

Far och son is regarded as the artistic highpoint of the series. A novel manuscript, left behind by the late Jakob, is read and interpreted by the narrator, who in turn sets out in search of his own father. In Hjärtat är en svekful vän (2001), the final volume, the protagonist is a former bank director, Karl Oder, who says that he represents the generation of losers. Oder meets Werner Lindberg, an old journalist, through whom the story plunges into power struggles around President Kekkonen, and the peculiar relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union. Again Donner depicts high level intrigues, power, and politics, and his own experiences in politics gives the work much credibility.

The literature critic Pekka Tarkka saw that Donner had adopted in his narrative style conventions of television series, and compared it to Balzac's romantic exaggeration, which attracted readers of serialized stories published in newspapers. "Donnerin romaanin sovinnaiset vuorosanat, merkilliset enteet ja haudantakaiset äänet noudattelevat televisioyleisön tottumuksia samaan tapaan kuin Balzacin romanttinen liioittelu houkutteli sanomalehtien jatkokertomusten lukijoita." (Helsingin Sanomat, September 13, 2001) Although Donner had no plans to continue the family story, he retuned to it in Son och far (2014). The central characters are David Anders, who is paralyed after being shot in the back, and his son Erik, who sets out to learn the reason for the assassination attempt.

From the 1960s Donner published several autobiographical books, recording his attitudes and views of the world. However, Donner said that he never managed to create a real alter ego. "In my books I'm like a constantly changing kaleidoscope," he wrote in his book of memoir, Livsbilder (2004). In Sommar av kärlek och sorg (1971) Donner discussed his rejection of his leftist phase. Author's self-analysis, combined with explorations into current social and political issues, continued in Jag, J.J.D. (1980) and Varför finns jag till (1998). Donner also introduced figures from political life into his narratives. In Presidenten (1986) the republic's long-time strong leader, Urho Kekkonen (1900-1986), is seen through the eyes of one of his mistresses.

Donner translated and edited works from such authors as Paavo Haavikko (Privata angelägenheter, 1966; Tala, svara, lärä, 1975) och Elmer Diktonius (Ringar i stubben, 1954; Kirjaimia ja kirjavia, 1956). Among Donner's long-time writing projects was a book about Middle-East and a portrait of the writer Elmer Diktonius, whom he knew in the 1950s. The biography, as well-researched as a doctoral dissertation, was finished in 2007. Other works include the long-waited and updated study of the director Ingmar Bergman, which came out in 2009.

Beginning from his student years, Donner was active in politics. Between the years 1987-1995, 2007, and 2013-2015 he was representative of the middle-of-the-road Swedish People's Party (Svenska folkpartiet i Finland, SFP) in Finland's parliament. Later he complained that his duties there were a great hindrance to his writing. Usually, he took a nap  in the afternoon. The greatest disappointment for Donner was that he was never appointed culture minister, a position he wanted and was more than qualified for it.

In the 1990s Donner served as a diplomat, Consul General, in Los Angeles – the title carried little official responsibilities. It was a political consolation prize for which Donner did not feel obliged to thank the taxpayers. In 1966 he was elected to the European Parliament, representing Social Democrats. Against all expectations, Donner was not elected to the parliament in 2003, this time trying to make a comeback on the list of the SFP. The opposition Center Party was the winner and Donner joined in protest the Social Democrats. Being somewhat of a political animal, he sat in Parliament for a short period as a substitute for SFP's member, who was appointed OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator. At 77, Donner left the party, saying that men of his age, and with his body of work and experience, are not very sought after in the political world.

Changing his mind due to rise of the populist, anti-immigrant and anti-EU party Perussuomalaiset, Donner decided run for the Parliament again in the elections of 2011 on the SFP's list, but did not win enough votes; Astrid Thors took the seat. However, Donner returned to the parliament in autumn 2013 when Thors was named the new OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. He became the oldest member. On the rare occasions when he was interviewed he looked more bored than ever. A contrarian by nature, Donner dismissed both the opposition and the government as incapable in his political diary (Lilla Mammuten, 2015) and castigated Prime Minister Stubb as a failure.

In October 2012, Donner announced plans to make a film about Armi Ratia, founder of the textile company Marimekko. Donner himself had been a member of Marimekko's board from 1967 to 1974. The film premiered in 2015. Making a traditional  biopic did not interest him, but when he got the idea about a theater group rehearsing a play dealing with Ratia's life, decided to go on with the project. "The problems she dealt with still persist today; women are being paid less than men, for example, but I never consciously wanted to make a feminist movie. It’s just like that by implication." ('Legendary Finnish Filmmaker Jörn Donner Looks to His Past and Film’s Future in ‘Armi Alive’' by Tina Poglajen, IndieWire, Feb 10, 2016)

Donner's over 1000-page autobiographical work, entitled Mammuten: efterlämnade handlingar(The mammoth. Leftover business), came out in January 2013. Despite the ironical title, there is not much humour to be found. The book is a kind of a collage of texts, fiction and nonfiction, arranged in a nonlinear time sequence. The autobiography doesn't have an index, but the appendix includes a photo of male genitals (obviously the author's own private parts). Oddly, considering Donner's achievements, the general tone is that of disappointment, not joie de vivre.

In Sverige: resor i ett främmande land (2015) Donner argued that swedishness is fiction but not completely. Perkele 2 kuvia Suomesta (2017, Fuck Off 2 – Images of Finland) was Donner's follow up to his legendary documentary from 1970. At the beginning it records his heart operation. During the last period of life, Donner lived on the Ratakatu, near the Pohjoisranta 12, where he had his office. Ill and weak, he often fell down at home. Bitte acted as his caregiver. Jörn Donner died on January 30, 2020, in Helsinki. Speaking of death in March 2019 he said, "it's a sad thing."

For further reading: J & B: Kohtaiksia eräästä avioliitosta by Philip Teir (2023); Jörn Donner poliitikkona ja ystävänä by Pär Stenbäck (2022); Jörn Donnerin kirjasto by Kai Ekholm (2021); Vildhavre: sista brevet till pappa by Otto Gabrielsson (suom. Rikkaruoho: viimeinen kirje isälle, 2020); Jörn Donner, kuinka te kehtaatte by Kai Ekholm (2020); Ihminen on herkkä eläin by Rafael Donner (2018);  Konnia ja huligaaneja: elokuvasukupolvien kohtaamisia, ed. by Sakari Kirjavainen, Marja Pensala, Kati von Zansen (2013); Rakastuva keski-ikäinen mies etsii itseään: moraalifilosofinen tutkimus André Brinkin, Jörn Donnerin ja Isaac Bashevits Singerin romaaneista by Marjo Ojajärvi (2012); 'Donner, Jörn,' in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol 1, edited by Steven R. Serafin (1999); A History of Finland's Literature, edited by George C. Schoolfield (1998); 'Midsummer Eve,' translated by David McDuff, in A Way to Measure Time, edited by Bo Carpelan, et al. (1992); 'Ett folk som blött' by Johan Wrede, in Den Svenska Litteraturen, Vol. 6 (1990); 'Jörn Donner – Action Man' by E. Lehtola in Books from Finland, 20, pp. 10-13 (1986); Jörn Donners skönlitterära produktion i finländsk och rikssvensk press 1951-1981 by Kaj Fredrik Eklund (1983); Jag Jörn Johan Donner, född den 5 februari 1933 i Helsingfors by Jörn Donner (1980); Mellan hammaren och städet by Sven Willner (1974); 'The Postwar Novel of Swedish Finnish' by G.C. Schoolfield in Scandinavian Studies, 34, pp. 85-110 (1962)

Selected works:

  • Välsignade liv, 1951
  • Slå dej inte till ro, 1952
  • Brev, 1954
  • Jag, Erik Anders, 1955
  • Bordet, 1957
  • Rapport från Berlin, 1958 - Report From Berlin (published in the US in English translation) - Berliini – arkea ja uhkaa (suom. Toivo J. Kivilahti, 1958) / Berliini raportti (suom. Toivo J. Kivilahti, 1977)
  • På ett sjukhus, 1960 - Terveenä sairaalassa: Päiväkirja aikuisille (suom. Arvo Salo, 1961) / Surun ja rakkauden vuodet: matkalla Suomeen 1959-1979 (suom. 1987)
  • Helsingfors. Finlands ansikte, 1961 - Ihmisten Helsinki (suom. Seppo Virtanen, 1961)
  • Djävulens ansikte, 1962 - The Personal Vision of Ingmar Bergman (translated by Holger Lundberg, 1964) - Paholaisen kasvot (suom. Juha Virkkunen, 1967)
  • Rapport från Donau, 1962 - Raportti Tonavalta (suom. Seppo Virtanen)
  • Nya boken om vårt land, 1967 - Uusi Maammekirja (suom. Seppo Heikinheimo, 1967)
  • Världsboken, 1968 - Maailmankirja (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1968)
  • Tapaus Naisenkuvia, 1970
  • Sommar av kärlek och sorg, 1971 - Surun ja rakkauden kesä (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1971) / Surun ja rakkauden vuodet: matkalla Suomeen 1959-1979 (suom. 1987)
  • Marina Maria, 1972 - Marina Maria (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1974)
  • Sverigeboken, 1973 - Matka vieraaseen maahan (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1974)
  •  Edith Södergran's Triumf att finnas till, 1974 (foreword)
  • Nu måste du, 1974 - Nyt sinun täytyy (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1975) / Viimeinen kesä (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1987)
  • Angelas krig, 1976 - Angela (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1976) / Angelan sota (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1984)
  • Sagt och gjort, 1976
  • Jakob och friheten, 1978 - Jakob ja kylmä rauha (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1979)
  • Jag, Jörn Johan Donner, född i Helsingfors den 5 februari 1933, 1980 - Ihmisen ääni: mietekirja aikuisille (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1980) / Surun ja rakkauden vuodet: matkalla Suomeen 1959-1979 (suom. 1987)
  • Angela och kärleken, 1981 - Angela ja rakkaus (suom. Marja Nieminen, 1981)
  • Gabriels dag, 1982 - Itsenäisyyspäivä (suom. Seppo Heikinheimo, 1983)
  • Dagbok från filminstitutet, 1982
  • Far och son: en komedi, 1984 - Isä ja poika: komedia (suom. Rauno Ekholm, 1985) - Isa ja poeg (translated into Estonian by Mari Jesmin, 1997)
  • Viettelysten aika: elokuva-arvosteluja ja -esseitä vuosilta 1951-1982, 1985 (toim. ja suom. Risto Hannula)
  • Hemåt i höstregn, 1985 - Kotiin syyssateessa (suom. Klaus Karttunen)
  • Motströms, 1986 - Vastavirtaan (suom. Ilona Anhava)
  • Presidenten 1986 - Presidentti (suom. Ilona Anhava, 1986)
  • Sverige, 1987 (with Jan Mårtenson, Tor Ragnar Gerholm) - Sweden (translated by Jeremy Franks, 1987)
  • Kaupungin sydämessä: kahdeksan tapaa kuvailla Helsinkiä, 1987 (suom. Liisa Ryömä)
  • (Motströms, 1988 - Vastavirtaan (suom. Ilona Anhava, 1988)
  • Frihetens fångar, 1989 - Vapauden vangit (suom Ilona Anhava, 1989)
  • Houkutusten aamu on se aamu, jolloin kuvaustyöt alkavat, 1990 (toim. ja suom. Risto Hannula)
  • Rapport från Europa, 1990 - Eurooppa-raportti (suom. Arto Häilä, 1990)
  • Mitt Finland helt enkelt, 1990
  • Finlandsbilden år noll, 1990 - Suomi-kuva vuonna nolla (suom. Martti Häikiö, 1990) - Image of Finland in the Year Zero
  • Fazer 100, 1991 - Fazer 100 (suom. Risto Hannula, 1991) - Fazer 100 (English translation: Greg Coogan, 1991)
  • Huset där jag bor, 1992 - Talo jossa asun (suom. Jaakko Kerkkinen, 1992)
  • Tillfälligheters spel, 1993 - Sattuman kauppaa (suom. Marja Kyrö, 1993)
  • Husrum, 1993 - Olotiloja (suom. Ilona Anhava, 1993)
  • En kärleks historia, 1994 - Erään rakkauden tarina (suom. Rauno Ekholm, 1994)
  • Anstalten. Fragment ur minnet, 1995 - Terveenä laitoksessa: katkelmia muistista (suom. Rauno Ekholm, 1995)
  • Brev / Elmer Diktonius (edited by Jörn Donner and Marit Lindqvist), 1995 - Elmer Diktonius: Kirjeitä ja katkelmia (toim. Jörn Donner ja Marit Lindqvist, 1995)
  • Varför finns jag till, 1998 - Miksi olen (suom. Veijo Kiuru, 1998)
  • Den finlandsvenska dikten, 2001 (publisher, 16 vols.: J.L. Runeberg, Zacharias Topelius, K.A. Tavastjerna, Arvid Mörne, Edith Södergran, Gunnar Björling, Elmer Diktonius, Rabbe Enckell, Solveig von Schoultz, Lars Huldén, Bp Carpelan, Peter Sandelin, Märta Tikkanen, Gösta Ågen, Claes Andersson, Tua Fosström)
  • Hjärtat är en svekfull vän, 2001 - Petollinen sydän (suom. Rauno Ekholm, 2001)
  • Kärlekens ingenmansland, 2002 - Minetten rakkaus (suom. Seppo Hyrkäs)
  • Att leva är att dö, 2002 (with John Vikström) - Elämme, siis kuolemme (suom. Laura Voipio, 2002)
  • Sininen Helsinki = Helsinki in Blue = Helsingfors i blått, 2002 (photos: Esko Jämsä)
  • Livsbilder, 2004 - Elämänkuvia (suom. Laura Voipio, 2004)
  • Fåglars skugga, 2004 - Linnun varjo (suom. Raija Mattila, 2004)
  • Konst, kärlek och krig, 2005 (with Stefan Lindfors) - Himo, rakkaus ja raivo (suom. Anna Paljakka, 2005) - Driven by Love and Fury (English translation: Sara Torvalds, 2005)
  • Dödsbilder, 2006 - Kuolemankuvia (suom. Raija Mattila, 2006)
  • I min fars fotspår. Resor i Sibirien förr och nu, 2006 - Isäni jalanjäljillä (suom. Anna Paljakka)
  • Diktonius. Ett liv, 2007 - Diktonius: Elämä (suom. Raija Mattila, 2007)
  • Bergman. PM, 2009 - Bergman: Muistelma (suom. Raija Mattila, 2009)
  • Anteckningar om Mannerheim, 2011 - Muistiinpanoja Mannerheimista (suom. Rija Mattila, 2011)
  • Mammuten: efterlämnade handlingar, 2013 - Mammutti: jälkeenjääneet tekoset (suom. Kari V. Koski, 2013)
  • Son och far, 2014 - Poika ja isä (suom. Kari Koski, 2014)
  • Lilla Mammuten: halvautentiska dagböcker från juli 2013 till februari 2015, 2015 - Pieni Mammutti: puoliautenttisia päiväkirjamerkintöjä heinäkuusta 2013 helmikuuhun 2015 (suom. Kari Koski, 2015)
  • Sverige: resor i ett främmande land, 2015 - Ruotsi: matkoja vieraassa maassa (suom. Kari Koski, 2015)
  • "Merkillinen on nyt maailman meno": Helsingin päiväkirja sekasorron ajalta 1917-1918, 2017 (ed., with Samu Nyström; translations by  Susanna Sjöman) - "Märklig är nu världens gång": kollektiv Helsingforsdagbok 1917-1918, 2017 (translation: Mårten Westö, 2017)
  • Suomi/Finland, 2017 - Suomi Finland (suom. Kari Koski, 2017)
  • Innan du försvinner: brev mellan son och far, 2018 (Rafael & Jörn Donner) - Ennen kuin olet poissa: kirjeitä pojalta isälle, isältä pojalle (Rafael & Jörn Donner; suomentanut Laura Jänisniemi, 2018)
  • Blod är tunnare än vatten, 2018 - Vesi on verta sakeampaa (suom. Kari Koski, 2018)
  • Suomi/Finland. II, Sista striden, 2019 - Suomi/Finland. II, Viimeinen taisto (käsikirjoituksesta suomentanut Kari Koski, 2019)
  • Jörn Donner: Matkalla = På resa = Travelling: 1951-1968, 2023 (edited by Tuula Kousa, Anders Carpelan and Hannamari Shakya)

Selected films (as writer, actor, director, or producer):

  • Aamua kaupungissa, 1954 (short documentary) - dir., sc., prod. Suomen Filmiteollisuus SF Oy
  • Näinä päivinä, 1955 (short documentary) - dir., prod. by Kansan Elokuva Oy, narrator: Tarmo Manni
  • Vettä, 1956 (short documentary) - dir., prod. by Jörn Donner Productions
  • Porkkala, 1957 (short film) - dir., prod. by Jörn Donner Productions Oy & Svenska Finlands Folktingsfullmäktige
  • Vittnesbörd om henne, 1962 (short film) - dir., prod. SF Svensk Filmindustri AB, starring Monica Zetterlund
  • En Söndag i september, 1963 (A Sunday in September) - dir., sc., prod. by Europa Film, starring Harriet Andersson, Tommy Berggren, Barbro Kollberg
  • Att älska / Rakastaa, 1964 (To Love) - dir., sc., starring Harriet Andersson, Zbigniew Cybulski, Isa Quensel, Thomas Svanfeldt
  • Här börjar äventyret / Täällä alkaa seikkailu, 1965 (Adventure Starts Here) - dir., sc., starring Harriet Andersson, Matti Oravisto, Claude Titre, Göran Cederberg, Tea Ista, Sakari Jurkka
  • Mondo teeno / Teenage Rebellion, 1967 (doc., Swedish sequence)
  • Stimulantio, 1967 (episode: Han-Hon/He-She) - dir., sc.
  • Tvärbalk / Poikkiparru, 1967 (Rooftree) - dir., sc., prod. Sandrew Film AB, based on the novel by Sivar Arnér, starring Harriet Andersson, Ulf Palme, Ernst-Hugo Järegård
  • Mustaa valkoisella, 1968 (Black on White) - dir., sc., prod. FJ-Filmi, starring Kristiina Halkola, Liisamaija Laaksonen, Jörn Donner
  • 69 – Sixtynine, 1969 - dir., sc., prod. FJ-Filmi, starring Ritva Vepsä, Seija Tyni, Sven-Bertil Taube, Jörn Donner. "Kyseessä olisi eduatava kuva kauppatavaraksi muuttuneesta, kalseasta ja ihmistä halventavasta seksistä, jos tämä asenne vain jotenkin tulisi ilmi. Muutenkin Donnerin ohjausote on tällä kertaa niin epämääräisen monimielinen, että ne latteudet, arkipäiväisyydet, porvarillisen elämän rituaalit joita hän ei väsy kuvaamaan, tahtovat jäädäkin latteuksiksi ja arkipäiväisyyksiksi." (Sakari Toiviainen in Ilta-Sanomat)
  • Naisenkuvia, 1970 (Portraits of Women) - dir., sc., prod. FJ-Filmi, starring Ritva Vepsä, Jörn Donner, Kirsti Wallaswaara, Aarre Elo
  • Anna, 1970 - dir., sc. with Eija-Elina Bergholm, prod. Stockholm Film, starring Harriet Andersson, Pertti Melasniemi, Marja Packalén, Tapio Rautavaara. - "Donnerin Annassa on vai itse tilanne ja joukko hyvin irrallisina leijuvia ihmisiä, siksi on pakko todeta - vaikka periaatteessa miten iloitsisi ohjaajan vakavoitumisesta viime talven kaupparatsukauden jälkeen - että Annalla on anemia, Loistavaa värikuvaa kyllä ja tietty silea tekninen perfektio kaiken yllä. Mutta Donnerille ohjaajana Anna ei merkitse kehitystä, vaan entisen ohuuden, entisten rajoitusten kertausta." (Heikki Eteläpää in Uusi Suomi)
  • Perkele! Kuvia Suomesta, 1971 (Fuck Off!!; Images of Finland) - dir., sc., prod. FJ-Filmi
  • Hellyys, 1972 (Tenderness) - dir., sc., prod. Jörn Donner Productions, starring Kirsti Wallasvaara, Jörn Donner, Meri Oravisto, Marja Packalén, Vesa-Matti Loiri, Jukka Sipilä
  • Baksmälla, 1973 (Hangover) - dir., sc., prod. Swedish Film Production (SFP), starring Jörn Donner, Diana Kjær, Rolf Bengtson, Lisbeth Westergaard, Borgitta Molin
  • Mommilan veriteot 1917, 1973 - dir. Jootarkka Pennanen, story by Paavo Haavikko, prod. Jörn Donner Productions Oy
  • Tre scener med Ingmar Bergman, 1976 (documentary, 92 min.) - dir., sc., prod. Jörn Donner Productions
  • Pyhä perhe, 1976 - dir.  Anssi Mänttäri, based on the play by Claes Andersson, prod. Jörn Donner Productions Oy, starring Lasse Pöysti, Birgitta Ulfsson, Rita Polster, Martti-Mikael Järvinen
  • The Bergman File, 1978 (documentary, 56 min.) - dir., sc., prod. Jörn Donner Productions
  • Lovelier Than Love, 1978 - actor (as Björn Thunder), dir. Hans Dittmer
  • Män kan inte våldtas / Miestä ei voi raiskata, 1978 (Manrape / Man Cannot Be Raped) - dir., sc., based on Märta Tikkanen's book, prod. Jörn Donner Productions, starring Anna Godenius, Gösta Bredefeldt, Toni Regner, Nils Brandt, Algot Böstman, Carl-Axel Heiknert. "Miestä ei voi raiskata on kliinisesti siisti, hiottu elokuva, joka etenee tasaisesti ja ammattitaitoisesti, Sen hidas ja odotteleva rytmi pitää jännityksen yllä. Anna Godenoiuksen olemuksessa on uskottavaa itsepäisyyttä ja pohjoismaista luonnollisuutta. Gösta Bredefeltin esittämä väkisinmakaava ja väkisinmaattava autokauppias on viisaasti tavanomainen ja lieromainen. Tällaisia miehiä ja naisia todella kävelee tämän maan kaduilla." (Helena Ylänen in Helsingin Sanomat)
  • Yhdeksän tapaa lähestyä Helsinkiä, 1982 (Nine Ways to Approach Helsinki; documentary) - dir., sc., prod. Jörn Donner Productions
  • Fanny och Alexander, 1982 (Fanny and Alexander) - exec. prod., dir. by Ingmar Bergman
  • Angelas krig, 1984 - actor; based on Donner's novel, prod. Jörn Donner Productions, dir. by Eija-Elina Bergholm
  • Dirty story / Likainen tarina, 1984 - dir., sc., based on Donner's books Angelas krig och Dirty Story, prod. Golden Films, starring Erland Josephson, Charlotta Larsson, Nils Brandt, Agneta Ekmanner, Lilga Kovanko
  • After the Rehearsal, 1984 - prod., written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
  • Riisuminen, 1986 - dir. by Lauri Törhönen, prod. Jörn Donner Productions Oy, starring Eeva Eloranta, Erkki Saarela
  • Brev från Sverige, 1988 (documentary, 90 min.) - dir., sc., prod. Golden Films
  • Reagan Suomessa, 1988 (short documentary) - dir., prod. Jörn Donner Productions Oy
  • Ameriikan raitti, 1990 - dir. Lauri Törhönen, based on the novel by Antti Tuuri, prod. Jörn Donner Productions Oy, starring Kari Sorvali, Mari Rantasila, Jari Järvimaa, Åke Lindman, Markku Huhtamo, Markku Toikka
  • Uuno Turhapuro - Suomen tasavallan herra presidentti, 1992 - as himself (commentator), dir. Ere Kokkonen, sc. Spede Pasanen
  • Diktonius - ord lever, 1995 (documentary, 52 min.) - dir. with Ulrika Bengts, prod. Jörn Donner Productions
  • Ingmar Bergman: om liv och arbete, 1998 (documentary, 91 min.) - dir., prod. Sveriges Television (SVT)
  • "Perkele - lisää kuvia Suometa", 1999 - narrator, prod. Jörn Donner Productions
  • Presidentti, 2000 (TV film) - dir., sc., based on Donner's book Presidenten, starring Heikki Nousiainen, Liisamaija Laaksonen
  • Jörn Donnerin kuusi elämää, 2003 (autobiographical television document, 6 episodes) - sc. with Rauli Virtanen, prod. Jörn Donner Productions
  • Isäni jalanjäljillä, 2007 (documentary film) - dir., sc., prod. Jörn Donner Productions Oy
  • Raja 1918 - co-prod., dir. Lauri Törhönen, screenplay Aleksi Bardy
  • Kuulustelu, 2009 - dir., prod. Jörn Donner Productions, starring Minna Haapkylä, Marcus Groth, Lauri Nurkse, Hannu-Pekka Björkman
  • Mannerheim - Jörn Donnerin kertomana, 2011 (documentary, 5 episodes) - prod. Jörn Donner Productions, Franck Media, Yleisradio (YLE), dir., sc. Jörn Donner
  • Afrikan omistajat, 2011 (documentary film) - reporter, prod. Insano Productions Oy
  • Armi elää! 2015 - dir.,  prod. Jörn Donner Productions & Bufo, starring Minna Haapkylä, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Laura Birn
  • Perkele 2 - kuvia Suomesta, 2017 - dir., sc. Jörn Donner, prod. Oy Buffo Ab

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