I haven't done anything even slightly resembling the legwork it would take to prove or disprove this hunch, but I suspect that there might be more footage of Ingmar Bergman working on the set of his movies than any other filmmaker of the pre-home video generations. He has been the subject of a remarkable number of documentaries about his career and specific films, during his life and after his death, and no fewer than five of his films received feature-length documentaries made up more or less exclusively of on-set footage - two of them rather considerably longer than the films they were documenting (those would be Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, about Winter Light, and The Making of Autumn Sonata.*) The most special of these five, though not the most informative, is the one assembled by Bergman himself from footage shot by Arne Carlsson during the filming of Fanny and Alexander.

The film that he cut together premiered in 1984, but didn't become widely available until 1986, when it was first broadcast on Swedish television, under the title Dokument Fanny och Alexander. Which is, importantly, not the same as The Making of Fanny and Alexander, which it has almost universally been known as in English. I ask any readers who know more Swedish than I do (which takes very little knowledge of Swedish) to correct me, but my understanding is that the word that would be most analogous to the way and English speaker would refer to a "making-of" documentary is bakomfilm. Dokument is exactly what it looks like: "document". And this does matter, because Dokument Fanny och Alexander isn't really about how Fanny and Alexander was made, as such. Rather, it explicitly introduces itself as an artistic interpretation of the emotions involved in being on that set, and specifically Bergman's own emotions; in the first of a great many intertitles that pop up throughout the movie (arguably, an annoying number of intertitles, in fact), the director tells us that no film is going to actually replicate the truth of all the work that goes into making a movie, so a series of impressionistic snapshots is the best he could do. Whether that actually ends up earning the word "document" any more than it earns the phrase "making of" is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder.

By any name, The Making of Fanny and Alexander is a marvelous collection of moments, one that finds Bergman in an avowedly sentimental mood. This was a period of much introspection in the filmmaker's life: after having loudly and persistently announced that Fanny and Alexander was his last film (which was almost immediately not true, and already not true by the time that The Making of Fanny and Alexander had come out, but whatever, let him have it), he seems to have become much less interested in examing the cosmos for evidence of God's indifference, much more interested in thinking about the insides of his own brain. Hence his autobiography, The Magic Lantern, which he started around the same time; hence his small experimental documentary about his mother, Karin's Face, which was completed sometime by the end of 1983, though it was not publicly screened until 1986. And hence this film, which ends up being 110 minutes built around the idea that Ingmar Bergman was a jolly old soul who liked children.

That is certainly a reductive way of talking about something that feels very honest and not a tiny bit like a filmmaker trying to manage his brand - by 1984, what management could possibly be worth doing? - but it does get to the peculiarity that this is a remarkably cheerful, charming, friendly film. In a shoot that lasted as long as this one did  - more than half a year! - it's impossible to imagine that there wasn't a single disagreement or even blow-up, but the most we ever get are a couple of places where cinematographer Sven Nykvist corrects Bergman on some matter in a tone of voice that isn't entirely free of fatigue and impatience. Instead, we just get scene upon scene of the set being a warm, supportive, creatively fruitful place; because this is how Bergman remembered it, presumably, or at least because this is how he is choosing to remember it. And there's something said for choosing to remember something as consequential as the filming of your very last movie as being a happy, productive time.

The resultant footage is very engaging and even, at times, deeply moving. The film is segmented by which scene from the finished movie we're watching them make, not by topic or anything else, but it does feel like it's grouped loosely into four major movements, or at least three movements, the first of which has two parts. Initially, we simply watch the crew find its footing on some of the early material, and see as Bergman enthusiastically pitches himself into the room with his child actors as he helps them choreograph a pillow fight (the director will grow less physically active across the movie, presumably because he was not a young man and film shoots are hard, long shoots especially); this shades into some nuts and bolts "here's what I do on set" material, mostly focused around an extensive, detailed sequence of how one particular scene got blocked, rehearsed, and blocked again, followed by the take that they ended up using in the finished film.

All of this material is built around a pair of twinned ideas that we see over and over again: first, that Bergman loved working with his actors, becoming visibly animated with joy as he starts to visualise how they need to move around the space and with each other, and growing rapt as they give their performances (we also learn that Bergman referred to almost all of his actors by their character names, with the significant exception of the legendary Gunn Wållgren, and I cannot help but assume this is his sign of respect for her impressive career). Though never so rapt that he isn't also clearly evaluating the performance every second as he watches. Indeed, watching Bergman watching performances with the enthusiastic trained eye of a connoisseur responsible for directing an absurdly disproportionate number of the best performances ever given onscreen. Second, how the reason Bergman was able to do all of this is because he could rely completely on Nykvist, who emerges in this first part of the film as the anchor for the entire production. This is never spelled out, but every time the cinematographer appears onscreen, looking as serious and professional as it gets, the sense that he's an immovable rock is reinforced.

The other movements of the film are both about working with specific actors. There is an extended sequence in which Bergman gently helps the aging, ailing Gunnar Björnstrand give one last performance for this most wonderful, long-lived collaboration (we see much more of Björnstrand here than in even the longer cut of Fanny and Alexander itself). It's unabashedly sentimental, with Björnstrand's frustration at himself and his fear at his mind slipping away while he watches coming through around the edges of his crisp professionalism while Bergman observes him with a cool expression that very much reads as someone who is sad and doesn't want to show it, because he knows it would just make things worse. It's a lovely tribute to the most prolific acting collaboration of Bergman's film career, and it forms an anchor in the film's second half much as Nykvist does in the first.

That leaves, then, just the last movement, though it occurs throughout the movie: Bergman's utter delight at working with Bertil Guve and Pernilla Allwin, who play Alexander and Fanny themselves. And this is where the film seems to become it truest self, a portrait of the pleasure of being on set and feeding on the collaborative energy coming from everybody working together. Bergman laughs, and he smiles, and he has an unabashedly proud, fatherly relationship to Guve that's blatantly obvious just from his body language and tone of voice. The film's last very long sequence is all about Bergman watching the two young performers find their way through a fairly simply exchange of dialogue, with the director clearly entranced by seeing them coalesce around ideas of how to act and move through the set in real time.

The whole movie, though, is a bit entranced; it is all about filmmaking as emotionally nourishing and exciting, a way to work with gifted collaborators, spending lots of time obsessing over little tiny details so that the great big emotional waves can come crashing over you. One learns very little about the art of filmmaking from The Making of Fanny and Alexander, but one learns a great deal about Ingmar Bergman and his love of the medium; it's perhaps not necessarily worth all that much to have learned this, but it does make for an enormously pleasurable two hours. And unexpectedly, it's the most unabashedly uplifting film of the director's entire career.

*The other two are both television specials of a little more or less than one hour: Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflöjten!, about The Magic Flute, and I sällskap med en clown, about In the Presence of a Clown - ironically, the name of the documentary is much closer to "in the presence of a clown" than the literal translation of the Swedish title of the film.