August was trained as a still photographer in Stockholm, and at the Danish Film Institute.
He worked as cinematographer for several years and worked on—among others—Men Can ’t Be Raped (78, Join Donner) and The Grass Is Singing (81, Michael Raeburn).
As a director, he has gone from strength to weakness; Zappa is a very fresh, energetic film about children; Twist and Shout showed the kids in their teens; Pelle the Conqueror was a nineteenth-century epic about a widower and his son, Swedish immigrants in Denmark—its warmth won the Oscar for best foreign film. Best Intentions was from Ingmar Bergmans script about his own parents, and it was a triumph.
But his attempt at Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits had too many stars, too little mood or magic. Jerusalem, adapted from Selma Lagerlof’s novel, was made for Swedish TV. Smilla had a striking first half, followed by chaos. And his version of Les Misérables seemed restrained or halfhearted.