Today we’re going to give you a little insight into the world of Icelandic cinema by bringing you an interview with a couple of young Icelandic filmmakers and their experience of making an ambitious low-budget short film named Anima, which will premiere at the Reykjavík International Film Festival this week. These filmmakers are director-writer Hallur Örn Árnason and cinematographer Björgvin Sigurðarson (the two will hereby be referred to by their first names, as that’s the way we do it in Iceland).
Hallur graduated from the Icelandic Film School in 2010 and has been trying to make it as a filmmaker since then. He was on the lookout for projects when Björgvin approached him to help with his final project at the Icelandic Film School. Hallur and Björgvin are old friends from way back and Björgvin was looking for someone to write and direct his final project as he didn’t see himself as a writer-director. They met and cooked up an idea together which Hallur then turned into a script.
“Things happened pretty fast,” says Björgvin about the project. They only had few months to do what wound up being an half-hour long movie and the script was written in just a few weeks, going through twelve drafts, and the filming itself only took a few days, on a very tight budget. “That’s how things work in the Icelandic film school,” the two of them agreed, as it probably does in most film schools. Projects have to be finished in time for a deadline so a lot of compromises have to be made. Hallur and Björgvin and co. did work on the film a little more after the graduation screening but most of the heavy work had to be done before that screening.
The two filmmakers wanted to do a story that could largely be told visually, or as Hallur explains, that could be described as “visually cool”. The story of the film was inspired by a syndrome which Björgvin himself suffers from, a syndrome named narcolepsy. The movie is about a newly divorced, middle-aged man named Brynjar (Guðmundur Ólafsson) who has trouble sleeping when he finds himself alone in the huge house that belonged to his family. He asks his friend and coworker Máni (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson) for advice, who tells him to exercise more but it doesn’t help. Brynjar’s sleeping problem gets worse and he starts hallucinating… But it’s best not to say any more as Hallur and Björgvin consider this to be one of those film where the less you know, the better.
The movie was shot in black white and Hallur says there are various reasons for that, but mostly practical ones like that the lighting work is simpler with no colors, which is convenient when you only have a few days to shoot. But Hallur also says he thought shooting the film in B&W would help with the “feeling” of it, adding to the coldness of it even though it was shot at the height of summer. Björgvin is also a big fan of Hungarian director Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse), who makes all his films in B&W, and was inspired by Tarr’s style in the way he shot the movie (long, static takes and such).
When asked about the title, Anima, Hallur says it’s a concept in psychology coined by Carl Jung himself which has to do with the feminine part of the male self, which is usually repressed and unconscious. But he wants audiences to decide for themselves how exactly that fits into the film itself.
Lead actor Guðmundur Ólafsson (Noi the Albino, Devil’s Island) is a highly respected actor and writer in Iceland but this is the first time he plays the lead role in a movie. Icelandic actors, even big stars like Ingvar E. Sigurðsson and Gísli Örn Garðarsson, are often very willing to do short films for no pay if they like the script. Hallur and Björgvin have nothing but good things to say about working with Guðmundur.
Finally, when asked why they want to make movies Björgvin says he has this strange obsession about wanting to frame everything, an obsession to which filmmaking of course fits like a glove. Hallur, on the other hand, simply says he wants to “Change the world”, even if it would only be a small change. Let’s hope Hallur and Björgvin manage to change the world for the better. And do a little framing as well.
Anima premieres at RIFF on Friday the 28th of September in a program with four other Icelandic short films. This is the third year in a row in which a film directed by Hallur is screening at the festival (the previous two were the movies Kennitölur (Bad Apples) and Meginlandið (The Mainland)). If you live in Iceland we urge you to check it out (more info about festival screenings can be found here) but if not the movie will hopefully be touring festivals around the world in the coming months. Until then, you can check out the trailer: