Can you talk about your background and how you got into filmmaking?
Guðný Rós Þórhallsdóttir: I was born and raised in a small town in the East of Iceland called Egilsstaðir. When growing up, I was a regular at the VHS rental in my hometown, but we didn’t have a VHS player for the longest time and we had to rent the player in a suitcase along with the tapes. When we finally got a VHS player, I got obsessed with recording everything that was on television and ended up with around five-hundred tapes, each with two to four films. I had this little pink book that I used to keep track on what was on each tape, and got obsessed with keeping it organized and pretty. I faked being sick just so I could skip school to tend to my tape collection and watch my favorite films.
I started getting into photography when I was around thirteen, when I got my first camera. That camera didn’t have a function to record videos, so I just started taking a lot of photos and putting them together into a video. At the time, I didn’t know that it was called stop motion, but that’s how I started out. When I was sixteen, I got a new camera, a Canon eos 60d, which was able to record videos, and a microphone. So I got the idea to make a feature. I got a grant for 300.000 ISK from the cultural fund in the East and walked door to door of the insurance companies to get all the equipment I was being lent insured. But when I overheard people talking about me – how young and naïve I was, how I could never possibly accomplish making a feature – and making fun of all the effort I was putting into it, I got scared and lost confidence in myself. I returned the money and stopped thinking about filmmaking. I was just going to educate myself in something normal; something that was safe and wouldn’t make people gossip.
It wasn’t until I went to the LungA school in 2014, which is an art program, where I took a class with Hrund Atladóttir in video-making, that the passion for filmmaking sparkled again. I made a knitting video in that class, which later got viral in Russia for some reason. So a lot of people in Russia have now seen me knitting on the toilet. When I finished the LungA school, I immediately applied for the Icelandic Film School and knew this was the right path for me. I wasn’t getting scared out of filmmaking again!
What was the inspiration behind The Day the Beans Ran Out?
G.R. Þ.: I had always wanted to make a zombie film, and the script was a lot different than how it turned out. It was supposed to be this feel good film about a man who survived the zombie apocalypse and was living a good life with his cat and cow in the wilderness of Iceland until a string of events led him to lose his cow and he could no longer have milk in his coffee, which absolutely devastated him. But my shooting days were in April and I learned a month before the shoot that it wasn’t possible to get cows to be outside at that time because of the risk of cow mastitis. That was quite a bummer and I had to rewrite the whole thing, with only a month until the shoot. I never really intended the film to have a deep meaning, it was supposed to be a feel good dark humor film about coffee, cows and the apocalypse, of course. But without realizing it, with the deadline approaching fast, I had, all of a sudden, written a satire on tourism.
Is it really how people are feeling about tourism in Iceland? Or, is it just your imagination?
G.R. Þ.: Tourism has definitely changed in Iceland in the past years. It’s changing the behavior of our society. Hotels are popping up everywhere, every other apartment is an airbnb and the renting market is very difficult because of that. Farmers have had to mark their lands as private properties as tourists have just walked in without permission and taken a sh*t wherever they liked. Of course, not all tourists are bad but the bad seeds have not treated the nature here very kindly. Traffic has grown, hotels are everywhere, off road driving – which is illegal – is more common and it’s sad to see more and more nature getting ruined. I think I talk for almost all Icelanders when I say that we’re scared of what will happen in the future if tourism continues to grow as rapidly as it has so far. We want to share our country and its beauty and people should see it, but it needs to be treated the right way. We probably weren’t ready for this tourism explosion and didn’t handle it the right way.
There is a lot of Wes Anderson in it. Can you talk about that?
G.R. Þ.: I love Wes Anderson, his color palettes, his precision and sarcasm. He is one of my favorite directors and an inspiration!
If I understood correctly, the film’s leading actor, Atli Rafn Sigurðsson, was involved in some accusations of sexual harassment. Can you elaborate on that?
G.R. Þ.: Around Christmas last year, he was accused of sexual harassment in the explosion of the #metoo movement. He was supposed to premiere a play a few days after the accusations, but he got kicked out of it, the premiere was postponed and a new actor was hired. He was also fired from another play which was being put on a few weeks later. It was all over the news at the time, but the public never got to know exactly what the accusations were, if it was something recent or something that had happened many years ago. He never admitted to having done what he was accused of publically and spoke of not having gotten to know himself exactly what it was he was being accused of.
When this all happened, I had not premiered my film yet, except for the screening at my graduation from the Icelandic Film School, where it won prizes for Best Picture in my department (Directing and Producing) and the Bjarkinn Award, which is the Award for Best Picture overall. The day the news broke about the accusations and the following days, I got a lot of messages from people that knew he starred in my film. People were asking me what I was going to do and if I wasn’t going to just throw it in the trash, and not screen it anywhere, and take a stand with the women that accused him of sexual harassment. It was weird being in this position, because I had enjoyed working with him, learned a lot and had no problems. And suddenly, I felt guilty for having liked working with him. I just felt really guilty. I felt ashamed of my film and also annoyed because I was also proud of it. I didn’t really know where to stand. One day, I was determined to throw it away and the next I’d be angry because I had worked so hard for it and didn’t want this to ruin everything for me. In the end, I decided I was going to screen it. At the end of the day, it is my film, not his, and I wasn’t going to let his mistakes ruin the start of my filmmaking career. I decided to stand with myself, and still completely stand with the #metoo movement. It was, and is a necessary movement, which is hopefully changing the industry for the better.
Good for you! Well done! Does the stance you took in this situation carry the message to women in film: “You have to fight for your art”?
G.R. Þ.: I would definitely say so. I took this decision to fight for my film without knowing how people would react or if I’d be criticized for it. I’m new and I’m just starting out. I had already given it all up once when people talked about me behind my back and I am never ever letting someone else affect me like that again! His mistake was not mine. I shouldn’t suffer for his wrongdoing. That’s why I decided to screen my film. I’m going to fight for my art, and my place in the industry as a director.
I stand with you in that decision!
G.R. Þ.: Thank you!
You’re welcome! In Film History, there are specific and special working partnerships between directors and certain crew members like for instance cinematographers, editors or actors. Would it be fair to say that you have such a relationship with your cinematographer Birta Rán Björgvinsdóttir?
G.R. Þ.: Yes! I’m very fortunate to have found her this early on. We work very well together and I can see us working together for years to come. We “met” on the Internet through photography when we were like fifteen or sixteen years old, but we didn’t meet in person until years later, when we coincidently realized we were both starting the Icelandic Film School at the same time. We clicked almost instantly, and have been working together ever since.
Can you talk about your production company, Andvari?
G.R. Þ.: Birta and I did our first project together in early 2016 – a music video for the slam poetry dance performance Elsku Stelpur/Dear Girls, which encourages girls to take the space they deserve and not let anything stop them in achieving their goals. We were greatly inspired by that act and while we were preparing for that project, we felt the need to have a name for our collaboration as we had decided this was not going to be the only thing we’d make together. Right now, Andvari is still just an umbrella for our own projects, but we dream of growing as a production company. Since 2016, we have made three shorts and five music videos together as Andvari.
Women in Film are a hot topic today. What is your take on it?
G.R. Þ.: Finally, the number of women in filmmaking is growing, and I love seeing more women in the industry. We are still a minority, but I feel like things are taking a turn for the better; women are a little more visible even though I think we could be a lot more visible. We still need more films with strong female leads, and that’s what I dream of doing. And only this year, the first Icelandic feature that had a female cinematographer was screened. That cinematographer is Hrund Atladóttir. She taught the class I took back in 2014 when I got the courage to pursue a career in filmmaking back.
What is the situation of women in film in Iceland, especially for young talents?
G.R. Þ.: I feel like people are more aware of how males dominate the film industry here in Iceland and are trying to equalize it. I have had a lot of support, and I think I’m also starting my career at the right time, a time when women are becoming more visible and when we are stepping up and taking the space we deserve.
Would you call yourself a feminist? What’s your take on feminism?
G.R. Þ.: Yes, yes, yes! Of course, I’m all for the equality of the sexes. There’s nothing that’s a “man’s job” or a “woman’s job”. Neither sex is better than the other. We are equal and should therefore have equal rights and equal opportunities.
What are your next projects?
G.R. Þ.: I’m trying out the production seat at the moment and I’m producing two shorts this fall which I’m very excited about. We’re mainly doing music videos at the moment, but I’m also working on a few scripts and I would like to direct my first feature by no later than 2022. I still have the script of the film I was going to make when I was sixteen and I still really want to make it. Maybe that will be my first film after all!
This interview was conducted at the 2018 Stockfish Film Festival.