Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir is a director, screenwriter and producer from Iceland. Her debut short film “Palli Alone in the World” was released in 1997. That same year, Ásthildur founded her production company, Rebella Filmworks. Focusing on independent film, it has since produced a number of films, including dramas, documentaries and TV programs.
Within the framework of the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film,” Tara Karajica talks to Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir about women in film and her assured debut feature, “The Deposit,” that focuses on a journalist who invites three immigrant women to share her house in Reykjavik, where division and discord soon arise. Intelligently adapted from Auður Jonsdottir’s 2006 novel by Kjartansdóttir herself, it looks at the relatively new phenomenon of immigration in Iceland.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir: When I graduated from high school, I really wanted to become a director, but I didn’t do anything about it. Twelve years later, I got a job as a D.A. and I really liked it! Then, I decided to get into the film branch at any cost. And I did.
The Deposit was based on Audur Jónsdóttir’s novel. What influenced your choice for this particular material?
A.K.: When I read The Deposit in 2008, it struck me instantly as Iceland was just about to change from a simple society into a complex multicultural society. In fact, the essence of the book is much more relevant today, not only in Iceland, but also in the rest of the world. The story is an allegory for the relation between the immigrants and the authorities. I loved the plot and the characters and I was pretty sure I would manage to make a good film out of the story.
It is a drama with a social and political edge about power and control, idealism, respect and empathy. Can you comment on that?
A.K.: You never really know anyone until you live with them and their true face is revealed. The problem is that we are often more selfish than we think we are and we lack understanding and respect for others. We really have to start looking into our souls before judging others. The rise of right-wing populism in Europe and the rest of the world has its roots in fear and ignorance and is something we need to worry about.
The Deposit is also very socially relevant as it tackles the relatively new phenomenon of immigration in Iceland. Can you elaborate on that?
A.K.: Iceland has gone through essential changes in the last decade. The country has been isolated for centuries and we almost didn’t have any immigrants. But for the last ten years, there has been a huge change and we have quite a lot of immigrants, fortunately. However, the Icelandic authorities have fought against it and created strict rules in order to prevent the increase of the number of immigrants getting Icelandic citizenship. Many Icelanders are against these rules and find that we need to have diversity as it really has a good influence on our society and I agree with that.
Would you agree with the fact that when one’s own interests are at stake, there is a fine line between friendliness and cruelty?
A.K.: Oh yes! As sad as it is. I don’t know exactly why, but perhaps the answer lies in our upbringing and our Western values as well a the stress of individualism. But, to me, it is also fear. We tend to connect our identity to our family, to our belongings, to our territory and when we think we are loosing it, we become afraid and cruel.
Your three protagonists are very different women. How would you characterize each one of them?
A.K.: Gísella is a lonely frightened woman. She has been brought up by her grandmother in a safe and narrow-minded surrounding and is suffering because of that. Marisol is warm and sensitive but also a bit naïve. She tries her best to please Gísella. Abeba is hurt, afraid and on guard. She is strong, but can’t accept any sort of oppression.
What was the best advice you were given?
A.K.: Just to adapt the script in my own way. “Make it your story,” the author advised me.
The situation of women in film is not good in Iceland – sad but true. Only a few features have been directed by female directors in the last decade and changes are happening far too slowly in my opinion.
How do you think the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Women in Film” will impact your career, your visibility and the promotion of European female film talent in Australia?
A.K.: I don’t really know as I have just made my first feature and very late in my career, indeed. But I am very optimistic and hope for the best. I know the Sydney Film Festival is great and I look forward to it!
There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in Film for the past year and a half. What is your opinion on the matter? How is it in Iceland?
A.K.: The situation of women in film is not good in Iceland – sad but true. Only a few features have been directed by female directors in the last decade and changes are happening far too slowly in my opinion.
Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking?
A.K.: Actually, I vote for equality everywhere and always for everybody. In that sense, I am a feminist too, but women have to fight much harder than they do now – without any compromise.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
A.K.: I have to mention two female directors: Susanne Bier and Debra Granik. I really liked her latest film, Leave No Trace.
What are your next projects?
A.K.: I am now preparing my second feature, Vergo. It’s a drama to be shot in the Icelandic highland.
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