Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir

Film editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir was born and raised in Reykjavik, Iceland. She graduated from the London Film School with Honors in 1990 and has since edited over forty feature films, television programs, documentaries, as well as an animated feature film. She frequently works away from her home country of Iceland on projects across Europe and North America. Her award-winning editing work has also included active participation in the film industry as a founding member and two-term inaugural Chairwomen of Women in Film & Television Iceland (WIFT Iceland). Elísabet has sat on the Board of the Icelandic Producers’ Guild and served for two years as Chairwoman of the Icelandic Film & TV Academy in 2005 and 2006. And since 2007, she has also been a Board member of the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF).  She is best known for her collaboration with directors Baltasar Kormakur on films such as “Jar City” and “Contraband” and more recently with director David Leitch on “John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2.”

Tara Karajica caught up with Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir ahead of the very first edition of the RVK Feminist Film Festival,  where she was honored for her contribution to filmmaking and her inspiration to women in the film industry.  






Why did you choose editing?

Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir: I didn’t choose editing, editing found me. As a woman and a single mother, I found refuge in the editing room away from the crew, where I had a better control of my time and fell in love with the editing process. There was no return.

According to Martin Scorsese’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, editing is a misunderstood art. Would you agree with that? What is most misunderstood about a film editor, according to you?

E.R.: Yes, I can absolutely agree with the statement that editing is a misunderstood art. The biggest misconception is that editing is a technical role; it is not. No more than writing is a technical role, even though it involves typing on a computer. Editing is storytelling through moving images and sound, and focusing on the story, character arcs and phase is essential.

Can you talk about the “art of cutting”? Would you agree with the assumption that it can make or break a film?

E.R.: Everything can make and break a movie. Moviemaking is about cooperation, it’s about dialogue, it’s about giving and taking and respecting all contribution to the final story. You are never stronger than the weakest link and therefore it’s important to lift up and support your colleagues.

You have edited on film and the digital way. What is the difference and which one do you prefer? Do you think that a part of the charm and excitement of “cutting” was lost with the move to digital? What is a positive thing that the move to digital has brought?

E.R.: No doubt I have romantic ideas of the past when we wore white gloves and cut the film by hand. But I don’t believe it would in any way make my job easier to go back. Going digital did absolutely not shorten the post- production period; it made it longer. The main reason for it being the ability to try out different things, deliver various versions of certain scenes and working within the frame easily, zooming into an image, splitting it up, etc.

How do you feel as a woman working in a technical job today? How do you feel about the underrepresentation of women in these jobs in film? And, by extension in the film industry as a whole?

E.R.: Again, editing is not a technical job. How I feel as a woman? I feel good. I don’t have the experience of being different in terms of sex, color, religion… I do have opinions about the lack of women, people of color, different ethnicities in film, etc. because it’s robbing the audience of stories that don’t revolve around the middle class white man. That also entails that we are leaving a skewed view of the past, and that will keep us from progressing within this form of storytelling. It should be considered a crime against the future.

Who is your inspiration?

E.R.: Everyone who puts her or his heart into their art and storytelling is an inspiration to me.

Whose films would you like to edit?

E.R.: I have a rule which is basically: follow the woman. So if I have to choose between projects, I look at the story and the people behind the story, count the women and follow the winner. I hope that keeps bringing me interesting projects and make the journey worth it.

You have worked on both European and US films. What is the difference in working on productions from these two continents in terms of working process and the mindset behind it?

E.R.: I feel like the main difference is that if you go through the papers looking for a film to watch. In the US, you find it under entertainment, but in Europe, you are more likely to find it under art and culture. But wherever you are working on a movie, people are always working on a story and that’s where their passion is. There is a clear difference in approach in production, mainly because the US market is so much bigger and the use of private money common, while Europe relies more on public funding.

What genres are most fun to edit? Most challenging? And, which one(s) do you hate the most?

E.R.: Every movie has its own heart, charm, fun and challenges. I do find action F.X. easy to work with because you have more artistic freedom to do things that might not have grounded truth in reality. But the audience is likely to have participated in a conversation, a verbal fight or a crying. So I feel those scenes need added attention. But if we want to pinpoint a challenge, the most important one is to respect the teamwork and find the courage to participate in the dialogue needed to make a good movie. 

What were the challenges of editing highly choreographed stunts and working with stunt people that you often have to hide?

E.R.: I’ve been lucky to work with some of the best action directors, choreographers and visual effect artists. I have no shame seeking their professional assistance if needed.

Do you look at the dailies and other elements of before principal photography like the storyboards, vfx vis, stunt previsualization? 

E.R.: Yes. My work is completely based on those elements and important to build an edit on the solid grounds of pre-production.

You said that the characters and the story have to stand out. Can you comment on that? 

E.R.: It’s always about the story. We work hard on manipulating the audience to give them an emotional experience worth their time. One of our best tools to wow the audience is a solid story and interesting characters we can take to heart. I believe that’s the aim of every filmmaker.

You also mentioned the importance of the audience when you edit. Can you elaborate on that?

E.R.: The audience usually has a vivid training in watching movies, they take their brains to the cinema and I find it important to respect their knowledge and insight.

There has been so much talk about women in film in the past two years. What is your opinion on the matter? Where do you position yourself in this discussion? How is it in Iceland?

E.R.: I’m a woman. End of story. Fix this. Neither filmmaking nor Iceland is any different from the rest of the world or other professions. Equality is something we have never experienced fully and not only is it that women have a hard time breaking into the industry, but so has anyone that’s not a white Christian male. The only true way to serve our audience is to give them access to different voices.

How do you see the Icelandic film industry now? How are you contributing to its boom?

E.R.: The Icelandic film industry is fairly young and it’s exhilarating to see how well women are doing right now. The path to equality takes more than one good year, and we have to be focused on supporting women in Iceland and giving the audience what they deserve – a healthy variety of stories.

Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your favorite film by a female filmmaker?

E.R.: I don’t find it fair to ask me to list my favorites. Female filmmakers are many and take different roles and I have great admiration for all of them. I have a small ritual in the beginning of every project I work on, where I name all women or people of color who participate and make a promise to do my best to give their work justice. In that way, I hope I’m better equipped to not fall into my patriarch social upbringing with its misconceptions that we sometimes are blind to.

What are you working on at the moment? What are your next projects?

E.R.: I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in making a documentary about an amazing female filmmaker, Sólveig Anspach, who passed away far too early. She stands out in the Icelandic film scenes having directed more movies than any other Icelandic director. As important it is to point out the lack of women in a certain role in the film industry, it’s even more important to point out the women who are doing well, lift them up and support them. I have now joined the Marvel family and look forward to experience and participate in that adventure.




Photo credit: Asta Kristjansdóttir

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

Previous Story

Chiara Malta

Next Story

Gabrielle Kelly

Latest from FADE TO...

Sandra Hüller

In a bustling year of diverse projects and incessant travel, Oscar nominee and award-winning actress Sandra

Emita Frigato

Emita Frigato ha iniziato la sua carriera come assistente scenografa al fianco di Giuseppe Mangano nel

Kaouther Ben Hania

For Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, the journey into filmmaking began with a fascination with storytelling

Mia Hansen-Løve

French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve has made eight feature films, rising to international prominence in 2014 with

Sahar Mossayebi

Sahar Mossayebi was born in Tehran. She graduated in Theater with a BA from The Azad