Expanding the Documentary Culture

18.5.2007
Words by Steinunn Jakobsdóttir
Reykjavík Documentary Workshop is a newly founded independent documentary association with the goal of spreading the culture of documentary filmmaking to professionals and others interested in documentaries in the country. By bringing renowned directors from around the world to the public and getting them to hold master-classes connected to their documentaries, the association has brought the film selection in Iceland to a new advanced level and created a lively discussion on this growing film category. Artist and filmmaker Emiliano Monaco, the association’s director, tells the Grapevine that from beginning they set out to offer monthly screenings of recent documentaries, as well as host master-classes with the directors and get them to present their works to the audience, answer questions regarding their films, and share their knowledge of filmmaking to those eager to listen.
In February this year, the newly founded association screened its first film, Voices of Bam, and organised a master-class with the award-winning director Aliona van der Horst. These events have grown in number and, despite being a young organisation, the Reykjavík Documentary Workshop can boast of an impressive list of documentaries that have been screened at Tjarnarbíó Movie Theatre and the Nordic House.
Monaco says that the interest in documentaries is increasing in Iceland. “The films and the master-classes have all been well received by moviegoers. People are getting more and more interested in the project and there has been a boost in the number of people who show up,” Monaco explains.
“What I find very interesting regarding the documentary industry in general is that there has been an immense increase among women filmmakers,” Monaco says and points out that they have invited a couple of women directors to present their films in Reykjavík. These include the aforementioned Dutch filmmaker Aliona van der Horst as well as Sandhya Suri who screened her documentary I for India; Sophie Fiennes introduced her film The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and Tone Grøttjord’s Russian movie Prirechnyy.
When asked about future projects, Monaco says the Reykjavík Documentary Workshop will take a short break during the summer to work on other projects but that they will start at full force next fall. Already planned is the screening of 9 Stars Hotel directed by Ido Haar from Israel, a film that centres on the occupied territories in Israel and the Palestinians who work there illegally as construction labourers. The documentary A Story of People in War and Peace by Armenian director Vardan Hovhannisyan is also on schedule for next fall.
At the moment, the association is looking for a place to house its operation. Monaco says they are hoping for an accommodation that can house offices, a library containing documentaries, books and educational material, and a room with a TV where people can drop by and watch a movie whenever they feel like it.
“With all this, we want to introduce the documentary culture to the public” Monaco adds.
Reykjavík Shorts and Docs
The organisation’s final project before the summer vacation is to be part of the Reykjavík Shorts and Docs festival, which will take place in Tjarnarbíó Movie Theatre from May 25 to May 28. This year, moviegoers will get the chance to see 10 different documentaries and 12 short films from 14 countries in total. Reykjavík Documentary Workshop’s contribution, in collaboration with Amnesty International, Images of the North and the Swedish embassy, is the opening film of the festival, The Price of the Pole, directed by Staffan Julén. This is an investigative documentary which tells the tale of American explorer Robert E. Peary who spent 23 years living in the Arctic among Inuits late in the 18th century. His task was to be the first man at the North Pole and while trying to reach his goal he secretly married an Inuit. In 1897, Peary travelled back to America with six living Inuits, who he outrageously put on exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Thousands of curious Americans flocked to the Museum to catch a glimpse of these ‘strange’ people, who couldn’t handle the change in living environment and died one after another. The only survivor was a six-year-old boy named Minik. The film also follows Peary’s great-grandson who travels from Greenland to America to learn what happened to his ancestors and to try and understand the past. The Price of the Pole won the Amnesty Award at the Copenhagen International Documentary film festival in 2006.
For the occasion, director Staffan Julén will be attending the festival along with the “main character”, Robert E. Peary II. On May 27, Julén will hold a master-class at the Reykjavík Academy.
In addition to this moving opening film, the list of this year’s Shorts and Docs festival includes: the Canadian dance short film 7 Universal Solvents; Danish documentary The Anatomy of Evil; and award-winning documentary China Blue directed by Micha X. Peled, which deals with labour workers at the clothing factories in China and their inhumane working conditions. While shooting the film, the director was interrupted several times by the Chinese authorities and the film crew were even arrested and interrogated.
Iceland’s contribution to the festival this year includes: a 10 minute short film, Thanks for Help, directed by Benedikt Erlingsson; the documentary Shanghaiing Days which deals with a few Icelandic trawler men in the period of 1947-1970; New Life Beginning directed by Þorsteinn Jónsson; the short film Family Reunion by Ísold Uggadóttir; and Fencing, a short film that follows a day in the life of a troubled elderly gentleman, directed by Sigtryggur Baldursson. For the full schedule see www.shortdocs.info

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