In retrospect Iceland has never lacked activism, and many prideful moments of Icelandic history are examples of social disobedience. In medieval times it was the “heathen folk” denying Christianity, later students and townsfolk arguing for the country’s sovereignty, and later on our own flag instead of a Danish one. Sadly, here in Iceland political fervour has often given way to apathy. And therefore Áslaug Einarsdóttir’s and Garðar Stéfansson’s film Sófakynslóðin, or The Sofa Generation, which is now being shown at RIFF, is a healthy wake up call to Icelanders to loosen their grip on the television remote a bit.
What began as a summer job for Amnesty International for both of them turned out to be the genesis of this film, so when asked on the other hand what the impetus for the film was Einarsdóttir simply states that “We noticed that there was this prevailing interest in the younger generation to actually take part in social issues, change them and make a difference. However, they had no clue whatsoever as how to start, or even what the term meant”. And so it was with that mindset that they decided to in their own words “show the different aspects of activism flourishing in Iceland and offer a fresh take on discourse surrounding it” in a society lacking radical activism.
Leftist Activism in Iceland?
The movie itself is an aggregation of interviews conducted with various people that take part in grass roots activism in some kind of shape and form. Interviewees from Amnesty International, The Icelandic Feminist Movement and what would later become and now is Saving Iceland, and various other groups focusing on natural preservation. Yet, in no way does the film lean more to the left, or as Einarsdóttir states “the goal was to show all aspects, both poles of the political spectrum. For example, some complained about our depicture of the Iceland-Palestine movement as being biased, yet at the same time no Zionist group is making itself heard. You simply can’t show something that is not visible”. When asked about this seemingly all encompassing undercurrent of fear of taking part in important issues and being an activist, she then speaks a simple truth often stated by others:
“I think people in Iceland are, perhaps, afraid of straying from the norm, being unconventional or even being called a communist’”. She also mentions that there are “however a few examples of activism from the right, e.g. when the young Independent Party members tried to sell and give beer on the streets”.
Reaching out to the Sofa Generation
One cannot help but wonder if the title of the film could lead to a conundrum when considering these words spoken in it: “We are the sofa generation, a sofa-country. All we do is sit on the sofa and disapprove and yet we do nothing, nothing at all”. So how do you exactly ensnare an audience and awaken its passions when faced with this problem: The Sofa Generation? Fortunately, Einarsdóttir says that they set out with the goal of not only raising awareness but also making sure discussions were being held. So they visited colleges around the city, focusing on their prime audience which is the Icelandic youth because as she says “Of course, there are lots of generalisations about what activists are. One question I received directly after screening the movie was: “Are you one of those hippies like in the film?” And adding “Last summer the prejudice and narrow-mindedness of the media and certain people in the public was astounding when foreign activists here protested heavy industry”. Because, as mentioned above, there is a certain fear that activism is only left sided – but the fact remains, as Einarsdóttir says, is: “I would like to see certain misconceptions shattered, as some individuals in the film are more famous for other things than let’s say, activism”. However, as far as foreign distribution goes she says that they are waiting for answers. Having shown the film in Buenos Aires, for example, the people there were amazed at what they considered our very distinct approach to activism here. And so if you are looking for the underbelly of Icelandic political and social discourse – then look no further.
Sofa Generation is being shown during the Reykjavík International Film Festival at Regnbogabíó on Sunday Oct 7.