Finding the silver lining around the collapse of Iceland’s economy can seem like a daunting task. However, some are taking the time to explore the alternatives and finding that a little good can come of this, particularly in the areas of agriculture, energy and conservation. These positive after-effects are being explored by a pair of Brits in the new documentary ‘Future Of Hope’. After educating themselves extensively on Iceland’s situation and future options, director Henry Bateman and producer Heather Millard picked up and relocated to Iceland, determined to make their optimistic film a reality. The Grapevine spoke to Heather about the movie and what hope the future holds.
How did the project come about?
Henry and I were reading articles in the UK about the crash in Iceland. In January 2009 we came across the first article that was positive, saying that Icelanders always bounce back. They have a harsh climate to live in, they’ve had it harder in the past, with various corruptions and plagues and they will bounce back again. We thought there was something in that, so we came out to Iceland for five days in March 2009 on a research trip.
We brought the best camera available to us with the hopes that we would find a story and that what we filmed we would be able to use in the film. We met lots and lots of people, from ex-bankers to everyday people trying to survive. We came back to England and we cut a short trailer. We talked about coming out to Iceland for a week every month throughout the summer, from April onwards, and we thought that wouldn’t do it justice.
Both of us had read articles and seen documentaries about Iceland and they focused on a very stereotypical view, such as fishing, believing in elves and the Viking aspect. We wanted to give a much fairer representation of Iceland and make a film that Icelanders could be proud of. So we spent the next few months preparing and calling in people in Iceland, researching. We bought a van in the UK and we hired a full HD kit. Then we took the ferry to France, drove to Denmark, took the ferry to the Faroe Islands before we continued to Iceland and ended up on the other side of the island. That’s where it began in June 2009.
We’ve been around the country at least eight times. We have characters in the movie that are from Akureyri and from the east as well as from Reykjavík, so we already give a much broader representation of Iceland in terms of where we’ve been to and what we’ve filmed. It was very important to us not to give a narrow view of Iceland. It began with the idea to see, post-financial crash, how Icelanders are coping and it’s turned into being about rebuilding in a more sustainable way. It focuses on sustainable living, organic farming, renewable energy, entrepreneurship, innovation, preserving nature, living with nature and still being able to grow but not in the way they did with the financial boom and bust.
What sparked your interest in Iceland to begin with?
Neither Henry nor I had ever been to Iceland and didn’t know much about it at all, other than it was an expensive place that was quite cold up in the North Atlantic. So it really was reading these articles and hearing more and more about it, the more we dug into it, we spoke to Icelanders living in the UK and then called a meeting with the ambassador. We started to find a new story, different from the article in the newspaper we had read. It kick-started something.
In doing all this research and educating yourself, did anything you learn surprise you? To begin with, the most surprising thing was how optimistic everybody was. We thought people would be distraught that they might be losing their homes and their businesses, but the idea we got from most of our characters is that it was a positive thing. They were done with all these loans and being lied to by the banks. They were finished with that. It meant they could start again and rebuild and create something new which they were very optimistic about and looking forward to. It encouraged us to make the film because we thought everyone in Iceland was in ruins because of the financial crash, but really it had become a fresh start for many people.
Who are the experts you speak with in the movie?
It is a character driven film, so we do have everyday people which is very important not to overwhelm it with just contributors who are experts in their field. However, we do have experts as well. We do have Ómar Ragnarsson talking about environmental issues and the importance of preserving nature. We have Andri Snær Magnason, who wrote Dreamland, addressing the issue that Iceland is on the tipping point exactly now, it could go one way or the other and we just need to decide on which way that will be. We talked to Vigdís [Finnbogadóttir], the former president, who stresses the importance of the people in Iceland and the land. We also have Þorsteinn .I. Sigfússon who is the Director of the Innovation Centre and a Professor of Physics, he talks about renewable energy and developments in the sector which you’ll see in the film.
What other positive ideas were brought forward in the film?
It’s not a film that preaches to the audience. It simply tries to inspire people to think a little bit differently. So without preaching it just offers some ideas. If one person gets a new idea from it, then it’s a success.
What were your biggest challenges in making the movie? Was funding an issue?
We spent a lot of money on our first trip and we were not fortunate enough to get funding from the UK to make the film. It’s been an uphill struggle to do it, financially. We have self-financed the majority of the film. We’ve had some support from the Icelandic Film Fund, which has been a huge help. We also launched the project on our website where we raised $10,000 US from public donations from people from all over the world who wanted to support us. That was also really helpful. The rest of the production team have all dedicated anything from a day to a year and a half to help us. We’ve had to ask many favours and we’re very grateful to a huge amount of people. We had students from the film school shooting an odd day, here and there. We’ve also had a huge amount of support from the post-production house Kukl and their facilities and team there.
Because of the subject matter of the film, because it’s the first positive documentary about Iceland since the financial crash and because this film that isn’t centred on the crash or on the volcano, people in Iceland have been very giving and willing to support it. They too want to see it made.
What impact do you hope this makes on the rest of the world?
It is intended for an international audience, but the film, first and foremost, is for Icelanders; to inspire them in some way or to wake up to a new way of thinking. It allows them to realise what is available here and what can be done here. For an international audience it’s more to show what Iceland is doing and what we can take away from that. Other countries may not have the same resources but there are still elements that can be taken away and built upon to develop sustainable living.
Future of Hope will be premiering at Háskólabío on September 1st. For more information on the film check out www.futureofhope.co.uk
An Animated Future
One of the Icelanders involved in making Future Of Hope is animator and graphic designer Una Lorenzen, who currently lives in New York City. She has studied both in Iceland and in America and has worked on many animated projects including music videos for the Bedroom Community. She contributed to the film by creating several short animated segments to highlight historical and informational aspects of the country that would have otherwise been a challenge to portray.
“The main thing I worked on was this three minute intro that showed the history of Iceland from the eruption of a volcano until the crash in 2008. Quite a big undertaking,” Una tells us. “They wanted to focus on the independence of Iceland and then of course the banking part. So we see the settlement and then the Danish come in, the British come in, the US come in, and all these natural disasters changing things as they go along. Then we shift into modern times with this greedy banker sitting there getting all the money.”
Part of the challenge was to portray Iceland as a role model in the worldwide economic collapse, while trying to remain realistic and neutral. “It got a bit shaky because of course it has a political element, but the point was just to show people that this is what happened,” says Una. “It’s like Iceland sprung from a volcano and then it was settled and then things happened and then the greedy bankers came!” The other animated segments served to highlight the various positive ideas brought forward throughout the documentary.
In order to put across some of the rather weighty issues, they chose to go with bold, quirky animations to lighten the mood. “With the intro being so politically sensitive,” she says, “using lots of fun colours makes it a bit easier to touch on delicate things.” Along with the film’s director, Henry Bateman, they went with a style similar to Terry Gilliam’s eponymous Monty Python animations. She also tried to make the process the least time-consuming as possible by gathering countless photographs, some that she shot and others from the internet and set about altering them, as well as using Photoshop to paint other images.
As for the drawbacks of animation in documentaries, Una simply couldn’t think of any other than time. “It’s the perfect tool. This is exactly what animation is so good for,” she says. “I don’t see how it could have been done any other way and I think that’s probably why he wanted it. And I am happy with them. I loved working on the film.”