The Iceland Documentary Film Festival—IceDocs for short—returned this year to Akranes from July 15th to 19th to present a number of world-class documentaries and further establish itself and its community. The festival lined up for the second time to present quality documentaries and to connect interested people, proving in the process that sometimes less is more and utilising the small harbour town to give the festival a vibe of its own.To see how that would work out, I took off in the Bicnick Mini (named after its owner and our dear photographer who also performed the role of driver) last week in the company of my colleagues Art Bicnick and Poppy Askham.
IceDocs is certainly one of the quieter festivals. There was no big stage set up with flashing lights and performers shivering in tights outfits trying to animate a big crowd. No confetti or booming speakers or even projectors for some of the films to be shown outside. Instead the town of Akranes at times seemed to seamlessly blend in with some of the films it hosted. With the icy Atlantic surrounding it, the harbour, the older buildings and the stormy wind having driven most of the residents inside, the town had all the makings of a set waiting to be used for the production of a coming of age indie flick, an alternative music video or well, a documentary. (Maybe one day there’ll be a documentary about how the festival came to be and it will be shown there. Wouldn’t that be meta?)
So while waiting for the next event or screening, Akranes was open for me and my team to explore. On our journey we discovered many of the harbour town’s gems. From the hot pool Guðlaug directly by the coastline and almost perfectly embedded in it, to the lighthouse at the edge of town. The lighthouse is regularly incorporated in events of Akranes because of its great accoustics. Many a small concert has been held here, as well as music videos filmed and art exhibitions shown. So of course it had to be a part of IceDocs.
Featured musicians of the festival this year, like Ásta, Will Carruthers and Maria Oddný, perfomered in the slightly remote tower by the sea and let their music resonate through it. And while the sitting arrangements were slightly awkward due to a lack of space on the individual levels, it did make the whole experience feel a bit more intimate. Maria Oddný for example performed her songs with nothing more than a portable keyboard and the strength of her voice that carried her tunes all around the lighthouse tower. Simple but hauntingly beautiful. Particularly the song that was inspired by one of Iceland’s most famous ghost stories, “Módir mín í kví kví”, about a murdered child haunting its mother. Brrr. Chills. Also, everybody tried to stay really quiet since every sound would echo.
Quite fittingly, the one film that was shown at the lighthouse was the dutch production “Time and Tide”, which presented quiet but lively images of an ever changing coastal scenery over half an hour and managed to blurr the lines between what the audience could hear in the film and around them since there was no narration to distract from the overall atmosphere. No David Attenborough to be heard here.
For those who are used to fairly dry and thoroughly narrated documentaries on the “more serious” TV channels (such as myself I must admit), this festival offered a whole new experience and the revelation that documentary doesn’t equal documentary. Many of the films succeeded by letting their images speak for themselves, not babying the audience and letting people make up their own mind about what they saw. At times they had a very cinematic feel to them, which was enhanced by the screening location of Bíóhöllin, the old cinema at the edge of town with its simple yet classy design/atmosphere. Plus, we got to sit in the fancy chairs in the upper part of the cinema. Easily the most comfortable cinema experience I have ever made.
In the end, the IceDocs award for best documentary was given to Romanian director Alexander Nanau for his documentary “Collective”. This year’s jury, consisting of film critic Marina Richter and filmmaker Anna Zamecka stated that,
“Director Alexander Nanau, who was also the cinematographer and editor of the film, shows great sensitivity to how the story develops. The story is not told with a text or a narrator and it is only the subject itself that tells it. The director digs deep into the scandal in Romania when the nightclub Collectiv burned down and a number of people died.”
The festival’s best short film was “Carne” by Brazilian director Camila Kater, an experimental film that uses various media to tell stories about the objectification of the female body and how the value of bodies changes at different stages of life. The short film jury consisted of the filmmakers Gunnar Eggertsson, Anka Paunescu and Yrsa Roca Fannberg
Heavy topics were kind of on par for the course this year – thanks 2020 – but the artistic value definitely shone through. Given global circumstances – again, thanks 2020 – this year’s IceDocs festival wasn’t exactly overrun and many seats remained empty. Though there was an option to livestream a lot of the films and some are still available online.
So, there’s hope yet that the Iceland Documentary Film Festival will continue to pick up speed and inspire a community of documentary lovers to form a network that encourages creative exchange.
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