‘Hvunndagshetjur’ is a new film from Magnea Björk Valdimarsdóttir. It tells the tales of four people of foreign origin living in Iceland. There’s a lot about this movie that Icelanders may find eye-opening, and that many foreigners living in Iceland may find very relatable.
In one example, a woman named Karolina, who is originally from Poland but has been living in Iceland for over 20 years, reflects on the much-heard question “Where are you from?” With a heavy sigh and a wry laugh she admits, “I am so tired of this question.”
But what inspired an Icelandic woman to make a film like this?
“Injustice,” Magnea says without hesitation. “I’ve been working in restaurants, book stores and bars downtown since I was 20 and I’ve always worked with foreigners. I’ve not stood by when I witnessed injustice; when they’ve gotten a lower salary and so forth. [I was]Karolina’s first Icelandic friend, and today she’s one of my best friends. I’ve witnessed injustice, violence, unfair pay and many things that inspired this. Many foreign friends of mine, for example one friend of mine from Algeria, he was once beaten up on his way home. These kinds of stories, these endless stories where just judging by your looks you’re beaten up.”
Things to be thankful for
Although Magnea has lived abroad herself, in Spain and France, she doesn’t presume to know exactly what it’s like to be a person of foreign origin in Iceland.
“I’ve always been surrounded by foreign friends and have lived a lot abroad and travelled the world, so maybe that’s opened my eyes to the feeling of being a foreigner,” she says. “But I can say that I’m very aware that I’m a privileged person compared to my friends who are North African. They’re treated differently than I am as a foreigner. But I just wanted to point out different life stories as well. Ordinary people with crazy life stories. The hidden people that we don’t think of every day—taking care of our children or at the cash register at Bónus. People we maybe don’t really see and should be thankful for.”
She continues: “I was just thankful to get to know these four friends of mine even better. There are things you can’t ever understand unless you’ve been through them, like war. They talk about losing their parents, which I also haven’t experienced. I’ve been through different kinds of trauma in life, so just to have this human touch that we all go through, maybe it was surprising that their stories of what they’ve gone through touch everybody, I have noticed. All ages and all genders, it doesn’t matter. They’re just human stories. So maybe if you haven’t been through these things, you just connect in a human way. That was something that I was very thankful for.”
The colourfulness and the joy
Magnea has very clear ideas on what she hopes Icelanders take away from ‘Hvunndagshetjur.’
“I just want to raise awareness,” she says. “I want to point out that this shouldn’t have to be pointed out. That these voices should be heard. If you think about sexual violence and injustice, women of foreign origin often experience more of that than other groups. I also wanted to point out the positive things; the culture, colorfulness and joy that immigrants bring to Iceland. It would be really sad to walk downtown like we did in the 90s, when there were no tourists and not so many foreigners, and we were just like ‘Yes, this is downtown, just two people on Laugavegur’. Society’s blooming thanks to them. So I want to point out that we should celebrate that, and bring more focus to them so it will be common; so it won’t be strange.”
She also hopes foreign audiences find some comfort in the film.
“I just hope that foreigners living in Iceland feel heard, and that it encourages them to raise their voices” Magnea tells us. “Even though you’re tired of these silly questions, you know, ‘Where are you from? Oh, you’re a foreigner!’ and such, to not give up. Language is always a way into society, but it can be hard. You can’t be a single mother working 16 hours a day, come home to your kids, and you don’t have time to go and learn Icelandic in the evening.”
“I just want us to show a little tolerance,” she says in closing. “I want to bring some love and hope into this world. We’re all in the same boat. We don’t need this apartheid bullshit.”
‘Hvunndagshetjur’ will be shown at Háskólabió from December 6th through 9th, and aired on RÚV after Christmas.
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