Can Reynir H restore its reputation 25 years after a disastrous defeat?
“The biggest challenge was probably learning to make a feature film, making your first feature film,” says Smári Gunnarsson, with his co-director Logi Sigursveinsson nodding along in agreement, as we near the point of being kicked out of a downtown cafe on a Monday night.
Over the span of two years, Smári and Logi have not only become documentary filmmakers, they’ve probably learned more about sports than the average person. However, you don’t need to love football or sports to enjoy their film Heimaleikurinn (The Home Game) – it’s an ultimate feel-good story about a bunch of underdogs in a tiny Icelandic village. What is Hellisandur’s connection to Cristiano Ronaldo? Well, you’ll have to see for yourself.
While Smári and Logi have worked on numerous projects in the film industry, this venture marks their debut in both full-length films and the documentary genre. The story dates back to 1996, when the Reynir H football team suffered a crushing 10-0 defeat to a golf club from Grindavík. Artistic director and theatre owner Kári Viðarsson, whose dad was on the team back then, got the idea of making his dad’s dream a reality and organising a home game for Reynir H in Hellissandur, which included forming a team from scratch.
Both directors knew Kári as a friend, so it didn’t take long to convince them to come on board. “I thought it was a great opportunity to do my first feature film, a documentary that I hadn’t really done before, and also just to do something that involved the area where I grew up,” shares Logi. “And also because I love Kári. He’s fun to be around.”
Smári agrees, deciding to join the project for similar reasons. He grew up in a very similar community, but in the Westfjords. “We’re small-town boys,” Smári says, cracking up with laughter. “So we’re probably in a pretty good position to tell a small town’s story.”
Small-town boys behind the camera
The directors spent almost a year following Kári with cameras as he tried to make his dream a reality. With Smári being based in London and Covid-19 making travel more troublesome in the summer of 2020, the crew couldn’t film every day but would try to pack weekends with activities. “It’s not staged. There’s no written dialogue. We don’t tell anyone what to say,” says Smári, joking, “We’ve got so much more material, it could have been a completely different film.” One thing that makes documentary filmmaking more challenging is, “if you change a small thing when you’re editing, then you need to watch the whole film again, to see whether you’ve ruined the film by taking 10 seconds off,” adds Smári.
Early on, the duo pitched a trailer of the documentary to production company Silfurskjár, bringing on board experienced producers Stephanie Thorpe, Heather Millard, Elfar Adalsteins and Freyja Kristinsdóttir.
“If Kári gets an idea or something is planted in his mind, he won’t stop until it happens,” Smári reflects. Even though Kári wasn’t involved in the filming process, he acted more as a line producer, helping to make things happen, all while also learning to coach a football team. “We would tell him, ‘We’re coming to film, so we need some activities. There needs to be a training session,’ and he organised all of that.”
“Kári has this infectious energy that everyone just goes along with if he has an idea,” Smári says. Kári’s parents, though hesitant at first, supported the project wholeheartedly. “And it was the same with his football team. The guys on the team just believed in him, even though he probably didn’t know what he was doing as a coach.”
Underdogs on the pitch
The directors admit that while some documentary filmmakers do multiple takes, trying to get a perfect line, they took a different approach. “We just filmed for ages and then took months to transcribe all the material.” When editing, they would search with keywords in the transcript every time they needed to add an extra line. “We probably made post-production a little bit more difficult for ourselves, but it’s more organic,” Smári says. According to Logi, it took a year to edit the film and then about six to nine months were spent in post-production.
Smári confesses he watched a number of other sports documentaries while getting ready to work on the film. “There was one film that kind of inspired at least my journey in this – Next Goal Wins. It’s about the worst national football team in the world,” says Smári, adding that the tone of Heimaleikurinn is quite similar – it’s an underdog story of a team that starts off terribly, but gets better as they start believing in themselves.
The duo agree that most characters in the film were naturally extremely funny. “You couldn’t write some of this stuff. It’s almost better than fiction,” Smári says. “I felt there was something supernatural happening at some point. There were things that we couldn’t have planned for, almost like a divine power had intervened.” This was the weirdest part of the process for Smári, but you can see Logi disapproves of any “supernatural” presence during the shoot. “I’ve been trying to tell him that you can only have so many coincidences that make something great,” Smári smiles, but Logi shoots him a sceptical glance, saying, “No comment.”
Not just a game
Following the film’s premiere at the Skjaldborg documentary film festival in Patreksfjörður, Heimaleikurinn has been well-received even before its official release in Icelandic cinemas. The film was honoured with the Audience Award, known as “the Einar,” at Skjaldborg and was also nominated for Best Nordic Documentary at the Nordisk Panorama Film Festival in Malmö, Sweden, where it also won that event’s Audience Award.
“We thought we were showing it to maybe more of an arty crowd that doesn’t really like sports,” Smári reflects on Skjaldborg, which took place in May. “But I think the biggest compliments we have been getting were from people who approached us after watching the film and said, ‘I hate football, but I loved your film.’”
“I wanted to be as accessible as possible for people like me who aren’t necessarily totally into football,” adds Logi. “Because the film isn’t really about football – it’s about these characters, the community and friendships.”
Smári and Logi are hoping that people who are hesitant about both football and documentary movies will give Heimaleikurinn a chance. “We’re trying to get as many people to go and see it because we’ve seen how people react when they’re actually at the cinema watching it together,” says Smári. “People fall in love with the characters. They’re behaving like it’s a live sporting event with their favourite team – clapping and shouting.”
Without revealing any spoilers, it’s a documentary in the end, Smári says with a smile: “We are building up to a game in the film.”
Heimaleikurinn is screening at Bíó Paradís and Smárabíó starting October 13.
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