From Iceland — Horsing Around

Horsing Around

Published July 24, 2012

If you like watching documentaries about horses in Iceland, ‘Herd In Iceland’ might just be the documentary for you!

Horsing Around
Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by
Lindsay Blatt

If you like watching documentaries about horses in Iceland, ‘Herd In Iceland’ might just be the documentary for you!

Filmmakers Lindsay Blatt and Paul Taggart are currently completing a documentary film about Icelandic horses that they shot in 2010 and 2011. We looked at their trailer and it looks kind of nice, actually:

HERD IN ICELAND – kickstarter trailer from Lantern Fish Media on Vimeo.

At the time of writing, Lindsay and Paul are in the final stages of soliciting funds to complete the film’s editing process via fabled ‘crowd-funding’ platform, and they would really like for you to contribute. They wrote us asking for help in publicising their project and their fund-raising efforts, and since we love horses and money and documentaries and the concept of crowd-funding, we thought we’d run a few questions by them. Read on, watch the trailer, look at the photos and determine whether theirs is a project you want to spend your presumably hard-earned cashmoney to help realise. ALSO! Note that the most awesome Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson is currently in the final stages of crowd-funding his very own documentary, ‘Drag Dad.’ You should also contribute to that, as that project is also pretty cool. Hurry!

Grapevine: Tell us about yourselves, what you’re up to and where you’ve been.

Lindsay Blatt: I’ve been working in New York’s photography industry for over ten years.  I’m currently a freelance photo editor at The New York Times.  In 2010 and 2011, Paul Taggart and I collaborated on our first documentary film project called ‘Herd In Iceland’.  The project is in post-production and being edited by Michelle Mizner. We have a crowd-funding campaign running through July 25th on Kickstarter.

Paul Taggart: I am photographer working for magazines and newspaper for over ten years.  I was based in the Middle East for a number of years but am now living in New York City.  The last two years I have been busy working on different film projects and hanging out with lots of horses.

GV: Tell us about ‘Herd in Iceland’. What’s the big idea? What drew you to the subject?

LB:  This film tells the story of the Icelandic people through the annual horse round-ups that happen each fall.  The horses hold a special place in the nation’s history and identity, and having the opportunity to share it with a large audience is a privilege. I was initially drawn to the subject because of the beauty of the horses and the landscape.  After spending time in Iceland during filming, I realized there is so much more—and a lot of the appeal comes from the shared connection between Iceland’s people, horses, and terrain.

PT: Lindsay drew me to this project.  She came to me with an idea for a story and over the course of a year we planned a trip and started shooting by 2010.  I had worked on a number of nature and animal related stories in the past and this was something I was enthusiastic to work on.

Explain the appeal of Iceland’s ‘semi-wild horses’ to a couple of globetrotting New Yorkers like yourselves. What interests you about them specifically? Do you feel there is anything the world could learn from the horses– these ‘animals with ideals,’ as you describe them– or the way they are kept?

LB:  These horses are small, but very sturdy, agile, smart, and have an inquisitive character that makes them a unique breed.  They spend the summers living in the mountains and have the opportunity to be wild animals.  Iceland has a diverse topography and harsh weather, that the horses spend time in the wild is what makes them nimble and independent.  But they still seem to have a very strong connection to people, as we learned when meeting the herds in the highlands.  The horses are curious and genuinely seem to like being around people.  Oh, and they have the best hair.

PT:  I think there is a great lesson learned from the Icelandic horses, or more importantly from the people who care for them.  The compassion and dedication the people in Iceland have for their horses is honourable and something that I am excited to share with audiences in other countries.

GV: Would you describe your documentary as political in nature (i.e. bearing some sort of message—and if so, what is it?), or is it more story-driven  or even a visual vignette of sorts? Not that we’re eager to box you guys in or anything…

LB: I like that, a visual vignette.  We are telling a story about how the Icelandic people interact with the horses.  We met with many people involved in horses, those that are hobbyists, professional breeders, competitive riders, veterinarians, etc.  Everyone is so passionate about the Icelandic horse, and we are looking to share that joy with our audience.

PT: This is not a political film in any sense.  Much of my work has been political but ‘Herd in Iceland’ falls into a different category, its really the story of how we as humans are relating with nature and the urge I think so many of us feel to get back to a simpler time and a more authentic lifestyle, and the conflicts that arise with trying to harness that in our modern societies.

GV: From watching your trailer, it would seem that Iceland’s landscape plays a large part in the film. Does it indeed play a role, and if so, what is it?

LB: The landscape does play a large part, but share it equally with the horses.  You can’t have one without the other.

PT:  The landscape for me became a character in the film, it was omnipresent in most of our shots and drove many of our decisions when choosing locations and filming times.

GV: The trailer features some very beautiful shots. Tell us about the filming process. How long did it take? What did it entail? Were you ever in danger?

LB:  We travelled to Iceland in 2010 and 2011, each trip lasted nearly three weeks.  We tried to film in as many different areas as possible, because there are subtle differences in the horse culture from region to region.  Each time we went to a farm or round-up, our subject would introduce us to yet another person that we “had to meet.”  So it was extremely easy to talk with people, and I think there is a mutual appreciation of the work we are doing and the work the farmers are doing.  I never felt in danger, though we did get to do some aerial filming in a tiny plane.

PT: The filming process was enjoyable, but also quite difficult. We worked in a small crew of two to three people and worked long fourteen to eighteen-hour days for three weeks straight.  I think it paid off.

GV: Who’s making the music for it? Anyone in particular on your wish list?

LB: So glad you asked!  We have an amazing composer that has worked on a few other Lantern Fish Media productions. Joshua Camp. He has a way of handling the subject matter with sensitivity, but is also able to add a lot of momentum with his compositions and instrumentation.

GV: Do you guys like riding horses, or just filming them?

LB:  I LOVE riding!  Though I don’t get to do it very often living in NYC.  After this project, I am completely biased and think that Icelandic horses make the best riding horses, and I can hardly wait to ride one again.

PT:  I have ridden but I must admit I love filming the horses a lot… I wish I had opportunities to ride though, it’s not something that we get to do in New York City that often.

GV: Are you OK with the idea that Icelanders eat these horses all the time? Or do you think this is unethical / unpleasant? Why?

LB: Icelanders show nothing but respect for the horses.  It is a small country with minimal farming opportunities, so it seems to make sense that horses would be eaten. The horses live a good life, and using their meat is also a way to help ensure that the horses stay around for pleasure riding.  Full disclaimer: I’m a vegetarian.

PT:  full disclaimer: I’m a carnivore, but I have not eaten horsemeat.  I am fine with people eating horses, I just want them to have a good enjoyable life before they become a dinner, and all the horses I met in Iceland were very happy.

GV: Do you have any other projects in the works? Or any other films planned?

LB:  Lantern Fish Media is in production on a short documentary about a biomedical organization making plant-based vaccines.  We’ve been interviewing scientists from various disciplines, and are getting ready to film the vaccine’s manufacturing process. We have to sterilize our camera equipment and wear gowns and hairnets while shooting—it’s fascinating.

PT: We have a number of projects in the works, its an exciting year for us and starting our company Lantern Fish Media has been a thrill, the only thing that will make it better is premiering our film at RIFF in the fall, fingers crossed!

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