From Iceland — Reality TV That's Actually Real

Reality TV That’s Actually Real

Published November 13, 2012

Four young Icelanders film short, candid videos about their lives for Doxwise Iceland

Reality TV That’s Actually Real
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Four young Icelanders film short, candid videos about their lives for Doxwise Iceland

Ahh, the diary—considered by many to be the holy grail of journals. More than just a place for a love struck 13-year-old to scrawl secret love notes to her crush, it acts as a keeper of many people’s innermost thoughts, feelings, desires and everyday observations. It comes as no surprise then that most people would protect this valuable thought-reservoir with their lives. After all, the point of a diary is to keep things secret, right?

For most people, yes, but for the participants of Doxwise Iceland, the answer is a resounding no. 

Dear Diary

The online diary series allows four Icelanders between the ages 20 and 24 to document their lives through short, five-minute videos that are posted on the Doxwise Iceland website each week. Four other countries—Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark—are also participating in the project. Collectively known as Doxwise Nordic, the idea is to turn “reality TV” on its head. 

Two seasons of the series have already been filmed, in 2008 and 2012 in Denmark, and there are plans to expand the project to all of Europe. Doxwise arrived in Iceland for the first time this September and those videos can now be found online.

Viewers follow Jón Karl Einarsson, Helena Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir, Ríkey Konráðsdóttir and Hlöðver Pálsson as they document their lives on film for ten weeks. The group deals with a variety of issues, from attending school as a single parent and juggling work with social life to dealing with more serious issues such as depression and homelessness. 

“It’s fun; it’s something new and fresh in Iceland,” says Helena, whose videos focus on balancing life as a single mother and a 24-year-old student at the University of Iceland. “People see these reality shows that are maybe directed or scripted, but this is just reality, it’s raw.”

Helena says that each person’s story is unique, and defined characters and storylines have emerged. Jón’s videos centre on his struggle with depression, while Ríkey’s videos detail her issues with money and her attempts to get by day to day. Meanwhile, Hlöðver, the only participant who does not live in the Rekjavík area, documents his experience as a father and a gay man living with his boyfriend in Hnífsdalur, a small fishing village in the Westfjords. There are no elaborate camera crews or million-dollar budgets, and participants record themselves whenever they want using a modest camcorder. 

“In documentaries there is a cameraman and he is filming. But here, it is just them,” says Hildur Margrétardóttir, one of the show’s producers. “You get a much closer relationship with the camera than if there was a camera guy behind it. You can get very intimate.”

Don’t call them Kardashians

The beauty of Doxwise is that sometimes there isn’t really any beauty in the videos at all. In one video, Helena documents her attempts to braid her hair before going out to a party; in another, Ríkey films herself in the car driving to her grandparents house to ask for some extra food; in a third, Jón recounts a particularly bad day at work. These candid moments are what lend the show its authenticity. For example, Helena says she doesn’t even bother to put on makeup when filming. She says she often just grabs the camera and starts talking.

“I don’t tell the kids what to do. I think if I started doing that it would become more like a chore than fun,” Doxwise Iceland Director Herbert Sveinbjörnsson says. “I think they are having fun with this—I know I am. I think they are very sincere and honest because we do it like this.” 

While the series may not contain all the glitz and glam of typical reality TV, perhaps that is part of the allure. “I am fascinated with people and the documentary form,” Herbert says. “It’s been my experience that truth is stranger than fiction.”

Ultimately, the project not only gives viewers a glimpse into the experience of young Icelanders, but may also help the participants themselves reflect on their own lives and decisions, Hildur says. “I’m so very proud, and they are all doing so well with what they are giving us an opportunity to see,” she says. “I think this is how you mature. You take these steps and they are a little frightening, but when you’ve done them you are happy that you did it. You can say to yourself, ‘I know more because I did it, I’ve learned from the experience.”

Visit the Doxwise Ísland website to watch videos and learn more.

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