From Iceland — Let Them Piss On It

Let Them Piss On It

Let Them Piss On It

Published December 5, 2005

/// For starters, your name: are you Ólaf DeFleur Jóhannesson, Ólaf DeFleur, or just Ólafur Jóhannesson?
– The last one. I made the other two up because when you’re just starting out in film, you’re usually doing everything yourself. Well, I didn’t want to have my name all over the credits, so I made up this “DeFleur” name to mix things up a bit.
/// What made you decide to do a sports documentary comedy?
– I’ve known this team for ten years now, since back when I was a pizza boy and worked with one of them. I actually played with them for three years, and when I heard they were going for the third division I knew I had to do a film on them.
/// Were you surprised by the results?
– In a way, yeah. None of this movie was scripted, but we still see stock characters emerge that came out during the filming. It’s quite a special documentary, a bit like The Mighty Ducks.
/// Parts of the movie did seem scripted, as if the dialogue was too good to be unrehearsed.
– I swear not a line in that movie has been scripted. But we heard this at the festivals, too: “Oh, there were definitely at least five or six points that were scripted.” They weren’t. I can tell you, though, that two or three times I came back to them with some follow-up questions, but that’s it.
/// Did you take special care as to how you wanted immigrants depicted in this movie?
– In a way, yes. Usually when you see a film about immigrants it’s all about drugs and living in the ghetto. I wanted to do something positive. I avoided the subject of racism for this reason. The movie takes an internationalist approach, too – we travel to Morocco and Serbia, and at one point we interviewed Jürgen Klinnsman (the national football coach of Germany). That, naturally, had to be cut out, because it was the most expensive shoot we did for the movie (laughs).
/// How have you been enjoying the film festival touring experience?
– I’m dead tired. I’m going to take a long break after this. And doing film festivals is expensive. One thing I thought was interesting, though, was how Japanese audiences would laugh at things that European audiences didn’t.
/// Like what?
– For example, in the scenes where the players are screaming in the face of the referee. No Japanese person would dare do such a thing, so they think that’s funny. After the screening in Japan, though, I had like a hundred Japanese women lining up to tell me how unfairly they believed the referees treated the players. All I could do was agree with them.
/// What advantage do you think a documentary has over a feature film?
– They’re cheaper to produce (laughs). A documentary has a more realistic feel to it as well. The only problem is, in movies people want some escapism. Documentaries are usually about war, terrorism, and floods. So I try to make documentaries that portray a more appealing reality. Using feature film language in a documentary setting, in other words. I really didn’t want to do a mockumentary. The mockumentary is dead.
/// Once you’ve finished shooting, what process does the film go through to become a movie?
– I send it around the world to a hundred different people and let them piss all over it.
/// What’s the one bit of advice you would give someone starting out in film?
– Don’t be afraid to step in, and get involved. In the end, it’s your ass that’s on the line.
Africa United is currently playing in theatres around the country. For more information on his work, and to see some of his short films, visit
Sign Here, Please Blindsker and the RÚV Raw Deal
To make Blindsker, Ólafur Jóhannesson’s award-winning 2004 documentary about Bubbi Morthens, the filmmaker needed a lot of stock footage. Everything from childhood home movies to concert footage spanning Morthens’ 25 years in music was needed to paint a complete picture of his body of work. Most of this stock footage needed to be purchased from RÚV. Buying stock always costs, but in RÚV’s case the math is a little strange.
Jóhannesson points out that the cost of stock footage that he paid RÚV was at a rate of 77,000 ISK per minute, bringing the total cost from stock footage up to 1.4 million ISK. At the same time, RÚV paid Jóhannesson 1.5 million ISK for the screening rights to the film. A raw deal, but it’s not like he had much choice. As Jóhannesson explained: “I was allowed to use this material on the condition that I would sell RÚV the movie. I was told that I would have to pay much more for the footage if I sold the film to [competing television station] Stöð 2.”
Bjarni Guðmundsson, managing director of RÚV, told Fréttablaðið, “I felt that Jóhannesson has happy when he made a deal with RÚV about the screening rights to Blindsker. His concerns come as a complete surprise to me.”
As a result of this deal, Blindsker has so far taken in less than it cost to make it – more than 3 million ISK less.
Jóhannesson has been far from quiet about this. He has not only devoted a page of his website to detailing the RÚV deal (; he also got his story told on the front page of Icelandic daily Fréttablaðið on 28 October.
Jóhannesson told Grapevine that the reaction so far has been positive: “I’ve had all these filmmakers calling me up, thanking me on their behalf. And I tell them, ‘Well, go out and tell your story, then.’ I’m not alone in this.”
What Jóhannesson hopes to accomplish through this whistle-blowing isn’t financial compensation, but greater involvement from RÚV with local filmmakers.
“Producing Icelandic films, conveying our reality, is good cultural medicine,” Jóhannesson told us. “RÚV needs a little outside pressure to encourage them to participate more in Icelandic culture, as they’re required to do by law.”

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