Published October 1, 2015

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"Stelpur Filma"

Among the films making their world premiere at this year’s Reykjavík International Film Festival are eleven five-minute shorts, made by eleven groups of 8th and 9th grade girls from eleven different Reykjavík schools. The all-girl “Stelpur filma” (“Girls Filming”) workshop was a joint effort of the Reykjavik City Department of education and youth and and RIFF, part of the year’s ongoing celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage in Iceland. In an all-female environment—save for one celebrity guest—the 66 young filmmakers received instruction from industry mentors, did workshops addressing gender and other social issues, and created their shorts.

The films will be presented at the Nordic House, in free screenings scheduled for 1pm on October 3 and 4. Fríða Rós Valdimarsdóttir, the project manager for Stelpur filma, spoke to the Grapevine just after the workshops had been completed, while the filmmakers, back in school after the weeklong project, rushed to lock picture.


I’m curious about the philosophy behind the project. It seems partly a response to some of the discussion about the allotment of grants awarded by the Icelandic Film Centre, and the very low percentage of money that goes to women. One of the questions that has been raised in mitigation of those numbers is whether there are enough women applying for grants to get those numbers up. Is Stelpur filma maybe an attempt to jumpstart the next generation of potential grant applicants?
In a way, but there have always been women in the film industry—however, they don’t end up as directors. When women are searching for opportunities, they tend to be pushed towards other tasks—kind of “making the coffee for the director,” you know. We are up to some kind of limit in the Icelandic film industry now. I don’t think women not applying is the problem. Given some kind of quota, I’m sure women would apply more, if they could see the reason to apply.

So a quota system would encourage more women to think of themselves as directors, rather than as assistant directors or assistants to the producer or things like that?
Like Margarethe von Trotta, one of the honorary guests of RIFF this year: she got started in the 1960s, but—I just saw this old interview with her where she’s describing the same thing that I’m describing to you now. She saw some films from the French New Wave and she said, This is what I want to do. But she went into acting. She didn’t even think about becoming a director, it didn’t occur to her at the beginning that women could be directors.

It took some years for her to say to herself, of course you can be a director, and now she’s one of the leading directors in Germany. She’s 73, but I’m talking to women in the film industry today saying the exact same thing, even in the Icelandic Film Academy: “I just wanted to be some kind of part of the film industry.” They didn’t know where, but after a while thought, I can be a director, I want to be a director. So we have the same problem, what, fifty years later.


The mentors at the workshop: did you seek them out because in interviews they’d expressed an interest in seeing greater diversity in the film industry, because you thought they’d be good teachers, or maybe because you thought it’d be a thrill for the workshop participants to meet them?
All of that. RIFF and the City of Reykjavík have had similar courses before for kids, not just for girls, so we know of various lecturers, teachers and filmmakers that are willing to participate—it’s not a huge salary or anything like that. The ideology was that we didn’t want any men to be there, but I broke that rule for Baltasar Kormákur, because I thought it would be great that a man with this career that Baltasar has, I mean just right now with the big film [‘Everest’]… He arrived in Iceland around nine in the morning and drove directly to us at the Nordic House for his mentoring session, and then had the Icelandic premiere of ‘Everest’ in the evening.


What was the workshop’s structure?
On day one, screenwriter Margrét Örnólfsdóttir gave a talk for an hour or two, and then they worked on their scripts. She was on-site to help them simplify their ideas—of course they had big ideas and a short time to make the film, and to learn how to make a story into a film is a huge process. The day after, it was director Ísold Uggadóttir, the director; she went through how take a script and interpret it through a lens. How to use zooms—what does it mean? Colours, what do they mean? On Wednesday, it was Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir talking about editing, and day four was Baltasar.

Every day, we also had some games-slash-tasks on the theme of equality, about gender issues and what are their privileges in life. That was led by Áslaug Einarsdóttir, who started the local “Rock Camp for Girls”, called Stelpur Rokka!. They’ve been building this ideology, having only women there. The first thing I did when I got this project was to call her: “Can I do the thing you do, except with film?” [Laughs]


How was the labour divided in the groups—was it entirely collaborative, or did the students take on different roles?
The only thing I thought about how they would make the film was that they should like the way they were making it. Some decided that one should be the director; in other groups, all of them wanted to act—people don’t always wants to be behind the camera, some of them thought that would be the most boring part. And then, there was one where somebody didn’t want to participate too much except in the editing process—she was good at that.

Did you observe very closely?
I was in the way—they were really working! But on the first day, Margrét talked about how you have to be in love with your idea. You have to stick with it. And the same day, Áslaug discussed this demon we always have on our shoulders—maybe more so women than men—criticising everything we do, and that we have to be aware of this voice. And then, on day two, there was one group that wasn’t sure if they had a good idea. They had made the script already, and they almost changed their minds. We got them to go through, using this method: “Are we in love with it, do you want to change it, is this the demon—who influenced our not liking this idea now? Somebody around us, or was it us?” So they went through with it, started loving the idea, and wound up not changing it.

What I’ve heard from parents, from tutors, from Áslaug, from girls that have been in Stelpur Rokka!, is that this empowerment, it only takes a week. To get a platform, to get equipment… It’s something out of the ordinary, and it works. I’ve heard from teachers, the shy girls are more open—to build on this feminist approach; weaving together some kind of political awareness, tutoring expression—blended together, it works.

For more on RIFF, check out the following article:

The Reykjavík International Film Festival may not unveil the season’s most anticipated premieres, or unfurl its longest, plushest red carpet, but one thing it has on the competition: it is the only film festival that can offer its guest of honour a trip to Iceland.


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