If there is one thing Icelanders are masters at, it’s organising a festival. Music, film and art fairs pop up regularly on the country’s event calendar, and though you don’t need an excuse to go out with friends, drink and experience something different, it’s even better if you can enjoy music or watch a good movie in the bargain. Granted, some types of visual arts are a little more niche and don’t attract as much attention as Airwaves, but sometimes that’s for the best. Smaller local festivals gain charm from their reclusiveness and can become a great source of inspiration for all participants.
Such is the case with Skjaldborg, the only film festival in Iceland that focuses on Icelandic documentaries, which will be held in Patreksfjörður for the 11th time over the first weekend of June. “It’s kind of a family reunion,” Helga Rakel Rafnsdóttir, one of the organisers, tells me. “It’s a unique meeting point for people, just to be together, share knowledge and even start collaborations.”
A young Icelandic filmmaker, Helga Rakel got involved with the festival when she made her first documentary in 2008. So did Kristín Andrea Þórðardóttir, a fellow organiser. “We both came to the festival with a film and have been coming ever since,” Kristin says. “You kind of get hooked!”
On a roll
Helga Rakel and Kristín Andrea have recently taken over the management of the festival, and have been working hard ever since to bring some interesting innovation. Since Skjaldborg was founded in the eponymous cinema in Patreksfjörður, the audience has had the privilege to vote for the best documentary and assign it an award. This year, however, a panel of judges that includes an international movie producer and two Icelandic filmmakers will oversee an additional jury prize. Considering that the festival also includes a dance, a master class and, most importantly, the opportunity to network, Skjaldborg has quickly become a must-attend event for any ambitious filmmaker.
Add to the program the presence of the guests of honour, video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, and the mix suddenly becomes explosive. “I think Icelanders are waking up to the fact that they have a true treasure in the Vasulkas,” Kristín affirms. “They have an immense legacy of work dating back to the 60s and they have often been contemplating what would become of it. Steina is just coming home with her legacy and I just think it’s time.”
In addition to their master class, the president of the National Gallery of Iceland has curated a selection of works to be showcased in a design studio just outside of town. “Aron Ingi and Julie, who have recently moved to Patreksfjörður and are helping organising the festival, have been working really hard to finish the house in order to accommodate it,” Kristín says with a smile. “In addition to this, a documentary is also being made about the Vasulkas and it will be showcased as a work-in-progress. So it will be a good chance for people to familiarise themselves with their life and their work.”
Keeping it local
The sense of community evoked by Kristín and Helga Rakel is powerful. “We have often talked about getting more audience or more films,” long term contributor Janus Bragi tells me. “However I think the festival is good as it is and where it is, in Patreksfjörður. It’s 300 people travelling together, in a theatre, partying, eating and drinking together and talking about documentaries.”
“Yes, if it were held in Reykjavík, there wouldn’t be the same sense of camaraderie and knowledge sharing that there is now,” echoes Kristín.
There is an interesting duality in the festival’s atmosphere. Clearly, there is a small international aspect to it, with the movies bearing English subtitles and most guests of honour having been members of the international art scene. Nevertheless, the cosmopolitan does not take over.
“It sound as if we’re coming from Reykjavík to the Westfjörds and we put up a festival like invaders, take over the place and then going,” Janus explains. “But last year for example, when we had a beach party, the locals and the participants suddenly jelled together. Everybody stayed up until five or six dancing on the beach. It was magical, even though it was completely outside of the theatre experience.”
Sharing stories and fuelling creativity at the edge of the world seems even more spellbinding when Janus and Kristín describe it. Does the future hold even more magical surprises? “The founders have recently handed us over their baby,” Kristín tells me earnestly. “We just want to make a really great festival even better. What we truly want is to bring this baby into adulthood.” With that dedication and an everlasting twinkle in their eyes, this team seems more than up to the challenge of introducing Skjaldborg to a new phase of its life.
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