No frills and bare bones, ‘690 Vopnafjörður’ documents everyday life in a small fishing village in Iceland. Director Karna Sigurðardóttir and cinematographer Sebastian Ziegler have beautifully demonstrated the highs and lows of living in a community of fewer than 700 people.
600 kilometers away from Reykjavík, Vopnafjörður thrives off of community engagement, as a village of residents that go about daily life. Like anywhere in the world, there are various push and pull factors that may lead you away from a destination. In Vopnafjörður, the push factors are far more evident, as it’s very secluded from the rest of the country.
Upon seeing the film, it’s natural to ask yourself ‘That’s it? What’s the point?’ For Karna and Sebastian, that was exactly the vision. “First we wanted to make a film that captures how it feels to live in a small fishing village in Iceland,” says Sebastian. “Second, when we started this five years ago, Iceland was just beginning to become a popular destination. The ‘Inspired by Iceland’ campaign came out at this time as well, and the kind of imagery that was being produced to show off Iceland was very hyper-realistic. It’s an incomplete picture.”
In recent years Iceland has become a utopia for outsiders, who cannot truly know what it means to live in Iceland, let alone in a small village like Vopnafjörður. It’s fair to agree with Karna and Sebastian when they claim the advertisements of Icelandic culture do not present a picture that’s honest about Icelandic character. Karna wanted to approach the community of Vopnafjörður in an authentic way; she says everyone was very brave in being real about everyday life and not pretending. “Nobody was acting or trying to play a role, they were just being themselves.”
A rare old time
‘690 Vopnafjörður’ was shot over the course of five years, starting in 2012. The process they claim was difficult but fun and rewarding because it developed in such an organic way. In 2015, there were a lot of changes in Vopnafjörður, and this brought a judgment call for Karna and Sebastian, who were unsure if they should change the angle of the movie.” They decided to stay loyal to the period they made the film.
“The film is released in 2017 but it’s actually about Vopnafjörður in 2012,” says Karna “You can make a film about Vopnafjörður now and there would be a lot of elements that are not the same. That’s how things are; nothing is frozen in time.” The aim is to capture a moment. From Sebastian’s perspective, he sees Vopnafjörður stuck between times. “It’s very old fashion, going back two or three hundred years, but they have the modern reality of television and automatic factories,” he says. “They have old values, new realities and are still trying to figure out the balance of creating ‘the good life’.”
Best of both worlds
There’s a scene shot at sea of a shark hunter at work. Beautifully shot, it makes the audience feel a sense of nostalgia. At first you think it’s just a man working in fishing village but these scenes are pivotal. There aren’t many people left in Iceland who still shark hunt in a traditional way as shown in the film, but Vopnafjörður is equipped with very technical factories, and gain a lot of investment from Iceland’s biggest fishing companies.
Karna says this is a bit of a struggle between the old and the new world, and question is, where do they place themselves? “You can feel it very strongly in the community. They are very historically inclined in the sense of being interested in history, still having old values. They have traditions in Vopnafjörður,” she says. “You can’t really see these traditions in Reykjavík. Reykjavík has left these times, but Vopnafjörður keeps these old values, and old Icelandic character.”