From Iceland — From Hot Tub Dream To Big Screen: The Borgarnes Film Freaks Make It Happen

From Hot Tub Dream To Big Screen: The Borgarnes Film Freaks Make It Happen

From Hot Tub Dream To Big Screen: The Borgarnes Film Freaks Make It Happen

Published January 31, 2019

Phil Uwe Widiger
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Borgarnes is an idyllic little town in the West of Iceland. With roughly 2000 inhabitants, it could be easily overlooked as a drive-through on the road to more popular tourist attractions or Iceland’s second city, Akureyri. But, don’t be fooled—Borgarnes has some surprises in store.

An Icelandic story

The story of the Borgarnes Film Freaks (BFF) festival began two years ago in one of the most Icelandic environments imaginable—a hot tub. The idea was hatched by Michelle Bird, Eiríkur Þór Theodórsson and Halldór Óli Gunnarsson. The trio combined their unique skills and cultural and creative backgrounds, to create the first BFF, which was held in January 2018.

“We didn’t have any budget,” recounts Michelle, a painter and U.S. transplant. “Most of the films were donated from friends of mine. Beer was donated from the Steðje brewery, and the space from the Settlement Centre.”

From 900 to 29

The inaugural event was a success, and for the second edition, the team successfully applied for funding. They also started using the FilmFreeway platform to connect with filmmakers from all around the globe.

“Within two months, the team watched 900 films, ending up with 29 films from 16 countries.”

“We had no idea how effective this platform was,” says Michelle. “In the end, we received 900 applications for films to be screened.” Within two months, the team watched all 900 films, and whittled their selection down to 29 films from 16 countries. Each film had to get a unanimous thumbs up to be accepted for screening.

“I thought ‘I will never watch a film again in my life,’” chuckles Halldór. “My routine was to go to the gym after work and then the whole night would be spent watching films.”

Seeking diversity

The films varied in length, language and genre. From the horror-themed “Friday Night,” to the hilarious short “Blue Division” and a documentary on gold mining in Africa, “Nobody Dies Here,” there was something for everybody.

One film proved to be more popular than the others, however — “Dagur í lífi Palla Egils” (English: “A day in the life of Palli Egils.”) It is an Icelandic film that followed Borgarnes local Palli for a whole day. The film is honest and nostalgic, with a refined sense of humour.

“It means a lot to the people here to see an Icelandic film,” says Michelle. Due to its popularity amongst locals, the film was screened on all three nights, underlining the team’s spontaneity.

Cultural hub

Festival aside, Borgarnes is thriving culturally. “There are many things to do here,” says Michelle. “There are a lot of cultural activities and people are really involved.”

“Two years back I was thinking that there weren’t enough things to do for young people,” Halldór adds. “I was born and raised here, so I know about this first hand. I saw this as an opportunity to welcome a younger crowd and show them films I would have loved when I was younger.”

The plan worked: this year saw a 100% increase in visitors from all age groups. What is the team’s secret? Passion, homeyness and great popcorn.

Dream fulfilled

“One thing that we really want keep is the honesty and the living room feeling,” says Halldór. While the Settlement Centre was used for screening the first night, Óðal, an old cinema was used for the last two days of the festival. It charms the audience with a retro-look, a popcorn machine and couches to sit on. All in all, it feels like watching films at home in the company of good friends.

“If nothing else, we are fulfilling our own dreams,” says Michelle. “I’m really proud of us.”

The second Borgarnes Film Freaks festival was held from January 24th-26th. Follow the preparations for next year’s event on Facebook.

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