From Iceland — Finding Sóley: Famed Cult Movie Brought Back Into The Light

Finding Sóley: Famed Cult Movie Brought Back Into The Light

Finding Sóley: Famed Cult Movie Brought Back Into The Light

Published April 24, 2019

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Portraits by Ómar Sverisson

The 1982 Icelandic art-house film ‘Sóley’ (also known as ‘The Hidden People of the Shadowy Rocks’) has long been lost, save for a few bootleg copies floating around. The film was directed by the enigmatic artist Róska in collaboration with her husband, Manrico Pavelottoni. Róska is one of the most important Icelandic artists of the 20th century—she was a leader of the avant-garde art scene during the baby boomer era, a multi-talented artist, and a staunch communist. ‘Sóley’ is a legendary film that draws heavily on Icelandic folk stories and mythology—as well as the left-wing politics of the time.

Lost negative

The film’s negative is lost, but now filmmakers Þorbjörg Jónsdóttir and Lee Lorenzo Lynch are working full force to try and restore the film. Þorbjörg—who happens to be Róska’s niece—and Lee have launched a crowdfunding campaign on Karolina Fund to pay for a full digital clean-up of the film’s video and audio, as well as full colour and subtitle correction. The couple recently collaborated with the Icelandic Film Museum on scanning the film in 6k resolution, but the only copy that was available was an exhibition print from the museum.

“Any time you forge a new path, it’s gonna take time for people to catch up.”

“That was quite a substantial job,” says Lee. “Getting the film scanned was great. It looks beautiful, and it’s the first time the film has ever been transferred to any form of high definition. It always had a sort of DIY feel to it and it was shot on 16mm, so it’s always gonna feel sort of like a punk film. It was really nice to collaborate with the Icelandic Film Museum on this.”

Next gen

‘Sóley’ was one of the few films directed by a female in Iceland at the time and one of the very few feature-length art-house films made in the country. It was Róska’s only feature film, but she worked on many documentaries and short films as well, even working with Jean-Luc Godard in Italy for a time. Róska was often controversial with the critics in Iceland, but now newer generations are discovering the important work she did.

“She was a controversial artist when she was alive,” Þorbjörg says. “However, the young generation now is getting to know her through her work, though they didn’t know her personally. Sometimes we’re better off appreciating the work for the work itself when there’s a little bit of distance.”

Still relevant

“I think the film is still really relevant,” she continues. “It’s political and it stands up for the small guy.” Lee adds: “Any time you forge a new path, it’s gonna take time for people to catch up with that. When we screened ‘Sóley’ at Iðnó on March 25th, a lot of younger people came, as well as some of my students, and we were actually surprised at how much the younger generation of Icelanders liked the film. It was heartwarming.”

The couple encourages everyone to consider making a contribution to their Karolina Fund page. “The film totally belongs out there, representing Icelandic film history within the larger canon of world cinema,” says Þorbjörg. “Being a female director as well as a visual artist, what Róska was doing was super progressive.”

Support the ‘Sóley’ restoration efforts via the Karolina Fund.

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