The medium of the documentary has been enjoying a renaissance lately, whether in big budget productions or quirky and independent projects. Long before documentaries on everything from Iceland’s volcanoes to teenagers in Singapore making their own film started blowing up on Netflix, Skjaldborg—the Icelandic documentary film festival—has been celebrating documentaries made right here at home.
Held every year in the quiet Westfjords village of Patreksfjörður, the festival returns again on June 7th through June 10th. Documentary filmmakers from around the country will convene here to showcase their creations, meet and collaborate, listen to guests of honour, and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings in which the festival is held.
Those of us who live in Reykjavík often operate under the assumption that our city is the cultural centre of the country, despite a thriving creative scene in rural towns like Seyðisfjörður and Akureyri. But why Patreksfjörður in particular for a documentary festival?
“One of the founders, production designer Hálfdán Pedersen, came to Patreksfjörður back in 2006 for a funeral and spent a few days there,” festival organiser Kristín Andrea Þórðardóttir tells us. “On one of his wanderings he came across Skjaldborgarbíó, a cinema that was originally built as the community hall back in 1932. He went inside and saw a beautiful cinema that is run by the Lions Association. Hálfdán, being an enthusiast about old buildings (yes, 1932 is old in Icelandic house years) told screenwriter Huldar Breiðfjörð about his discovery and suggested they’d find an excuse to use it.”
Huldar, pointing out that the Icelandic documentary scene did not even have its own festival, sparked the germination of Skjaldborg, transforming it with time into a celebration of the medium replete with “Icelandic documentary premieres, great food, fantastic parties, and beautiful atmosphere. We feel that the location creates an intimate setting where experienced filmmakers and beginners share their experiences and passion for the documentary form with locals and documentary buffs, some who come every year.”
Guest of honour
This year, the festival boasts Heddy Honigmann, a Peruvian-born Dutch documentary filmmaker. Skjaldborg in fact kicks off with one of Honigmann’s works, Metal y Melancholia, and another, El Ovido, will be shown that evening. As an added bonus, Honigmann will also be leading a master class for aspiring documentary makers.
The main event, however, are the various Icelandic documentaries which will be screened. This year shows a tremendous line-up, with nearly each hour of every day filled with one creation after another to enjoy. Following these viewing, a panel jury will determine their personal favourites.
An intimate setting
On top of all this, admission to the festival is free, although you can buy an armband for 7,000 ISK, which gives you access to the swimming pool, plokkfiskur (Icelandic fish stew), a seafood feast and admission to the dance night at the festival’s conclusion. The whole thing wraps up with a light-hearted parade, a limbo contest, the award ceremony, and then dancing into the night. But the real treat is the mood of the festival itself.
“In my experience new guests are always pleasantly surprised about the intimate community spirit that forms over these few days in Patró,” Kristín Andrea tells us. “We are all together from morning to evening, watching docs, taking in works in progress, enjoying a masterclass as well as having dinner all together and partying in the evenings. It is this closeness that comes with having a festival like this all the way up in the West Fjords versus for instance downtown Reykjavík. The founders invented this magic formula with lots of fun and games added on to the cinema experience.”
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