‘Echo’ is comprised of 58 poignant scenes presenting short stories, emotions and atmospheres, all set in Iceland between Christmas and New Years. There is a birth, an old farm burning to the ground, children singing Christmas carols, a daughter joining her father’s new family for the holidays, and trash cans being picked up off the streets of Reykjavík. The film captures a portrait of a time and a place as it presents its main character: modern society. The effort is acclaimed filmmaker Rúnar Rúnarsson’s third feature-film following his award-winning ‘Sparrows’ in 2015.
Fragments of life
“I have always been quite fond of Christmas as a background for storytelling. It presents a certain Richter scale for our human emotions,” Rúnar says. “Normally, you have some time to get to know the characters of a film. In ‘Echo,’ we don’t have that luxury. The time period and our collective experience of the season helps to create the relationships of the characters to the audience.”
Each scene is shot on a tripod. There is no traditional story arch. Characters and locations don’t appear twice, and the scenes are not cut. It’s, perhaps obviously, a rather uncommon way to tell a story. This, however, was Rúnar’s goal.
“Modern filmmaking focuses so much on the traditional way of storytelling. When you cut the scene you break time, and when you break time you create awareness,” he explains, emphasising that ‘Echo’ breaks up this traditional model with the intention of presenting fragments of real life. “What I hope to achieve in my films is that every now and then the audience forgets that they are watching a film. With ‘Echo,’ I wanted to go further with that.”
He pauses. “‘Echo’ is not as audience friendly on paper as my earlier work. When you read about it, it sounds like its an installation in an art museum so I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Locarno premiere in August,” he says, simply. “But it got the best reaction I’ve ever had on any of my films.”
Moments of luck
In the film, there is a particularly memorable scene of childbirth. “I thought we would have to shoot many births until we got a great birth that fit the form of the film,” Rúnar shares. “There is, of course, no cutting within the scenes.” The birth took around 7 hours, while the scene itself is around 2 minutes. “The midwives said afterwards that we were very lucky with this birth. There is a lot of luck involved when you’re making films,” he explains.
“Filmmakers are always trying to portray time in films, but time can be your biggest enemy,” he later continues. ”Often filmmaking is about capturing the moments you cannot time. Our framework of production allowed for us to wait for the magic to happen.”
That magic is certainly found in how the film walks the line between scripted performance and documentary. “I had written a fully planned manuscript,” Rúnar says. “Some scenes are scripted, sometimes it was just an initiation of a scene and capturing what happens from there and sometimes we were just driving around capturing moments.”
“Each of my films are a personal journey,” Rúnar concludes. “The premiere in Iceland is such a nice departure of many years of effort.” Said premiere will take place on November 19th. Stop by to experience the magic of a singular moment.
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