From Iceland — Fár: Short And Powerful

Fár: Short And Powerful

Published July 4, 2023

Fár: Short And Powerful
Photo by
Art Bicnick
Stills from the film

Gunnur Martinsdóttir Schlüter’s short film Fár wins a Special Mention in Cannes

In a world where glass structures dominate urban landscapes and society strives to be individualistic, empathy often becomes a casualty of modern life. We pass through glass doors, work within cramped transparent cubicles and observe the world through the screens on our phones, yet we often remain disconnected from the realities beyond the glass. Within this context, Gunnur Martinsdóttir Schlüter’s thought-provoking short film Fár dares to challenge our collective apathy and human disconnection from nature.

Growing up on a film set

Half Icelandic and half German, Gunnur Martinsdóttir Schlüter was born into a family of filmmakers. “My mother is a director, and my father is a producer who has also been working for the Icelandic Film Fund. They got to know each other in Berlin in the 1980s in film school,” Gunnur says as we meet in a cosy coffee house on a rainy day in Reykjavík. Gunnur’s upbringing and the films the family watched together at home played an essential role in shaping and inspiring her. “I visited sets when I was younger, worked as a set runner,” she says. “Where you come from definitely shapes you. You can’t deny that.” 

“Directing came later. I wanted to act,” Gunnur admits. In 1996, Gunnur made an appearance in the film Draumadísir, directed by her mother Ásdís Thoroddsen. Then, in 2007, she had her true acting debut in Veðramót, directed by Guðný Halldórsdóttir.

Gunnur studied theatre directing in Germany before coming home to Iceland four years ago to pursue a degree in acting at the Iceland University of the Arts. “I wanted to go away from Reykjavík when I was 19. You get claustrophobic being in downtown Reykjavík all the time,” she laughs. “I ended up spending 12 years in Germany.” Gunnur’s bi-cultural and bi-lingual background played a significant role in her journey. “I like different kinds of cultures, being in between and bringing stuff together,” she explains. “I think it has something to do with being part of two worlds.” 

Brief, but deep

Fár tells a story of a business meeting in Reykjavík’s coffee house interrupted once a seagull crashes into the window. The film was inspired by an actual incident from Gunnur’s life. “I immediately thought that one day I would like to put this into a short movie. Even if I wasn’t thinking about becoming a film director or filmmaker,” she shares that the idea of making this short film has been with her for almost ten years. “I started to analyse how the event mirrors our society and how it could be told.” When the actual work started, Gunnur brought in Anní Ólafsdóttir to help sharpen the script.

“A short movie takes a lot of time and little steps.”

All in all, the work on Fár, which runs for only five minutes, took about four years. During this time, Gunnur and producers Rúnar Ingi Einarsson and Sara Nassim also worked on other projects. “A short movie takes a lot of time and little steps,” Gunnur admits. “I was always testing the ground, thinking where to go next.” 

Gunnur not only wrote and directed Fár, she also stars in the lead role. “I’m an actress and I have a big interest in acting, so I wanted to play this woman on my own. Since I also wrote it, I knew what I wanted. It was easier to act myself in that sense,” she admits.

While Gunnur’s acting came naturally in the film, she acknowledges that juggling multiple roles was not an easy task. “It was very hard to direct and act on the set. I felt I could give just 80% in acting and 80% in directing,” she says, adding that with the support of the crew, she is pleased with how the final product turned out.

The glass divide

One of the film’s most beautiful and powerful scenes is when the lead character holds the bird, deciding its further fate, while her colleagues from the business meeting observe her through a glass window, emotionless. The portrayal of modern society’s detachment from each other and the natural world couldn’t have been stronger. Gunnur emphasises that working with the glass element was important for her. “Glass is this construct we made for us to keep us warm. It’s transparent but dangerous. For this bird, at least.” 

“No animal was harmed in this film,” she says. The crew was explicitly looking for a seagull that was already dead. “It was found dead by a taxidermist.” 

Speaking of challenges, Gunnur agrees that working with a dead animal was the most difficult part. “But also editing was a big challenge because a big part of the movie is just atmospheric,” she says. “In the first half of the movie, there isn’t a lot of action. Trying to capture the atmosphere of the coffee house that the bird breaks and telling a story through non-action was a bit challenging.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

The director hopes that the film prompts viewers to ask themselves questions. “I hope it touches on many themes, but it’s primarily about the connection between nature and humans, cities, glass buildings and architecture — unnatural architecture humans have built versus nature and the nonlinear, which kind of crashes into the linear,” says Gunnur. 

A haven for filmmakers

“‘When are you gonna do a feature?’ Somebody had warned me I would just get this question a lot.”

The Cannes Film Festival stands unrivalled as the most prestigious platform for film directors to showcase their work. Gunnur’s film not only premiered at the festival, it also competed alongside 11 other films in the short film competition, receiving the festival’s Special Mention. “I did not expect to get the recognition,” Gunnur admits. “For me, it was just like an encounter with all other filmmakers. It was so nice. It didn’t feel like a competition.”

“‘When are you gonna do a feature?’ Somebody had warned me I would just get this question a lot,” Gunnur laughs when I ask her if there are feature plans in the making. “While I was in Cannes, I started asking myself, why should I do a feature just to do a feature? Why is producing the next and bigger thing so important?” she shrugs. “I want to tell stories, direct and act. But after I found the theme, it could fit more into a short movie, and then I would do a short movie again. Or if it could fit more into a longer movie, I would do that.”

While Fár will be travelling the world, enjoying a festival run for a year or two, Gunnur is writing again. “It looks longer than shorter, but you never know,” she smiles.

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