From Iceland — Finding Family: The Saga Of "Velkominn Árni"

Finding Family: The Saga Of “Velkominn Árni”

Finding Family: The Saga Of “Velkominn Árni”

Published July 1, 2022

Photo by
Joana Fontinha

The winner of this year’s Skjaldborg film festival truly proves the saying “you’re never too old.” The film, “Velkominn Árni,” follows 77-year-old Árni Jón Árnason on his life-changing journey to discover his American half-brother. Over the course of the film, audiences watch asÁrni’s life changes through his travels and he shifts from being a socially-forgotten, quiet man to a creative visionary with a new spark in his eye.

Meeting Árni

Director Viktoría Hermannsdóttir first came across the story through her radio show about the children of Icelandic mothers and foreign soldier fathers from World War II. When American David Balsam called, searching for his half-brother, Viktoría went on the hunt—and met Árni.

“It’s a story many people can relate to in many ways”

Viktoría immediately became enamoured with Árni’s life and character. “He’s the most open person that I’ve met; the most genuine person,” Viktoría said of meeting the septuagenarian for the first time.

From radio to film

Following the original radio show, Viktoría knew that Árni deserved more. Listeners reached out begging to know more about Árni and his story. Viktoría was intrigued as well and decided to create a documentary centred around him.

She knew director Allan Sigurðsson through a friend and asked him to work with her on the documentary. “When Viktoría called me and asked me if I wanted to join in, I hadn’t heard the radio show. So I went and listened to that and said ‘no doubt about it’ and I’m very glad that I did,” beamed Allan.

Árni on camera

The film chronicles David and Árni finding each other after going their entire lives without knowing about the other’s existence. We get to see David’s extended family completely embracing Árni into their lives and acting as if they’ve known each other forever.

Along with a deep dive into the familial relations, the viewer gets a completely raw and genuine look into Árni’s life and character. It’s refreshing to see someone so open and relaxed, completely embracing themselves and their story.

Throughout the interview, Viktoría and Allan are very careful not to spoil anything about the film. They clearly believe the intrigue of Árni is captured in the magic of the film and want to preserve that first meeting feel for all the viewers.

“Many people change their behaviour when they see a camera and he’s just always himself and lets everything out. He’s always very genuine and super open and there’s not one second where he’s pretentious or anything like that. So, that’s very rare to find,” Allan said with love for his new friend. “He’s just always being himself in every situation,” Viktoría continued.

“It’s not just an Icelandic story”

The film resonates with any audience member and leaves you feeling warm and hopeful. The journey leads the loveable Árni to his first true family, a feel-good story that makes you think about your own familial history.

“It’s not just an Icelandic story. It’s a story that can go around the world because it has connections to America, children of war, and people who are lonely and not assimilated into society,” Viktoría says about the breadth of the story.

“It’s a story many people can relate to in many ways,” Allan recounted. This truly is the case. We can all find resonance with Árni’s story and the film clearly captures the deep-rooted human need for belonging shared by humanity.

Be sure to look for “Velkominn Árni” at film festivals near you and keep an eye out on the RÚV schedule at the end of the year so you, too, can have the privilege of knowing Árni.

A trailer of the film can be viewed here.

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