Anna Karín Lárusdóttir’s short film Felt Cute challenges the conformity of society’s labels
Winning a short film competition is a big deal for an aspiring filmmaker. Doing it twice is a dream that not many will see come true. But director Anna Karín Lárusdóttir has already achieved this feat — in 2019 with XY and just a few weeks ago with Felt Cute, both wins at Stockfish, Iceland’s film and industry festival. We caught up with Anna Karín virtually to talk about her most recent festival win, struggles of making a career in film and her future plans.
Paving the way
“I don’t know if I should just start from the beginning of my career,” Anna Karín smiles when I admit I couldn’t find much information about her online. “I was lost about what I wanted to do after high school. My mom, who is a guidance counsellor, said that I could be a good director,” she laughs. “I didn’t even know that you could make films.”
Anna Karín didn’t have cinematic role models growing up despite being obsessed with films. It wasn’t until she looked into what a filmmaker does and applied for the Icelandic Film School that she started learning about the ins and outs of the craft. “I went [to school] and fell in love with directing,” she shares.
Her third semester project, a short film XY won Stockfish back in 2019. “After graduation, I started working at RÚV, the national television station, mostly in KrakkaRÚV and UngRÚV [programming for kids and teenagers],” Anna explains. “I was mostly editing and shooting segments, but also directing.”
Since Anna Karín had long wanted to continue her studies at the National Film School of Denmark and her latest project, Felt Cute, was headed to Denmark for post-production, she made the move to Copenhagen. “I didn’t get in, so now I’m just going to be here over the summer and I’ll move back to Iceland in August,” she shares.
Breaking gender stereotypes
Although the film spans just 15 minutes, creating Felt Cute was no small feat. Anna Karín spent almost a year working on the film. The story follows an 11-year-old Breki who makes a mess at his sister’s room while trying on her makeup.
“I have been very interested in the way we put people into these gender boxes. If you act in a certain way, people think you’re gay, trans or whatever,” Anna Karín says. “This film is not a coming out film. It’s never stated if the character is queer in any way. But it doesn’t mean that he isn’t,” she explains.
The film is partially inspired by Anna Karín’s relationship with her younger brother. “The story is not about him, but the dynamic is similar to our dynamic when we were young,” she says. “I was just really fascinated about young boys being interested in feminine things,” Anna Karín continues, adding that she’s noticed that many boys are discouraged from pursuing such interests due to societal pressure.
Lights, camera, kids
Having spoken to multiple local film directors, I know that there are two difficulties when it comes to casting in Iceland — animals and kids. Anna Karín auditioned 150 children before finding the right actor for the lead role. “I met a lot of boys that were amazing, but I just didn’t feel they were him. It didn’t fit,” she says. “As soon as I met him [Kormákur Cortes], I had this gut feeling of ‘yes.’”
Once Anna Karín found the right boy for the role of Breki, she cast the character’s sister. “It’s insane how many talented young girls there are,” Anna Karín admits.
Despite working with kids and teenagers in the past, Anna Karín confesses it has been a challenging process. “It’s a big responsibility,” she says. “Sometimes I felt like I was failing them. It really got into my feelings.”
“It was a very stressful shooting compared to what I’m used to,” Anna Karín recounts. “All the films I’ve made have been school projects, but this was the first one that had a production company, real lights and stuff. It definitely took longer than I expected to set everything up,” she says.
Short film, long-term dreams
“I think it’s kind of insane how good these prizes are,” Anna Karín says when asked how it feels to win Stockfish. “One thing is to win an award at a festival and you can put it on your CV, or it can make the ball start rolling. But this actually makes things happen.”
“It’s completely different from when I won in 2019, and that’s not many years ago. It’s definitely grown. There’s way more films, many more prizes and bigger prizes,” Anna Karín is happy to see the festival growing despite being unable to attend in person this year. As the winner of the Narrative category, Felt Cute gets 1,000,000 ISK of in house rental from KUKL Rental, a 700,000 ISK cash prize from RÚV, and 200,000 ISK of in house service from Trickshot.
“I want to start planning a feature film, which I will not shoot in the near future, but maybe I will use it for making a proof of concept film, research or something,” Anna Karín says of her plans for the prize money.
The bad news is that if you missed Felt Cute at Stockfish this year, chances are you won’t be able to watch it online anytime soon. Anna Karín explains, “If you have it accessible online, you can’t show that at film festivals.”
A touch of honesty
“In general, people who are not in filmmaking are not very interested in short films,” Anna Karín admits. “Maybe just because short films are not something that is a part of our culture?” she shrugs. “You don’t go on YouTube and watch short films. When you’re making short films, you’re always kind of making them for other filmmakers in a way.”
Anna Karín sees short films as a way to refine her abilities for making future feature films. “That’s where you get a real audience,” she says.
“Nobody wants to pay you for directing shit,” Anna Karín says about working as a filmmaker. “You just have to apply for grants. If you want to actually work and get paid, you’d have to put a lot of work into other people’s projects, which is fine, but it’s maybe not something that I would be interested in doing forever.”
While Anna Karín’s dreams to continue studies in Denmark didn’t pan out, she has taken a step back from filmmaking — at least for now. “I work at a bar in Denmark. I haven’t really been doing anything film related since I finished this film,” she says. “I just wanted a simple job where I could meet people and learn Danish.”
“I think it is, at its core, curiosity about people,” Anna Karín says of sources of her inspiration. “Making films is a way for me to learn about other people. We’re all so different, we have different opinions, values and culture.”
The name Felt Cute refers to a popular internet meme, but it’s also just a reminder that situations like the one described in the film don’t have to be a big drama, they can be as mundane as anything else. “I don’t want to sound so cliché, but I wanted people to feel hope,” Anna Karín says. “In the past, films about people that are different in any way, especially queer and disabled people, have been very traumatic and gruesome.” While she acknowledges such stories are important to tell, there should be space for more. “They deserve to have these normal, cute stories about where they are safe and where they can just be themselves. I want to do that.”
The Stockfish Film Festival took place on March 23-April 2, 2023. Follow stockfishfestival.is for info about next year’s festival as it’s released.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!