At 32 years of age, young director Róbert Douglas has already made three feature films. His debut in that field was the 2000 film The Icelandic Dream – a football comedy with a serious streak. Two years later he followed up with A Man Like Me, again mixing comedy with drama and getting two Edda award nominations in the process. Despite such early success, he probably raised a few eyebrows when he first started pitching the idea for his latest feature; dubbed 11 Men Out (Strákarnir Okkar in Icelandic). After all, it’s not every day you meet somebody who thinks he can make a commercially viable film about homosexual, Icelandic footballers.
Now that the film is in the can, it has begun travelling the world alongside its creators, who have high hopes for its potential performance in overseas markets. The Grapevine caught up with director Róbert Douglas soon after he got back home from his latest festival appearance. We asked him a few questions about the unique premise of his latest work, its reception at home and abroad, and his future in the Icelandic film industry.
/// You’ve just gotten back from the Euro-premier of 11 Men Out at the Berlin Film Festival. What was the reception like, and did you secure any distribution deals?
– The reception was quite good. We secured deals with several companies to distribute the film in various countries around the world. That includes the United States, which is obviously always the hardest market to break into.
/// Do you know if distributors generally plan to show the film with the original Icelandic dialogue, or will the voices be dubbed for the foreign market?
– It depends on the market. In places like France and Germany you basically have to dub foreign films. In the English-speaking world, however, films like this attract the kind of art house crowd who have come to expect subtitles and dialogue in weird languages.
/// Have you noticed any marked difference between the way Icelanders and foreigners respond to the film?
– Not much, although Icelanders have a tendency to take issue with the way the movie highlights certain prejudices – we do like to think of ourselves as a tolerant society. Maybe they don’t have the same distance; it’s more personal.
/// Following the trials and tribulations of gay footballers seems like a rather unique premise for a movie – did it surprise you to learn that another film along the same lines was made quite recently in Germany?
– Everyone kept telling me about that ‘other gay football movie’ when I was in Berlin, and in fact I was already aware of it. However, the truth is that production of 11 Men Out was already well under way before we got wind of the German project – I think they were made more or less in the same time period. In any case, I haven’t seen this other movie, but I’m told it’s got a far campier feel. A totally different take on the concept, really.
/// How, then, did you decide to make a movie about homosexual football players?
– I had long felt there was a need for an Icelandic movie that tackled some of the issues surrounding homosexuality and homophobia in our society. Add to that my own lifelong obsession with football and you have the basic concept.
/// Indeed, the beautiful game has featured rather prominently in your work before. Is this going to be an ongoing theme for you in the future, a sort of signature plot element?
– I’m not sure, really. It might be time to go in a different direction, you never know.
/// Your film portrays two very different subcultures. What has the reaction been from gays and football enthusiasts respectively?
– The reaction has been positive from both groups. All the gays I’ve asked so far have told me it was a realistic but fresh approach to making a ‘gay movie’ – and I did make a conscious effort to avoid common stereotypes. The football lovers haven’t had any complaints either, although the focus of the film is not much on the actual sport.
/// How compatible are the two communities? One gets the impression that homosexuality is still largely frowned upon in the sports world.
– I don’t think it’s much of an issue for the players themselves, actually. There is prejudice everywhere, but I don’t think it’s necessarily more pronounced in the sporting world.
/// Do people tend to assume the actors in 11 Men Out are themselves gay?
– I think most people realise that in a country the size of Iceland there isn’t much of a chance of finding a dozen gay actors who can also play a decent game of football. That being said, some of the festival attendees have been curious about the orientation of individual actors. I also think a lot of people had no idea what to expect from the film – some said that initially they hadn’t even been sure if the guys were actors or real footballers.
/// What are your personal plans for the future? Do you think you will keep making movies in Iceland/Icelandic?
– I definitely hope so. I’m really enjoying myself and hope to get the chance to continue making Icelandic films.
/// Lastly, what are the main obstacles you face as an Icelandic filmmaker?
– I think the situation facing Icelandic filmmakers is decent, but could be better. We’re all working on a very tight budget and that can at times limit the potential scope of one’s vision. What the Icelandic film industry needs most of all is more money, but that goes without saying.