It’s a beautiful night in February and the multi-coloured freak-of-a-concert hall that is Harpa blinks its fancy lights enthusiastically. Tonight it plays host to yet another extravagant gala. It’s the time of year when the Icelandic Film & TV Academy hands out these small shiny statues to those it believes delivered the best work on the silver screen the preceding year. In this most flamboyant of flamboyant businesses, people dress up, as you can imagine, but the crowd that’s just filled the lobby is far from the norm. It appears to be a group of ‘20s prohibitionist-era hoodlums, but it’s actually a gathering of women wearing suits and phony moustaches. And those women are making a point.
EDDAN WENT EDDINN
In Icelandic, The Academy Award bears the name ‘Edda,’ a common female’s name, which means ‘grandmother.’ It is the name that one of Iceland’s dearest poets, Snorri Sturluson, chose for his depiction of the creation of the world in his literary magnum opus ‘Snorra-Edda.’ However motherly and female that shiny statue’s moniker is, it won’t end up in the hands of many women later that night. Never before has a single year in the film history of Iceland resulted in as few nominations of female artists, but The Academy isn’t being misogynistic; there simply aren’t many women to nominate. Our moustached ladies are protesting this patriarchal system error by demonstrating that the old and beautiful name Edda isn’t suitable anymore, that the androcentric celebration should really be called the boyish nickname, ‘Eddi.’
SO WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
Iceland’s film industry has been booming in the last few years. Following the establishment of a 20% rebate in 1999 on all production costs for films shot on location in Iceland, the annual number of foreign motion pictures produced on Icelandic soil has slowly exceeded the Icelandic ones. More and more, local production is becoming Robin of the Gotham-scene, the goofy sidekick.
This evolution has been mostly positive. Although it’s becoming more difficult for local producers to lure talent with their micro budgets compared to Hollywood cash, local film crews are getting more steady work, which is also making the business a more feasible option to break into. The increased interest in film also presumably led the government, for example, to increase its contribution to the Icelandic Film Centre this year.
It seems, however, that the entire payoff has ended up in a few hairy and rugged male paws. In 2012, three feature films were produced, all three directed and written by a man about issues like crime, seamanship and sci-fi. And Icelandic films score no better than Hollywood films on the Bechdel test (does the film have two female characters with names, do they talk, do they talk about something other than men). So why aren’t any stories being told by women or from a woman’s point of view?
A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM
“It’s beneficial for everybody to have diversity. We have to hear women’s stories as well as men’s stories, which are written and directed by women,” says Hrönn Kristinsdóttir, a leading feature film producer in Iceland and the co-owner of the prestigious production company Ljósband Filmworks. “There’s not a lack of women in the industry really, but many of them have chosen a more womanly direction, i.e. in the hair and makeup departments rather than directing or writing.”
Hrönn is convinced that it’s not for lack of want, but recognises that the problem is deeply ingrained in society and it starts early in childhood. “The number one problem is that there is this hiatus, a certain discontinuity that girls go through in their adolescence, and it is growing,” Hrönn explains. “Girls tend to stop writing and creating and focus more on their appearance, which isn’t healthy when you’re maturing as a person.” Nowadays this period takes up a whole decade, she says. “They disappear at age 11 and come back when they’re 20.” This leads them to fall far behind boys who she says too go through a similar phase, but it’s much shorter and less apparent.
“Ideally we wouldn’t need to enforce measures like gender quotas,” Hrönn says, but realises that making the problem right can take some time. “We need to incorporate more creative programmes into our school system with motivating workshops for young girls. Give them cameras to experiment with and be inspired. She also believes that it should be mandatory for students to take a course in film analysis with gender motives in mind. It is a common misunderstanding that women only make movies about women, she notes. “Let’s take Lone Scherfig, one of Denmark’s most successful directors, for example. She writes mostly about young men, but from a woman’s perspective.”
One of the 17 women who showed up wearing moustaches, actress and a film-editor Steffi Thors, explains that the group came up with the idea when this year’s nominations were announced. “We saw the absurdly small proportion of the nominations going to women and wanted to show people that we were just as prominent members of the film family, although our work is often behind the scenes.”
It’s often women who play the biggest roles in movies: they usually produce the films, let the boys shoot it and then take over in the post-production and edit the final product. “One of the reasons women tend to lurk in the shadows is the fear of making mistakes,” Steffi says, noting that she sees parallels in the jazz world too. “Interestingly, there’s only a handful of girls in the jazz scene in Iceland where you have to improvise and be a little spontaneous, so I think it’s the same fear of making mistakes.” And Steffi thinks that the solution lies exactly there: “I think we need to let go, just write a script and dare to make mistakes—we just have to jazz it up!”
This fierce group of vigilantes undoubtedly ‘jazzed’ up the Edda that night, and hopefully more than that. “People saw that we were having fun,” Steffi says, “and it’ll hopefully inspire more girls to join our ranks in the film industry.”
17 out of 133
Icelandic feature films directed by women
16 Women vs. 43 Men
nominated for an Edda in 2013
6 Women vs. 11 Men
awarded an Edda in 2013 (best actress, best supporting actress, best wardrobe, best editing, best make up, honorary award)