If you live in Iceland the chances are that you’ll know Hatari—at least by reputation. If not, they may well have gatecrashed your consciousness in 2019 when they represented Iceland at Eurovision in Israel—and lobbed a cheeky agitprop grenade right into the heart of the world’s biggest pop competition.
Hatari used the platform to denounce Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Their protest, in which they revealed Palestinian flags on live TV during the Eurovision finals, was seen by some 200 million people around the world. Their principled stand—and the maelstrom it provoked—are at the core of Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir’s powerful documentary, ‘A Song Called Hate’.
Cutting through to the mainstream
At first glance, Hatari might appear to be a joke; as artist Ragnar Kjartansson comments in the film, “most art projects are basically jokes gone too far.” As if to address that idea, the film opens with Hatari lynchpins Matthías and Klemens trading phrases which might describe their multifaceted creative project.
“Hatari is a lament that is screamed into the wind,” Matthías articulates. “Hatari is a relentless scam,” deadpans Klemens in response.
“Hatari is a fabulously unpredictable, anti-capitalist, industrial, art performance collective,” Anna Hildur offers, when later invited to add her perspective. “Although to some degree, they are indescribable.”
And she would know, having already made a TV documentary about them before their Eurovision journey began. Anna Hildur built on that existing relationship to make ‘A Song Called Hate’.
“I wanted to make a film about the art of making a stand,” she continues. “But my question was, ‘would Hatari cut through to the mainstream?’ It was a huge task that they took on.”
The world of the West Bank
When Hatari arrived in Israel their friend and collaborator, Palestinian artist Bashar Murad, showed them around. Bashar’s world—exemplified in the West Bank town of Hebron—is one of armed Israeli occupation, and a lack of basic freedoms for Palestinians.
Although he is clearly their ally, on-camera an impatient Bashar puts pressure on Hatari for greater commitment to their protest. Adding to this, pro-Palestinian movement BDS lobbied the band to boycott Eurovision rather than attend and protest, and Hatari’s open talk of dissent provoked increasingly intense pressure from Eurovision organisers.
Palestinian pressure cooker
The film captures the moments of stress and self-doubt which result, showing the Hatari mask slipping as they step out of character. Anna Hildur thinks that this was a decision made out of necessity, rather than a premeditated move on the part of the band.
“Out there, the pressure became immense,” says Anna Hildur. “They were on the brink of exhaustion, and the reality was that they just needed a break from time to time to collect their thoughts. So I think that what they discovered out there, and the pressure of the situation, made that decision for them.”
In the film, that pressure climaxes just after the group’s act of protest, as individuals begin to realise the gravity of what they have just done and the resulting potential threat to their personal safety. If Hatari had ever been a joke, in that moment the joke isn’t funny anymore.
“It was very raw and you see that in the film,” Anna Hildur recalls. “Some members of the group were definitely going through a breakdown, and it affected everyone.”
Return and reflection
Having escaped Israel physically unharmed—if not mentally—returning to Iceland provided an opportunity for artists and filmmakers to reflect on their experiences.
“It was strange reviewing material after we got back,” says Anna Hildur. “I relived some of the high-pressure moments so strongly that the tears just ran down my chin. You don’t have time when you’re filming to take it in, but I realised afterwards just how difficult the journey was.”
Hatari also emerged from their Eurovision maelstrom shaken, but certainly stronger and wiser.
“Matthías said that this experience was something that cuts time in two—a before, and an after,” Anna Hildur concludes. “And as he says in the film, ‘I’ve never taken anything so far’. I think that, for all of us who went through it, this was a life-changing experience.”
‘A Song Called Hate’ is showing at Bióhúsið in Selfoss on March 18th and at Alþýðuhúsið in Ísafjörður on April 1st—with a director Q&A at both—and internationally at film festivals.
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