From Iceland — Getting More Serious

Getting More Serious

Published October 10, 2008

Getting More Serious
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Rumours had been going around that the roughest Icelandic flick to date was being screened in cinemas near you, so Grapevine caught up with the man who created all the fuss. Óskar Jónasso who happily invited us into his safe haven.

Tell me, how did you end up making movies?
It all started when I studied at the predecessor of what’s nowadays called the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, but at the time me and a couple of my friends were in this band called Oxmó. Making music wasn’t our only task though, we’d make gigantic sculptures all over town and several other deeds but at last we made a film called “Oxmóplánetan”, a sort of a sci-fi flick, extremely raw and barbaric but nevertheless very amusing. This turned out to be such a blast that we decided to keep at it and so when we finished shooting we decided to fabricate a full-length film which bore the arousing name “Suck me, Nína”. It told the story of a few hippies in the year 1973, but we were, on the contrary, punkers in the year 1983, so we basically made a movie of what was in our opinion the tackiest thing imaginable. We managed to produce this film with great aggressiveness and the result was surprisingly successful. Soon after this adventure I decided to attain some education in the field. So you could say that me becoming a director was an aftermath of “Suck me, Nína”
Did you move home as soon as you finished your studies in England?
Yeah, I came home and made my final assignment, a movie called “SSL 25” which deals with a privately operated task force. Subsequently, I started making music videos for several artists, such as the Sugarcubes, Bubbi etc. but alongside with that work I was preparing a movie that had been for some time on my mind: “Sódóma Reykjavík”. I was extremely eager to start working on it, and the preparing process was so successful that I could begin shooting in relatively short time.
What made you so passionate about Sódóma Reykjavík?
In my opinion all the movies that were made here at the time were rather dull and I didn’t see any need for such a vast selection of boring flicks, so an amusing film was really called for at the time. It was gratifying to go through all the professional production process that surrounded the shooting but at the end I realised that it hadn’t been funded as properly as it should have and when I ended up penniless I decided to emphasize more on television for some time. Soon I was able to forge myself into the TV business and later I directed series such as “Fóstbræður” and “Svínasúpan”
Comedy has always surrounded your work but your most recent pieces, i.e. Reykjavík-Rotterdam and also “Svartir Englar” is dead serious, what made you switch tracks?
I think it inevitably happens when you get older, when you start taking things more seriously. But to tell you the truth it was never a particular aim to be a comedy director, it kind of just happened. Recently I wanted to change course and start to take on things that actually matter to people in real life, things that are closer and more powerful. Comedy tends to be a bit transient, all about the moment, then it’s over. Somewhat like fast food.
To move over to your new piece “Reykjavík-Rotterdam”, could you tell me how it all began?
The process started about 7 years ago when I heard an interview with an old sailor and a smuggler who had for sure ‘been around’ over his years and it immediately aroused my attention. I later called up Arnaldur Indriðason, and after I had explained the idea to him he grew fond of it as well. Subsequently we sat down to write a story. The story was always a subject to change but the journey between Reykjavík and Rotterdam was always its milestone. The time it took to write was exhaustive but I don’t regret a minute of it. It’s always easy to write about the first two thirds of a screenplay but when you have to finalise it, things tend to get complicated. All in all, with intermissions, it took about five years to write, which clearly gave us the time to make it proper. We considered many times over the process that the screenplay was decent enough to start shooting it, but we could never make peace with it being simply decent, we wanted it to be perfect. To make that happen we had a lot of people read it and comment on it and we also created a special workshop down at the Icelandic Film Centre, whose sole purpose was to make the script better. I think the worst mistake of a filmmaker is to believe his job is to make movies, but not to tell stories. And if you want to tell a story you have to make it credible. Nowadays people don’t give themselves enough time, and just go out and shoot some half finished pieces, and as soon as they begin shooting they realise that they’re in over their heads but there’s nothing they can do at that point.
Have you ever made that mistake?
Actually, I always feel I’m making that mistake. I think, in my case at least, you always think afterwards that you should’ve given yourself more time in the preparation process. Once you begin rehearsing and shooting you see your script mistakes materialise before your eyes. Even sometimes when you’re doing a scene you know already you’re never going to use it, not in a million years, that’s really an untenable feeling. It’s of course difficult to write a good screenplay but it’s just as hard to read it right, to understand what those replicas really stand for and how this will look on the screen. It’s really hard to tell.
And how do you like the final result of Reykjavík-Rotterdam? Are you at peace with it?
I am, really. But you don’t stop meditating your work even though you’ve already premiered and I’m always spotting a few new things that could’ve worked out better. When I watch old pieces I’ve made I honestly squirm around, there are so many scenes that could’ve been better. I try hard to avoid seeing my old works, it’s intolerable.

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