"To Write A Saga, You Must Kill A Cow" - The Reykjavik Grapevine

“To Write A Saga, You Must Kill A Cow”

Published October 31, 2014

In award speech, director Benedikt Erlingsson scolds minister for cutting funds

Haukur Már Helgason
Photos by
Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org

In award speech, director Benedikt Erlingsson scolds minister for cutting funds

Last night, as reported, director Benedikt Erlingsson and producer Friðrik Þór Friðriksson received the Nordic Council Film Prize for the 2013 comedy “Of Horses and Men”. In his acceptance speech, Benedikt criticized the government for cutting the budget of the Icelandic Film Fund by, he said, 42 percent, this year.

Describing the situation as a “catastrophe”, Benedikt announced the presence of Icelandic politicians at the ceremony, and encouraged other members of the audience to pick up the topic in conversations, during the succeeding party. “Talk to them about the Icelandic sagas,” Benedikt said, and continued: “Tell them that we who are making stories, are making new sagas. Icelandic sagas, Norwegian sagas, Danish sagas, although they are not written on skin, but on celluloid or digital. You can explain that to write down an Icelandic saga, you have to get skin, to write on. And to get skin, you have to kill a cow. So please talk to them about cows.” He concluded the speech by stating that this might give some meaning to “this very expensive party”.

Discussion with Minister ensued, Westfjords-style

Illugi Gunnarsson, Minister of Education, Science and Culture was present at the ceremony. According to Kjarninn, he seemed to take offense at the speech. Benedikt explained that they did meet and “had a discussion, Westfjords-style,” colloquially known as the opposite of cautious, polite or delicate. “He commented on my speech, and enjoys the same freedom of expression as I do. But politicians are thick-skinned, aren’t they?”

Benedikt furthermore said that he did not foresee making another film next year, despite the great success of his debut, “because the fund is empty.”

Ingvar E. Sigurðsson in Of Horses and Men

Friðrik Þór’s method of directing horses

After Benedikt’s speech, producer Friðrik Þór gave another, shorter one. He explained that while Benedikt took good care of the actors, Friðrik himself took care of the horses, being “the best horse whisperer in the country”. He gave the following description of his method: “The only thing I had to do was to whisper in their ears, in the morning, or the night before they were supposed to perform: we will beat you tomorrow if you don’t perform.”

Benedikt Erlingsson’s Nordic Council award speech in full:

“I want to say a big thank you. This was my first film. And I hope this will give courage to other first-timers, and to producers to take a chance with first-time directors. That is not easy. It demands courage. We have one of them here. Friðrik Þór has produced many first-timers in Iceland. I think he should have gotten a prize for it a long time ago. Now he has. Congratulations, Friðrik Þór. But I want you dear Nordic friends to help us. Because here, in our publicum, are sitting Icelandic politicians. They have cut down the Icelandic film fund by 42% this year. Before that, in the aftermath of the crash, they cut it down 30%. We are standing in front of a catastrophe. If you can help us, now in the after-party, approach them, very politely. Speak to them about film, about culture. Talk to them about the Icelandic Sagas, like your beautiful Culture Minister did. Tell them that we who are making stories, are making new sagas. Icelandic sagas, Norwegian sagas, Danish sagas, although they are not written on skin, but on celluloid or digital. You can explain that to write down an Icelandic saga, you have to get skin, to write on. And to get skin, you have to kill a cow. So please talk to them about cows. It will be a good conversation, and might give this very expensive party some meaning, for us. Thank you for that.”

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