From Iceland — Director Translates Funny At The Icelandic Documentary Film Festival

Director Translates Funny At The Icelandic Documentary Film Festival

Published May 21, 2015

York Underwood Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Bernsteinn Björgúlfsson

Director Ragnar Hansson has always been fascinated by stand-up comedy. He’s a filmmaker who’s worked with, and written, comedy for over a decade. When he found out two comedians, Ari Eldjárn and Hugleikur Dagsson, were planning to perform in english at the Stand-up Turku Festival in Finland, he had to see it. To fund this trip, he decided to make a film, Translating Funny. What started out as a way to fund a trip ended up in a two-year project and a film that is premiering this weekend at Skjaldbord, the Icelandic Documentary Film Festival in Patreksfjörður.

Skjaldbord begins on May 22 and lasts until the 25th. Filmmakers from all around the world will be presenting their films, all hoping for the coveted audience-choice “Einarinn” award, named after the founder of the festival.

“We are going to be the last film in the evening on Sunday,” said Ragnar. “We’re going to show the film and then there’s going to be stand-up. Hulli will be putting on a show and I’ll be doing some stand-up too.”

Ragnar started doing stand-up because he was inspired by watching his friends and subjects perform. Originally, to get funding for the film, he followed Ari and Huli and filmed them doing shows in Iceland. The trailer he made from those shows led to the funding to follow them to Finland. The film itself becomes a collection of three trips to Finland and two trips around Iceland. The angle of the documentary became  about stand-up as craft and special focus on translating humour from to different genres and different languages.

“It’s very backstage and behind the scenes,” said Ragnar. “The red line through the film is Huli. His progression from cartoonist, to stand-up comedian, to stand-up comedian on a foreign stage in a different language. He’s translating his humour from the page to the stage, and then from the stage to another language. It’s about translating funny.”

Ragnar has collaborated with Ari, and his stand-up troupe Mið-Ísland, on two previous occasions, but it all started when Ragnar filmed a comedy series in 2009, which featured Nordic Comedians from all over Scandinavia.

“I introduced Ari Eldjárn to some of the Nordic comedians, namely André Wickström, who is arguably the biggest name in Finnish stand-up,” said Ragnar. “That opened up a lot of doors for Ari.. especially in Finland where he has since gigged a lot. Don’t get me wrong… I just pointed towards the door and Ari ran through it all by himself easily, being a world class act who would have broke outside of Iceland all by himself one way or the other.”

You can see Ragnar perform all around Iceland—including being a regular on Hí á Húrra at Húrra each month. The Stand-Up Turku Festival really opened his eyes to the universality of comedy.

“The first thing I realized is everyone is the same. It doesn’t matter where they came from,” said Ragnar. “The other thing I realized is that every comedian goes through the same thing. They all start with some shell around them, a fake persona. They have a fixed set, write it down word for word, and read it out like a play. Then as they progress they shed it all and become more of themselves. Since doing stand-up, I’ve noticed it’s completely right. I’ve been around comedy for years, but I couldn’t even skip that stage. Everyone has to go through it. I’m still on the stage of finding myself.”

Skjaldborg aims to feature pieces that would not usually find a widespread public release. Looking for everything from big budgets to the truly bizarre? You’ll find it here. The films are free but other activities, like their annual seafood feast, cost some kronur. There will be artist talks, parties every night and rumor has it, a cutthroat limbo competition. Patreksfjörður lies only 400 km from Reykjavik—a perfect location for a little holiday.

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