From Iceland — Bridging Cultures: "Kanema's Song" Wins Both Awards At Skjaldborg

Bridging Cultures: “Kanema’s Song” Wins Both Awards At Skjaldborg

Published May 29, 2018

Phil Uwe Widiger

“In the year 2000, when my daughter Kanema was about three years old, there weren’t that many mixed families in Iceland, nor mixed children,” says Anna Þóra Steinþórsdóttir. “I used to go with her to do groceries and people would always be stopping me to admire her or stare at her. A lot of people didn’t know about mixed marriages or different cultures even. I even had to convince one person that she was actually my daughter—he just couldn’t believe it.”

Anna Þóra is the director of “Kanema’s song”, who won both the jury’s and the audience’s award at this year’s documentary film festival “Skjaldborg”. 18 years later, “Kanema’s Song” is Anna Þóra’s fourth documentary as a director, and the third to feature her daughter, Erna Kanema Mashinkila, as the main actress. Kanema’s father is from Zambia which was the setting for the first two documentaries, mainly aimed at children and used as education material in primary schools. “We wanted to educate people about how it is to grow up on the borderline of two cultures,” says Anna Þóra.

That’s the spirit

While Kanema was still a child in the first two films, in “Kamena’s Song” she is an adult who is curious about her origins as a musician. Árni Rúnar Laufason from electro-pop band FM Belfast was hired to compose the score and recorded the title song together with the main actress, using a song she had learned in Zambia as the foundation.

“We wanted to create awareness about how it is to grow up on the borderline of two cultures.”

“Kanema is heavily involved in music which plays a very big role in this film,” says Anna Þóra. “She’s studying jazz singing, and always listening to music. She’s always been very curious about African music as well, so we thought it would be a great idea for her to investigate her musical background in Zambia.”

For Kanema, the way people express themselves through music is the biggest difference between Zambian and Icelandic culture. “On whatever occasion people start dancing and singing,” the actress says. “It doesn’t matter if you can actually sing or dance, it’s more about the spirit of it. In Iceland, we are more closed and shy. In Zambia, they are very joyful. They value spending family time together more than Icelanders usually do.”

Mother and daughter

As we can all imagine, being constantly filmed by your mother—or by anyone for that matter—can be uncomfortable. When Anna Þóra and Guðbergur Davíðsson, the co-producer, were discussing filming Kanema at her lunch break in school, she had to draw the line.

In the end, however, the experience brought the family closer together. “Kanema has been a big part of the production, in more ways than just being in front of the camera,” Anna Þóra explains. “She’s been looking through the rough cuts with me. We didn’t always agree on all the shots, but we managed to reach a compromise, and it brought us closer.” Kanema agrees. “It was nice working together,” she says. “The whole experience was surrounded by positive vibes.”

After the success at Skjaldborg, the film is now set for public screening in Bíó Paradís on September 7th. “It was a wonderful experience premiering the film at Skjaldborg,” the director smiles. “It’s a small audience, but I hope after winning there it will be easier to take the film to a broader audience in Iceland, and possibly internationally.”

“Kanema’s Song” is coming to Bíó Paradís on September 7th.

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