Marked up to be included in the Scandinavian-Canadian Journal
The film is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Indriði G. Þorsteinsson a novelist who was also a journalist and newspaper editor (and father of the well-known crime fiction writer Arnaldur Indriðason). Indriði not only provided the original story, he also helped finance and promote the film through his contacts in the newspaper world. Jon Hermannsson produced the film, the first in his career as a film producer. The budget for the film was $150,000.
Filming, which took place on location in a valley in the north of Iceland—Svarfaðardalur, near the village Dalvík—, lasted seven weeks, ending with the sheep round-up on the 20th of September. The snowstorm that contributes to the dramatic atmosphere of the round-up in the film came as a bit of a surprise, but weather is seldom an unimportant factor in a film shot in Iceland. The interiors were also shot locally, and even the costumes were obtained in the area.
Most of the actors, including the female lead Guðný Ragnarsdóttir, who plays Margrét, were amateurs. Two, however, were well-known professional actors: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, who plays the male lead, and Jón Sigurbjörnsson, who plays his neigbour, Margrét’s father. Sigurður Sigurjónsson went on to become one of the most popular comedians in Iceland. Jón Sigurbjörnsson has had a distinguished career too, appearing also in Ágúst Guðmundsson’s
… This first feature shows the result of sticking to the first law of filmmaking—surround yourself with skilled technicians. Sigurdur Sverrir Palsson’s color camerawork makes what is generally considered a cold land look warm and inviting. Indeed, one wonders if any other farms (possibly in New Zealand) have such a combination of rich land and spectacular scenery.
Most of the film’s acting falls on the sturdy shoulders of young Sigurdur Sigurjonsson, but he’s given plenty of support by a stunningly beautiful young actress, Gudny Ragnarsdottir (a teenage Candice Bergen). Most of the character people are also topnotch. A very worthy beginning.
This last picture is something I would like to emphasize. Watching it I was struck by the horrible contrast with American films that too often trashily cater to the markets of pornographic sex, bloody violence, sci-fi fantasy and nightmare horror that gives kids the creeps.
Quite simply, and with beautiful realism,
The neighboring farmer’s well to-do daughter has tried to persuade him to stay on the farm, and her father has remarked that everyone in Iceland is in debt and no one will ever pay.
It is a quietly told epic of land and city, of plain people whose concerns avoid all taint of theatricality. It is a noble film, doubtless much too good to be grabbed by commercial exhibitors who have so successfully corrupted all of us.
The first feature film to be produced in Iceland,
Iceland, a country still undiscovered by most of the world, turned out a movie last year called “Land and Sons,” and the event reportedly was a major celebration. Filmex reports the film is Iceland’s most popular 35 mm feature and almost half that country’s population saw it. Indeed, whatever the sparse history of Iceland’s movie industry, “Land and Sons” certainly qualifies as a distinguished achievement for a young filmmaking industry.
Made with the support of the government’s newly founded Film Fund, and a feature debut for director-producer-screenwriter Agust Gudmundsson, “Land and Sons” dramatizes a young man’s decision to leave the land he works for the muse of the city. The film moves with a quiet assurance and a texured stillness that illuminates the sense of the land and its scattered rural people. Against the rich green hillsides and the towering mountainscapes, events unfold with universal touchstones: the young man’s reconciliation to his father’s death, his casually romantic alliance with a local girl, his decision to sell out against a neighbor’s wishes and change his life.
These solitary moments wed together a land and a people with deceptively easy simplicity.
Agust Gudmundsson’s first feature is a stunning visual travelogue, an acute social treatise and an engaging piece of history. The action takes place during the Depression, when many members of the Icelandic farming communities migrated to Reykjavik in search of better opportunities. This is a sort of Icelandic
There is so much noisy drivel on film that it’s hard to make enough of a stir when something quietly epic like
How did you decide to become a film maker and how did you go about preparing yourself for the role of director?
At grammar school, when I was 18, we started up a film club, which became a hit with all the secondary schools in Reykjavik and the University of Iceland. I spent a whole year watching all the most important classics, from
Which filmmakers most influenced your decision to become a filmmaker yourself? Which have most influenced your practices and style as a filmmaker as your artistic life has evolved?
What combination of factors made it possible for you to film
The film fund was established in 1978, and I and my partners got one of first three production grants. Filming was expensive, but we saved on everything. The film stock was short-ends, i.e. returned stock from other productions; we used an old Arriflex camera which was put in a blimp, a rather cumbersome box, to enable sound recording. —When I look at the film now, I think the limitations under which we worked were, in the end, beneficial. It gave the final result a certain style in line with the subject matter. We had, for example, only three lenses. Almost all the film is shot with two of them: the 50mm and the 28mm.
For your first film you chose to adapt a well-known literary work. What led you to this decision and what did you gain and lose by making it?
I met the author of the novel when we took part in a TV talk show about the future of the film industry. I remember that we were the most optimistic of the panel, totally convinced that we could make feature film in Iceland. Afterwards I told him I thought his novel
I had certain affinities with the subject matter. It’s about the move from the rural areas, which resulted in the building up of Reykjavík. My parents came from the Westman Islands; they moved to Reykjavík to take part in creating an urban society for the first time in Iceland. I thought it was an important story to tell, and I liked the way it was told. Indriði, the writer, was a tough fellow on the surface, but his novels were written with wonderful sensitivity.
What process do you use to develop a screenplay? As taught (and practiced, I believe) screenplay writing seems a remarkably hide-bound process, do you try to follow its rules (using a non-proportional font for example) when you will be the director working from the screenplay?
Turning a novel into a screenplay usually leads to a certain clash of interests: keeping the free spirit of the novel doesn’t always go hand in hand with following the rules of the screenwriting trade. When I’ve adapted something from a written source I have always had a tendency to treat the original with a lot of respect. In at least one case, with too much respect. A film is actually a lot stricter in its narrative shape than a work of literature. There are certain dramatic elements you need to take into consideration, which the novelist doesn’t necessarily have to bother about. But in the case of
To what extent do you use storyboards? To what extent is filming for you a matter of making real a complete vision that you have when you start filming? To what extent do you discover what you are looking for only after you’ve found it?
I’ve learnt to appreciate storyboards. For years I’ve had them made for all action scenes. However, this depends, of course, on the style of the narrative. I’ve been involved in films that are virtually improvized in front of the camera. But even in those cases I usually know what I want to have at the end of the shoot. Which doesn’t change the fact that the editing is always a process of great revelations. —All the projects I’m working on now call for careful preparation, and storyboards are a precious tool in that respect. It certainly helps set your vision before filming starts and it helps relay your wishes and intentions to the crew.
If I have understood correctly, your actors include both professionals and people who had never acted before, including some that you discovered by chance. How difficult is it to elicit a unified ensemble performances from such a diverse cast? What did you gain by using unknown actors?
The actors who appeared in the first Icelandic TV plays seemed to come with too much baggage from the theatre. Therefore I tried to find my cast elsewhere. Finding talent in someone who had never done any acting at all became a great thrill for me. Still, the unified ensemble performances you mention were usually brought about with some help from the professionals. In
How did you go about assembling the crew you needed to make the film? In later times you have relied on European funding which has required the use of actors or crew from different countries, a process which can produce, as you have noted, a Euro-pudding. Presumably such constraints did not affect this first film, but film production facilities must have been rather undeveloped in Iceland at the time.
None of us had ever been involved in shooting a feature. We were doing everything for the first time. I remember thinking to myself: this is the most absurd situation I’ve ever got myself into. A director has to be ready with all the answers at all times, and somehow I managed to bluff myself through the production, often pretending I knew what to do when I didn’t. You may remember the final section of Tarkovsky’s
What particular difficulties did you experience making the film. Was Icelandic weather your enemy or your friend?
The weather in the film is considerably worse than in the book. The rounding up of the sheep took place in fine weather in the book, whereas we had to shoot the actual incident in a snowstorm. It proved to be just right for the film, though—much more effective than the sunshine of the novel. There are more exteriors than interiors, and in general we simply had to take what we got.
I believe you did your own editing. How did you develop your skills as an editor? How important do you think your editing was to the success of the film? What principles do you follow as an editor?
I learnt editing at the film school in England. Luckily I was introduced to some old equipment, much loved by my editing tutor: the upright Moviola. When it came to editing
How did you go about selecting music for the film? In retrospect how do you judge the climactic scenes of communal singing during the autumn sheep roundup?
There’s always a lot of singing at these events, it’s a well known tradition. The guy standing by the lake, singing, is a local teacher, who happens to have this beautiful voice. For incidental music we mainly used works already recorded, but by the same composer.
What reception did
The general public was very appreciative of our effort. The attendance figures for the first Icelandic films were really astounding. More than a third of the population saw