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Aaron Katz • Director

“Our film is a road movie that seeks to steer clear of genre clichés”


- Cineuropa talks to Aaron Katz, who is at the London Film Festival to present the US-Icelandic co-production Land Ho!, which he co-directed with Martha Stephens

Aaron Katz  • Director

Up until now, Americans Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens have been building up two careers of their own. The US-Icelandic co-production Land Ho! [+see also:
interview: Aaron Katz
film profile
, which is being shown at the London Film Festival, is in a way a debut film for both of them. In fact, they have never before shared the director's chair with anyone else, and they have never shot a European production. On top of that, neither of them has ever tried comedy before like they do in this story. In this new film, two retired friends – played by Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn – decide at very short notice to go travelling around Iceland. One of the most well-known names in US independent cinema, David Gordon Green, attached himself as producer of the film. Aaron Katz spoke to Cineuropa in London.

Cineuropa: Why did two directors with such well-defined individual careers decide to helm a project together?
Aaron Katz: I know it may seem like a strange decision, but in reality it does make some sense. Martha called me and suggested we go to a somewhat exotic place, like Iceland, and that we'd bring Earl Lynn Nelson with us, an actor she has worked with on a regular basis and whom I personally adore. There wasn't much needed to convince me! The fact that we divided the work between us allowed us to loosen up a bit, try out things we would probably never do in our own individual films, and make a movie that was a bit less serious for a change.

For some years now, Iceland has been a trendy setting for audiovisual productions like Game of Thrones. How was it to shoot the film there?
The difference is that Iceland usually appears in TV series and films as a different country, a different planet, or an entirely imaginary world, actually just like in Game of Thrones. In our film, we show Iceland the way it is in reality, from the point of view of two Anglo-Saxons who in some ways could easily have been Martha and me.

Some of the dialogue between the two lead characters seems very spontaneous. Was there any improvisation?
Yes, several situations were only briefly outlined in the screenplay, and the actual dialogue is all theirs. We wrote the story with these two actors in mind, and the shooting process enabled them to grow very close to their characters; in fact, there was a lot more familiarity than usual. Also, when you're shooting in the vicinity of a geyser, you simply have to improvise and hope that what is meant to happen will actually happen. 

This is also a rather atypical road movie.
Even though we respected the basic structure of the genre, we absolutely wanted to avoid all of its clichés. It helped us that the protagonists are a bit older than usual, but the key was to find characters that were complex. It also helped to add some comedy ingredients, which has resulted in the fact that the two men sometimes seem to have walked straight out of an Adam Sandler comedy.

David Gordon Green got involved as one of the producers. In a certain way, his film Prince Avalanche, which itself is a remake of an Icelandic comedy, shares similarities with Land Ho!
He attended the same university as Martha, and this created a certain sense of wanting to protect her. Despite him being much further along in his career, he still wanted to help us with this project in terms of laying the foundations and helping us to acclimatise to shooting in Iceland.

(Translated from Spanish)

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