by Jorn Rossing Jensen
- UK producer Heather Millard came to Iceland for a film and stayed in this “country with resilience and determination matched with great storytellers and fantastic crews”
Having worked with films worldwide and already set up a company in London, UK producer Heather Millard came to Reykjavik in 2009 and decided it should be her new home base – and at the Cannes Film Festival, she is representing Iceland in European Film Promotion’s Producers on the Move programme.
Recently credited with, among others, South African director Jahmil XT Qubeka’s Of Good Report (2013), and Icelandic directors Thorkell Hardarson and Örn Marinó Arnarson’s Trend Beacons (2014), Millard is currently in production with Icelandic directors Kristin Ólafsdóttir and Hrund Gunnsteinsdóttir’s Innsæi, while preparing Finnish director Miikka Leskinen’s feature debut, Dear Darkness.
Cineuropa: How – of all places in the world – did you end up in Iceland?
Heather Millard: The feature documentary Future of Hope took me to Iceland in 2009. I intended to stay for three months for the production, but after six months, also for post-production, I felt that I couldn’t premiere the film anywhere else but in Iceland, and so we did. I completely fell in love with the country, and I could see many opportunities in the film industry, so I gradually set up a base in Reykjavik.
What are your activities there?
I am one of the founders of Iceland’s Spier Films and Compass Films, and I am mostly producing, consulting and servicing - working in factual television, documentary films and features. I also manage our UK-based sales boutique of Spier Films London, representing a number of documentary films and series for international sales.
Now that you represent it, what is the secret of Iceland and its films? With a population of 340,000, it produces up to ten movies annually, wins international prizes and attracts international productions...
Resilience and determination matched with great storytellers and fantastic crews that have a huge amount of experience from working on studio films to low-budget indie movies and documentaries.
Have you already been on the move for a long time?
I am originally from Cambridge, England, but lived in London before re-locating to Iceland. I studied at the University of Sussex and later attended a number of short-film courses at the National Film and Television School; after university, I began working in Brighton with documentary filmmaker Phil Grabsky at Seventh Art Productions, and later moved to London, where I set up Spier Films' Sales and Distribution office in the UK.
Being part of an international company, I’ve worked on films that are from South Africa, the Middle East, the Nordic countries, the USA, the UK and projects from a number of other European countries. I’m always interested in exploring new opportunities.
How do you find the projects you want to be involved with, if you don’t instigate them yourself?
Some projects we initiate and develop in house before sourcing finance and partners, and others come to us. We often receive ideas and scripts for both features and documentaries; we read all of them and then decide whether it’s something we can or want to pursue or not. We’re lucky in the sense that if a project might not be suitable for us here in Iceland, it could work for one of our sister companies in the UK, Ireland or South Africa.
You have produced both documentaries and fiction films – what attracts you to either?
I love documentary films: they carry important messages, they are a source of information, education, history and social change. They are a means of conveying often very important messages to the world; I am particularly interested in the way some documentary films are becoming hybrid projects, and cross-platform possibilities are becoming more and more interesting to me.
I also love the endless possibilities of feature films - they can touch on reality and/or an entirely fictionalised world. I love to read scripts, and I love the structured nature of feature-film productions, with a clearly scheduled pre/production/post period, which is not always possible with documentaries.
Which productions do you consider your best achievements so far – one documentary, one feature - and why?
I think that my best achievements are still to come, but I am proud of my first feature documentary Future of Hope, which travelled to over 100 film festivals and sold to a number of broadcasters and distributors internationally. We made the film on an incredibly low budget, but the production standard was rather high at the time for documentaries. As a result of this film, I made many friends across Iceland and met crew members who I’m still working with today on new projects.
I’m also very proud of the film that we co-produced with South Africa, Of Good Report, from an emerging South African director - the film pushed boundaries, and the filmmaker states it was a homage to film noir, not to mention that it was initially banned in South Africa. The film is a black-and-white psychological thriller that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and went on to win multiple awards internationally.
What was your biggest challenge during a production, and how did you overcome it?
There have, of course, been a number of challenges: tight - very tight - budgets, finance falling through and being covered at the last minute, a director needing to be replaced mid-way through a production, through to a film being banned in its country of production on the night of its premiere. However, there hasn’t been anything that we haven’t managed to overcome; all of our projects that have entered production have been completed and gone on to enjoy festival and distribution success.
What do you think you are particularly good at – and what certainly not?
I love to take photographs and film, but I’m terrible with a camera - I know that I should not film for any of my documentaries. My strengths are my network of contacts, and my knowledge of the marketplace and financing. I travel to many festivals and markets, and keep up to date with the latest trends in distribution and finance, and later apply this to the projects that I am developing and consulting for.
What are your current projects?
Several of the projects that I’m producing are nearing completion at the moment: Icelandic director Ásdís Thoroddsen’s feature documentary We Are Still Here, and Innsæe. Norwegian-Irish director David Kinsella's documentary The Wall is perhaps the most time-sensitive project, as it is a hybrid film featuring North Korea, which is of course very topical right now.
What do you hope to get out of your Producers On the Move experience at Cannes?
I love meeting new producers, to talk and discover opportunities for potential collaboration. I hope to make new contacts and find some exciting projects that I can be a part of, as well as find partners for some of the projects that I have in development.