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"We have some kind of small-island belief that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to"

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Anton Máni Svansson • Producer

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- Cineuropa met up with Anton Máni Svansson, producer for Join Motion Pictures, the Icelandic representative in the 2017 Producers on the Move

Anton Máni Svansson • Producer

Reykjavik’s Join Motion Pictures was set up in 2007 by Icelandic producer Anton Máni Svansson. Having met Icelandic directors Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson and Hlynur Pálmason, he started staging their shorts, and when in 2016 he launched his and Guðmundsson’s first feature, Heartstone [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
film profile
]
, it gave them both an international break.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Svansson, selected as one of the 2017 Producers on the Move, is currently co-producing Pálmason’s first, almost-completed feature, Winter Brothers, with Denmark’s Masterplan Pictures, a lack-of-love story set in a working-class environment, starring two brothers (Elliott Crosset Hove and Simon Sears) as they go about their routines, habits, rituals and violent feuds. It will be followed by the sophomore features by Guðmundsson and Pálmason.

Cineuropa: Iceland is a small country with a population of 330,000 – still, it produces up to eight features annually. How come?
Anton Máni Svansson:
The basic elements are the Icelandic Film Centre with its public funding, which has done a great job of selecting projects with strong artistic quality, an efficient industry, and the incentive programme to attract international co-productions. On top of that, I think the Icelanders, both individuals and companies, are very good at sticking together and helping each other out - for example, our equipment rentals are very helpful to a lot of upcoming talent. I believe there is a strong, nature- and weather-inspired, creative energy in many Icelandic artists - we are all hard workers with some kind of small-island belief that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to.

Why did you start your own production company, and how did you get in contact with Guðmundsson?
It felt as if it was the logical step after I had decided to become a producer for real. What mainly sparked my interest in producing was the discovery of auteur cinema, so I focused on working relationships with talented young writers and directors, and I was already involved in several projects. 

I met Guðmundsson in 2006, and a year later, he asked me to produce a low-budget short and showed me the first draft of Heartstone. I was blown away by the script, and from then on, it was all a question of how to get it filmed properly. Guðmundsson applied to a film school in Denmark, and when he was not accepted, we put all our energy into making another two shorts to prove to financiers that we were ready for the big one. The plan worked beautifully, and one of the shorts, Whale Valley, was chosen for official competition at Cannes in 2013. Then everything started rolling. Heartstone was the product of pure passion and hard work, and I think that really comes across to the audience.

Your first features were Danish co-productions. What is the reason for the Danish connection?
For a long time, there has been a strong relationship between the Icelandic and the Danish film industries. Both Gudmundsson and Pálmason moved to Denmark and applied for the Danish Film School - one got in, the other became self-taught instead, but they have both surrounded themselves with strong creative talent from Denmark and received valuable support from the Danish Film Institute. My last five productions have now been made with Danish collaboration, and I hope to continue building on those relationships.

What can you say about Gudmundsson and Pálmason’s upcoming features, plus other Join Motion Pictures projects?
It is too early to talk about Guðmundsson’s Chicken Boy, but Pálmason’s A White, White Day follows a widower and small-town sheriff in Iceland, who becomes obsessed with finding the man he suspects has been involved in the death of his wife. It's a mystery-thriller about deception, grief, sacrifice, revenge and unconditional love.

Besides our first TV series and another fiction feature in early development, we are co-producing Polish director Pawel Ziemilski’s documentary New Blood with Poland’s NUR, describing the 35-year-old relationship between Iceland and Stare Juchy, a village in North-East Poland with 1,000 inhabitants. It begins with the improbable love story between Valdi and Jasia, who took half of the villagers with them when they went to Iceland. The film is already shooting and will be premiered next year.

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