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“I love it when it’s challenging”

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

Sara Nassim • Producer, S101 Films

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The Icelandic producer is heading to the suburbs for her next project, but it’s no Wisteria Lane

Sara Nassim • Producer, S101 Films

Behind Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Valdimar Jóhannsson
film profile
]
and the Cannes 2023 short Fár, as well as being a Grammy nominee and a collaborator with Björk, Icelandic producer Sara Nassim, along with her company S101 Films, is preparing for a new film by Grímur Hákonarson, a coming-of-age story set in the 1960s. She is also gearing up for European Film Promotion’s Producers on the Move initiative at Cannes.

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Cineuropa: Are you already hard at work with Producers on the Move?
Sara Nassim:
It’s wonderful, as there are all these producers who are doing very interesting projects. I can already see potential collaborators, so I hope it’s going to be very fruitful. It’s important to connect. Most Icelandic films that travel have been co-produced, and we have to do so because the market back home is simply too small. Often, we have collaborated with the Nordic countries – they are our neighbours – but I think we can find similarities in cultures that are further away, and that offer new and interesting opportunities.

Iceland is a special place, but it’s also an attractive place for so many filmmakers and crews. Do you think it’s a good moment for local films? Or is something missing?
We haven’t been very big on musicals [laughs], so in that respect we are lacking! We’ve had films at Cannes for the last five years, from Woman at War [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Benedikt Erlingsson
interview: Benedikt Erlingsson
film profile
]
 to A White, White Day [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hlynur Pálmason
film profile
]
Lamb and Godland [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Elliott Crosset Hove
interview: Hlynur Pálmason
film profile
]
. Now, we have Rúnar Rúnarsson [with When the Light Breaks [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Rúnar Rúnarsson
film profile
]
, opening Un Certain Regard]. There are so many different stories being explored, all of these indie arthouse films, but then there was also Cop Secret [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hannes Þór Halldórsson
interview: Hannes Þór Halldòrsson
film profile
]
: an action-comedy selected at Locarno in 2021. I really think that people should bravely continue doing things they find interesting. 

What do you find interesting these days?
Projects that are original and directors with a strong voice. That’s what I follow, in a way; it’s what excites me and pushes me onwards. It’s true that such projects rarely turn out to be easy in terms of financing and making them, but when you can feel someone’s fingerprint on a story, that’s special. If a director manages to take me on a real journey, I am in. A journey where you don’t question the world of the film, you just believe it, no matter how strange or unfamiliar it is. Going beyond what has been done before is interesting to me.

That certainly happened with Lamb. Co-productions aren’t always easy – sometimes, you encounter completely different perspectives. How can you successfully overcome this?
As long as everyone is there to tell the same story, it doesn’t really matter. Lamb was a wonderful collaboration with Poland and Sweden, and I think it was because everyone believed in the film. That’s probably the essence of it all. By knowing that everyone is reading the same thing off that page, you know everyone will represent the movie in the right way. 

Last time, you were at Cannes with the short Fár. What are you working on now?
I have teamed up with Grímar Jónsson for a joint venture called Sarimar. Our first project together is Grímur Hákonarson’s [Rams [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Grimur Hakonarson
film profile
]
] next feature. It’s a story set in the 1960s about two brothers, who are among the first inhabitants of a new suburban town. One day, the older one asks his younger brother for a favour – a very big favour. It will have a great and profound impact on both of their lives. I am focusing on this project now, seeking co-producers and sales agents to come on board. 

At its core, it’s a coming-of-age story about the younger brother. We have seen tales about male vulnerability, but what sets this one apart is its setting. In the 1960s, men were not supposed to openly express their feelings. Hopefully, this will be something that many can connect to. Grímur grew up in a suburban town, in a house that his father built with his brother. In a way, it’s an ode to his father. The suburbs in Iceland aren’t really explored in films that often. Back then, these outskirts were still surrounded by dirt roads: it wasn’t exactly Wisteria Lane [from Desperate Housewives].

What is it about producing that you find so satisfying? You were also a second assistant director before.
I think it has to do with telling stories: stories that surprise or challenge. Films that can show the audience a different world – that’s certainly one part of it that drives me. The possibility to lead a project, from an idea to a film that travels, is something I find much joy in, too. It’s not always joyful, of course, but here’s the thing: I love it when it’s challenging. This job varies a lot; it has different stages, and I enjoy all of them, but I probably wouldn’t thrive as much if I got stuck in one stage. I think you have to enjoy what you are doing, and you have to keep growing.

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