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TORONTO 2019 Contemporary World Cinema

Grímur Hákonarson • Director of The County

“Corruption is part of this community’s life”


- We chatted to Icelandic writer-director Grímur Hákonarson, whose third feature, The County, was presented in Toronto's Contemporary World Cinema section

Grímur Hákonarson  • Director of The County

Cineuropa caught up with Icelandic writer-director Grímur Hákonarson, whose new feature, The County [+see also:
film review
interview: Grímur Hákonarson
film profile
, was presented in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Cineuropa: You decided to set your film in a closed-off society, where the co-op establishes all the rules and makes the life of Inga – and other farmers – hard, as it deprives her of her freedom. Why did you choose to tell a story about this type of community? Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Grímur Hákonarson: There’s a real reference behind the story. The film is based on the experiences of a small community that we have here in Iceland. It's a village located in the north-west of the country, called Skagafjörður. I happen to know people from that area, and they told me some stories about it. I thought it was interesting to recount because it is a pretty special place, quite different from the rest of Iceland. At the same time, there, I got the chance to gain some insights into the problem of corruption, which is also part of the community’s life. I consider myself a political filmmaker, so I like making movies about these kinds of topics.

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Inga is an atypical hero – she looks calm and stoic, but is also driven by a genuine thirst for justice. Could you tell us about the development of her character?
Inga is also based on a woman from the countryside whom I know personally. During the last decade, a woman in rural Iceland – you know, these are very conservative places – started stepping up and began a small revolution. The woman in question was one of the few who were pulling it off without a man – rural Iceland is still a male-dominated environment. So that's how I got my inspiration. Also, Inga wants to stand up for herself, take care of the farm on her own and fully rely on herself. In addition, she is coping with her grief from the loss of her husband. That's another layer I added to her character.

The film's visual style seems to reflect Inga's journey and looks similar to one of your previous features, Rams [+see also:
film review
interview: Grimur Hakonarson
film profile
. Was that intentional? And how was it working with DoP Mart Taniel?
Yes, the visual style reflects Inga's inner journey, you're totally right. It was great to work with Mart – we went to the same film school together, Prague's FAMU. He actually shot my graduation film, called Slavek the Shit. The plan was to have Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, the cinematographer from Rams, on set, but he couldn't do it. Then I contacted Mart; I had seen his work, and we started working together. He did a great job! We didn't have so much time to prepare the film in the end, but nonetheless, I'm happy with the final result.

Why did you choose to cast Sigurður Sigurjónsson for his role? What were you looking for?
The main reason is that he's one of the best actors in Iceland. I know how difficult the role was, so I trusted him, and he's actually played other “villains” before. He's that kind of versatile actor who can play both good and evil. In Rams, he's very sympathetic; in The County, maybe not so much...

What was the most critical or challenging part of the production process?
Maybe the first day of shooting. Mart Taniel got a strong toothache, so we couldn't start filming. And we were right in the middle of nowhere, at night... He had to go to Reykjavík to have a molar pulled out. So then, the assistant director, who had some experience as a cinematographer, had to film everything on the first day, while Mart was recovering. We had a bit of a difficult start, but in the end, all went well.

What’s up next for you? Are you interested in working outside Iceland?
Yes, my plan is to keep making films in Iceland with my crew here, but I am also developing a feature in the United States, which might be my next project, and that will be shot in the English language. I can't say much about it now, as I'm still writing it, but I can say that its style will be in line with my previous films. So my plan is to do, simultaneously, one film in Icelandic and one in English. The problem with making movies in Iceland is that it is a small country, with very little money and few resources. Most directors make their films every four or five years; it’s a long time to wait, so I felt, after Rams, that it was important to keep one foot in Iceland and one somewhere else.

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