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ICEDOCS 2021

Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir • Co-founder, IceDocs Iceland Documentary Film Festival

“We are doing this because we love documentaries”

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- The Akranes-based IceDocs wrapped its third edition on 27 June, and its co-founder opens up about what’s next for the event

Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir  • Co-founder, IceDocs Iceland Documentary Film Festival
Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir (right) with Eliza Reid, the First Lady of Iceland, on the festival's opening night (© Gunnlöð Jóna Rúnarsdóttir)

Cineuropa made it all the way to Akranes, Iceland, for the Iceland Documentary Film Festival – which unspooled from 23-27 June – an event that saw Alina Gorlova’s This Rain Will Never Stop [+see also:
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crowned as the winner. The Audience Award for the most-invested viewer went to Sindri Birgisson. Now, its co-founder Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir opens up about what’s next for the event.

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Cineuropa: It’s a transitional year, so it’s still hard to talk about what’s coming next, but were you always planning this third edition as an in-person event?
Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir:
We were planning it exactly the way we did it last year: preparing with the best-case scenario in mind, but expecting the worst. We moved the festival dates from July to June, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to welcome any international filmmakers this time. We always had the online version ready, just in case. It’s hard, not knowing what the rules and regulations will be, but we have been very lucky so far.

Now, the ambition is for life to return to normal, obviously – also to invite all of these international guests, as this connection is certainly what we crave. We are never going to be a huge festival, but we want to create a welcoming atmosphere so that people can come here and just enjoy each other’s company; get to know each other on a more personal level than they would normally do. We are also hoping to do more workshops for local filmmakers. There is still so much more we can do.

Someone said that the local audience has finally started to embrace the festival. Is that something you have noticed as well?
Oh yes. When we started, we knew they wouldn’t come. Akranes is an industrial town, and people seek their entertainment in the capital. We wanted to change that and just be brave, although we assumed it was going to take us at least five years. COVID-19 turned out to be a bit of a blessing, actually – during the first few editions, we would mostly rely on international guests. When the pandemic hit, we couldn’t do so any more. We had to find innovative ways of approaching the locals, and that’s what we did. We decided that all of the screenings would be free, as this way there is just no excuse not to come. This year, we went further with the marketing, too, sending our booklets out to every single house in town. You could call it a “home invasion”!

We can hear the pigs from Gunda [+see also:
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as we speak, as it’s playing in the cinema right now. You selected some festival favourites, but you are also showing old Icelandic films, in the local lighthouse and other places in town.
When we founded the festival, the National Film Archive of Iceland was one of our biggest backers – they really embraced us and were kind enough to renovate a few films and let us screen them, including movies by Thorgeir Thorgeirson, who had banned any screenings of his films from the 1970s. This year, we wanted to give something back and promote their new project, called “Iceland on Film”. Created with the assistance of the Danish Film Institute, it’s a collection of old films that they had in their archives. Now, on their website, you can click on the map and see which clips are from your own town. It’s a beautiful initiative, and not enough people know about it still, so we are showing these clips all over town. You can actually see your ancestors on film – it’s really fun.

Many people claim that the “normal” viewers are still a bit wary of documentaries. How do you deal with that?
This is one of the reasons why we started this festival in the first place. Those kinds of documentaries aren’t available here – only a few make it into the cinemas. People don’t know what a great medium it can be. It’s so funny seeing them go into the screening sometimes, almost resigned, and coming out completely amazed. We try our best to explain that these films are more cinematic than what you can see on TV. It can be so exciting to watch the presidential election in Zimbabwe, like in President [+see also:
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, for example – we have an election coming up in the autumn as well, and it’s always good to be reminded that democracy is very fragile. Or something like [Helena Třeštíková’s] Anny, about a normal person living her normal life in another country. We live on an island, in our little bubble. It’s healthy to just put yourself in somebody else’s situation for a while and see that the world isn’t the same everywhere.

At the end of the day, we are doing this because we love documentaries – for me, that’s the core of it all. I really love these films, and I hate the fact that no one sees them and that I can’t talk to people about them. I hate that no one has seen Honeyland [+see also:
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interview: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara K…
interview: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir S…
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. So yes, I really just want our audience to grow, also so that I finally have someone to talk to [laughs]. It’s all very egocentric.

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