„Film School Cannot Replace the Hands-On Experience“

The Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF) annually attracts a broad spectrum of international guests. Some want to enjoy a movie for two hours, others want to make projects and connections with long-lasting effects.

Hilke Roennfeldt, Ruth Scherer, and their students proudly presented a workshopcalled Young Nordic Talents – an investment into the future of movie making. 25 young filmmakers from the Nordic and Baltic countries met at RIFF for a unique cooperation (sponsored by a variety of film initiatives within the respective countries). The first results were shown on September 26, 2015, at Loft Hostel.

If you don't know Loft Hostel, it is a little hard to find even though it is in the middle of the city. Thus, my journey there was a bit like that of film making: I was walking along a really busy road with many material temptations, but I had to stay focused in order to find the right place and the right people at the right time. Once arrived, I noticed there was a lovely bar suitable for all kinds of art gigs. The atmosphere was relaxed, so I could just sit down at a table with the organizers of Young Nordic Talents and chat with them before the screening.

As Ruth explained, the students were together for one week, first attending lectures and workshops byvarious people from the film business. For the second part of the project, the young people divided into seven groups anddevelopedshort films of their own on the topic of “Northern Soul”. One day was set aside for planning, one for shooting and one for editing. Despite the short time, the variety of approaches and themes was amazing, as was the spectrum of locations. Scenes were shot on a farm outside of town, on Viðey Island, in Elliðaárdalur and in thetown center. 

Hilke drew my attention to a visit that the class had paid to the Film School of Iceland. There the students had engaged into a discussion about the role of film schools in film making. According to Hilke, the core of it was, that a film school should be considered “a vehicle to bring people together”, but, however, not be the one and only pathway for people, who want to become filmmakers. She emphasized that “hands-on training and experience cannot be replaced by any film school.” 

A still from a product of the workshop: an unnamed short film by Sara Luosta, Rósa Grímsdóttir, Albert Morel and Linnéa Kviske.

A still from a product of the workshop: an unnamed short film by Sara Luosta, Rósa Grímsdóttir, Albert Morel and Linnéa Kviske.

Indeed, Sara – a participant I met after the screening – has purposefully never gone to film school. She envisions to make “more and different kinds (of films) by just doing it.” She considers herself a “traveller” and a “free spirit” and trusts in things to just fall into place: “It's just me and my friends and some people we meet, and we make projects together.” In the Young Nordic Talents Lab, she was part of a group who tackled the Icelandic nature and the water element. For the film she sang: “Thank you for the water”, which I first mistook for a Sámi folk song, but it is, according to Sara, a chant sung at hippie festivals. Even though Sara is Finnish, she has actually never seen a Sámi person, “because the Sámi are kind of excluded or isolated in Northern Finland.” 

The theme of exclusion versus inclusion was also prevalent in many of the short films presented at the Young Nordic Talents screening: One movie featured a treasure hunt in the surroundings of a mentally ill individual who collected aluminum paper scraps; another sent out a strong message about the situation of foreigners in Iceland, almost without any use of the spoken word. Silence spoke up for the absence of warmth and communication. 

Sara's group originally wanted to talk to a refugee and cook with him, in order to make a film about the concept of home and belonging – but did not find any appropriate people at such a short notice. In general, the seven groups needed to work with very limited resources, but that was the challenge and charm of the project. One group reported that their film about the financial crisis ought to be shot at a house that was put up for sale, but despite their extensive search, the young filmmakers did not find any location with such qualities and “just had to go for any house they could get”. 

Still, their film stood out in a crowd because its score was composed and arranged in seven hours only. When I asked group member Friedrich to describe this work in five words, he laughed: “The Icelandic Financial Crisis from the viewpoint of a child. Oh, that's more than five words, right?” The “many” words actually led to a good conversation about Friedrich's interest in Iceland, the Nordic countries in general and their film culture specifically. Friedrich is originally from Germany, but has moved to Denmark because of his fascination for Danish film and because of a job opportunity at a big film company in Copenhagen.

The film workshop in Iceland caught his interest because Iceland seemed “so far away, so different from all he was used to”. As a non-Icelander, he had heard a lot about the financial crisis and grew interested in the phenomenon. Friedrich does not believe that the girl acting in the film realized in detail what the crisis was all about (the major point of the film's plot also is that her mother is packing up for moving houses and the child is kind of left out, not understanding what is going on), but she rather had fun at the set and really liked her film family. It was her first appearance in a film ever, but she enriched the Q and A by telling about her experience of acting at the National Theatre.

The film “Human Recycling”, may have been triggered by the crisis as well (Sara thinks that it is rather triggered by environmentalism and wants to bring awareness to recycling in a fun way). It shows a young man with headphones and a thick winter jacket standing in front of several trash bins. Unexpectedly, he sorts all of his possessions and even clothing items into the various trash containers and walks off, naked, with writing such as “male human, made in 1991” all over his body. Like most of the movies, this is very open to interpretation – and there are a lot of fun stories about the making of.

In order to get very particular camera angles, the young film crew borrowed a crane from Polish workers who were remarkably cheerful about the main actor and his bare necessities. There was all kind of advice on how to cover certain parts, which all proved impractical enough to be dropped later; however the crew jokingly reports having been “extremely careful choosing a time and place when there were no other people around, so they would not be classified as sex offenders”, and still “people found out about this and were taking pictures, so youtube has it.” All that was said with a lot of humour, and project supervisor Ruth was indeed happy to see the initially very shy actor joining the action with such openness.

All in all, most participants take home a broad spectrum of new experience, friendships, and inspiration for new projects. The tin foil treasure hunters declared their short film a trailer for a feature movie yet to come. Andri described film making as a very free method of communication, because he could say so much in pictures rather than words, which gave film more freedom compared to other media.

Also, we should keep up that freedom, use it to develop new things. How film making is best learned can still be debated. After all, there is no universal recipe. German filmmaker Margarete von Trotta told me some days later that she would mostly recommend prospective filmmakers to attend film schools indeed.

Even though I just met most of the young Nordic talents that one afternoon, my brain already grew wings through their creativity and outspokenness. Their event was presented as a humble side dish in the programme but proved to be a big enrichment on my film menu. The pan-Nordic perspective was priceless. It was nice to see so many young foreigners winging their way to Iceland rather than to a big city like Copenhagen.

Film will always be an international phenomenon, and many cultures and countries will have to work hand in hand to keep the medium and its themes up-to-date. Thus, the sponsors of the workshop invested in a good cause with a very concrete and gripping outcome. I am really looking forward to seeing more cooperations between the young Nordic talents.

Text: Frida Adriana Martins