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

“We are just going to show our audience the world”


- Cineuropa met up with Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir, co-founder of the Akranes-based Iceland Documentary Film Festival, who is busy preparing its second edition

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

The second edition of IceDocs, an event originated by Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir, Heiðar Mar Björnsson and Hallur Örn Árnason, and scheduled to take place from 15-19 July, might be more of a local affair this year due to the pandemic. But on the screen, it promises to break all the borders. We talked to co-founder Halldórsdóttir to find out more.

Cineuropa: It’s an interesting combination you are offering this year: from acclaimed films such as Always Amber [+see also:
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and Self Portrait [+see also:
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to a proper town tour. And a pub quiz!
Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir: The whole concept started with my colleagues and me meeting in a cinema, where we were watching an Icelandic documentary. We thought there might be a lack of documentary festivals in our country, basically, and wanted to combine international films with the local environment. For the atmosphere, a lot of ideas came from MakeDox – our sister festival in Macedonia. When you go there, it’s like entering a magical kingdom. You get to know everyone, and that’s what we wanted to have, too. When you come to IceDocs, we can’t offer you the biggest festival, but we can offer a good experience. Now, during COVID-19, we won’t have any international guests, so we decided to extend the same courtesy to our local audience and show them what we are all about.

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Established festivals forget about their local communities sometimes, tending to the stars and hosting big events instead. Was it always your priority?
We are still building a new audience, and ours is certainly not familiar with festivals, let alone international ones. Frankly, if a similar event suddenly came to my town, I would be intimidated myself. Last year, we relied on the filmmakers to create the atmosphere, and now, we have to rely on the local audience. We need to attract them and show them it’s a safe, welcoming space that we are creating here. Hopefully, we will be able to do that.

We also thought about them when selecting the films – ones that are perhaps a bit more accessible to the audience. We are always looking for creative documentaries, different from what you see on TV, and we don’t care about premieres or where they come from. Iceland is such a small market, and the only channel for these films would be either the RIFF or local arthouse cinemas. There is a whole universe out there that we would never get to see!

Trying to forge a relationship with a new audience can be exciting, but it can also be a struggle. What would you say was the biggest challenge? Without even thinking about the pandemic, as that’s a bit of a given.
In Iceland, we kind of forgot about COVID-19 for a minute, and then it changed again last week. But people have been attending some events, like football matches, so I don’t think that would be our biggest problem. It’s just that our audience hasn’t seen films like these before. They always say they are “a bit weird” [laughs]. Our festival is held in what used to be a fishing village and is now an industrial town, with about 7,000 people around. It might be only 45 minutes from the capital, but it’s a whole different culture.

Which is something your guest filmmakers probably love!
Exactly. Our viewers give them some very honest feedback! They are not interested in technicalities. We didn’t have a massive audience last year, but everyone I met couldn’t wait for it to happen again, to have that exchange. We’ve decided that we are just going to show our audience the world. That’s why we have a category called “This Earth”, which basically says: “This is what documentaries can do for you.” This is how they can look, what they can say about the human condition. Last year, our programme was bigger – as now also the Cannes Marché du Film influenced the availability of some titles – so we managed to sneak in a few experimental films. That’s our aim as well – to get the audience to trust us, show them we have great films, and then sneak in some that they will hopefully love after they have seen them. We are a very manipulative team!

I am curious about how you would like the festival to evolve. Or maybe you don’t actually want it to at all?
We wanted to keep it small, for at least the first five years, and slowly build up the audience. But last year’s edition went so well – with international interest exceeding local, by far – that we were actually supposed to have more people coming over. We also started to think about having an industry sidebar, introducing some networking. But I don’t mind coming back to our original plan, and anyway, I don’t think it would be healthy if we were to start growing too fast. We are happy with what we can show this year, even though this new situation is hard – especially as some of our team members are stuck abroad and couldn’t participate in the planning. We miss them a lot. But we kept our competition sections and will have a statue made by our local blacksmith, even if it’s just to say: “Congratulations, you just won something.” We asked him to make it small, so it can always fit in the carry-on luggage.

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