Your astounding short film, ‘Whale Valley’, captures the desolate pain of growing up in an isolated community in Iceland. To what extent is this autobiographical?
I partly grew up in a small fishing town in Iceland, not as isolated a place as in ‘Whale Valley’, but I still experienced both the fantastic freedom the countryside has to offer and the isolation. When I write, I always use some of my own experiences, but in the writing process the stories turn into fiction.
You directed your own script – the narrative unfolds with very little dialogue which emphasises the loneliness but also palpably highlights the bond between the two brothers. How did you go about directing the cast?
The approach to each actor is different, especially when working with non-professionals or kids. With the adult (professionals), the most important thing is selecting the right actor and learning how he interprets my words as I guide him, so we can have the same understanding when we shoot. The same goes for the kids and non-professionals. But for them the absolute key element is to have them understand that they are not responsible for a good performance, their responsibility is mainly to be positive, to try out what I ask them to do and to put their trust in me.
You use huge sweeps of beautiful yet barren landscape as a backdrop – did you always know this location and if not how did you find it?
I knew the valley as it used to have the only road leading to the town of my great grandmother. After a sea tunnel replaced the road, few people go into this valley now. We spent a good time scouting the whole area to find a location that had many variations in a small geographical distance. A place where we could solve the majority of our scenes within almost walking distance of each other. It allowed us to have more time shooting and mastering the scenes.
The whale looks too real to be CGI. Is it?!
It is actually a real whale that washed ashore in the west cost of Iceland and then we used CGI to bring it to life for the film.
Your coming-of-age feature film, ‘Heartstone’, has just been released this month in cinemas in France and on Amazon where it’s No.1 on the LGBT list https://amzn.to/2EDzyoK . It’s been described as an unflinching portrayal of early teenage emotions. Do you feel that you’ve found your filmmaking voice? What were the key lessons you learnt about directing long format?
The success of ‘Heartstone’ has been amazing and I am very grateful for how well it has been received. I like telling stories about young people -these years are so unique and we go through many life changing events over such a short period of time; discovering your first love, sexual awakening, the value of friendship, family and our self-identity.
As a director, I have found a certain work process that I like and a voice as an artist, but I still want my voice to keep on growing and evolving. I think the key lessons I took away from making ‘Heartstone’ is that preparation, positivity and healthy life style can bring me far in reaching my goals.
You’ve recently signed to The Sweet Shop – ideally what would be your wish list for work to direct out of the production company?
Narration and strong visual approach is something I value highly. Also, I do enjoy shooting in the nature and working with youngsters, so a combination of that would definitely be high on my wish list. I’m also very excited to be working with talented people and to do a variation of projects.
What are you currently working on?
I am developing my next feature film called ‘Chicken Boy’. It is a coming of age film about a group of misfit boys that use violence to solve their conflicts and achieve status among their peers. The film shows how these boys can both be supportive and close friends, willing to do almost anything for each other, but at the same time abusive and drag each other down. It deals with finding your own identity and having the courage to follow your own path.
Where are you living now and where do you feel most at home?
I am currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is a great city with a rich art scene and a lot of good coffee houses. I can use a bike as a main transport – something I really enjoy. However, I do feel most at home in the nature in Iceland. The mountains and valleys there are magical and I know nothing better than laying in a grassy hill, close to the sea and daydreaming about life and stories.
Written & Directed by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
Producers: Anton Máni Svansson, Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
Co-Producers: Darin Mailand-Mercado, Jacob Oliver Krarup, Rúnar Rúnarsson
Executive Producers: Kristinn Þórðarson, Magnús Viðar Sigurðsson, Kjartan Þór Þórðarson
Director of Photography: Gunnar Auðunn Jóhannsson
Editor: Anders Skov
Sound Designer: Gunnar Óskarsson
Art Director: Júlía Embla Katrínardóttir
Set Decorater: Freyja Vals Sesseljudóttir
Costume Designer: Helga Rós V. Hannam
Costumer: Arndís Ey Eiríksdóttir
Make-up Artist: Alma Ösp Arnórsdóttir
Assistant Director: Valgeir Gunnlaugsson
Script Supervisor: Jesper Vidkjær Rasmussen
Assistant Camera: Goði Már Guðbjörnsson
2nd Assistant Camera: Atli Kristófer Pétursson
Key Gaffer: Geir Magnússon
Gaffer: Sigurður “Bahama” Magnússon
Key Grip: Viktor Davíð Jóhannsson
Grip: Anton Smári Gunnarsson
Sound Re-Recording & ADR Mixer: Huldar Freyr Arnarson
Sound Recordist: Björn Viktorsson
Best Boy: Erlendur Sveinsson
Art Department Assistants: Ottó Gunnarsson, Sonja Björk Ragnarsdóttir, John Ingi Matta
Catering: Daði Jónsson, Álfrún Gísladóttir
VFX: Gunnar Karlsson with GunHil, Þorvaldur S. Gunnarsson
SFX: Haukur Karlsson
Colorist: Hannibal Lang
Music in film – “Bein leið” – Written by Kristján Kristjánsson and Performed by KK Band in 1992
Produced by Join Motion Pictures in co-production with Sagafilm & Fourhands Film
Supported by The Danish Film Institute / Filmworkshop, The Youth in Action Programme in Denmark, The Culture Council of West Iceland and The Icelandic Film Centre.