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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, cinema Iceland


Interview with Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, the grand Icelandic director of Polite People (2010) and City State (2011). Olaf speaks in depth about both films and being a filmmaker far north, in Iceland.


ME: First, can you speak about how you got into writing and directing and producing for film?


OLAF: I was depressed, probably because I always take life much more seriously than needed. Out of that depression came a longing to create something and filmmaking just sort of was the choice. I did the "slave" circle, being a runner here and there, editing boring stuff and so on. What I'm most happy about is not going to film school. Instead I took a loan and founded Poppoli Pictures with my friends. And we've done four features and five docs, and we're not bankrupt, which is pretty dandy.


ME: LOL! So cool! I agree. You just went out and did it which is awesome. Most people, me included, went to film school route but really there is no formula except just doing it! Can you speak about Polite People (2010)? What is it about? What inspired you to write and direct this story?


OLAF: Polite People is about a desperate city slicker engineer cheats his way into a small farming community, pretending to know how to save them by re-financing their slaughterhouse not knowing that he's walking into a local world war of small-town politics and general misbehaving. As for inspiration - I grew up in Budardal Valley and know every inch of this little farm town. It's a typical country-side place where time seems to have left for a moment but will be back any minute. It was a profound pleasure to film in my hometown, especially since I've been traveling around the globe for years doing films here and there. I made this film because I missed my home and my childhood. Wanting to spend time there and meet the people again.


ME: Is there a particular message you'd like to get across with this film? And how do you hope the international audience will receive it?


OLAF: Polite People is, about un-polite people, today's generation of human beings which seems to severely suffer from self-preservation, self at all cost, that's why I drag politics into the story-line also, how back-stabbing can be a useful tool. It's cute when we do it in Iceland, because nobody protests anything here, no matter what happens in politics. So it's also a reflection on … well, I can't really go deeper into it. I try not to be too pre-occupied with the work I'm in. It's something along those lines. The message across the film I'm expressing … hmmm, we'll have to wait and see, usually I have nothing to say about it, it's just what the audience might possibly perceive.


ME: I love the idea of that. And there is nothing I love more than international cinema. I can’t wait to watch you film and learn about rural Iceland life. So cool! Can you tell us where it was filmed it and if you have any stories while filming?


OLAF: It was filmed on the west coast of Iceland, in my hometown where I grew up. Not sure if I have any stories from the set. There was fierce ping-pong tournament going on in the crew. Some people played poker, I was mainly over stressed pretending to know what I was doing dealing with a flashback of my childhood on every green straw I stepped on. It was surreal. But we're in post now and I that it looks like a decent film.


ME: Can you tell us about Icelandic film industry in general? Most people don’t know much about it, obviously. Are most films government subsidized?


OLAF: Many films are government supported, its tiny Film Fund here that has been cut almost in half after the bank crisis in Iceland. So many filmmakers will be doing their own-low budget stuff. The spirit in Icelandic filmmaking is amazing, it's such an effective business here that manifests a lot of docs, features and shorts, and many are going on tiny funds. Most filmmakers are workaholics here, hence the reason for high-production frequency. But we're also very young in our filmmaking here, so best is hopefully to come.


ME: I would say that filmmakers wherever they are have to be workaholics to get anything done so I can imagine it must be a big job in Iceland and also hard to get the world to know about it. But I cannot wait to see Polite People and also City State (2011), your next film. Can you please share with us news about your next film City State? This film looks incredibly intriguing! What will be about? What do you hope to achieve with this film? Are there any profound messages you want to express with it?


OLAF: Only thing I have story wise from the film is the synopsis from our website: A young bereaved woman with a badge, a mechanic with a vengeance, a crime kingpin with a heart condition and a corrupt narc officer playing both sides - are about to change each other’s lives forever. We're cutting that one also, and we honestly don't know if it'll work or how it will work. Shot low-budget with bunch of maniacs who were determined to get this done. I have no hopes for achieving anything, few years back, this would be a lie, but now it's true, I just do, and then other people want to participate with me, and that's the fun part. The film always takes a back-seat for a good staff. Plus this business is so clumsy egoistic, it's hard to make a good film that holds. The message with City State, hmmm, I'll pass on that one also, let the film attempt to interpret it.


ME: Good answer. It is a tough biz mixed with people who want to make art and others who want to be a name and make money. But, it can’t stop us. What would you say to new screenwriters, producers and directors worldwide. Can you tell people about how you do it?


OLAF: No I can't. Some would say leave your ego at the door, but you need it in there with you actually, at least part of the time. Some would say just go out and do, you can do that. What I'm starting to understand is that it'll take 95% of any filmmakers to make dozen bad films of any genre before they make a good one. So it is probably going out and doing, mess it up, failing in every single department of filmmaking many times, just makes you stronger, like going to the gym. The bad taste of humiliation and failure will always be there, they can be your best friends or enemies. Stay positive, admit that you're a failure before hand and you can't mess it up.


ME: Olaf, thank you! Great advice! It’s true! Every success in life is a result of previous failures. Thank for this fantastic inside to your views as a filmmaker from Iceland and a preview of your upcoming films. Any last words before we go?


OLAF: Live long and prosper? (Was just watching Star Trek)


ME: Love it! Interview by Vanessa McMahon on August, 15, 2020!

director/writer/producer Olaf de Fleur Johannesson



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