With nearly thirty-thousand digitized media artifacts currently held in the Icelandic Roots Special Collections, the riches to be had in the Treasure Chest are truly astonishing. Besides media, there are also histories, documents, stories, links, and more.
As promised in the last installment, this edition of “Gems in the Treasure Chest” takes a laser focus on a small slice of the collection: videos. To add a little challenge to the quest, I decided to make the selection even more difficult to fulfill. Just to see if it could be done mind you. I placed a further, possibly absurd requirement on my search.
The gems would need to be suitable for creating a “Hand-Curated Icelandic Film Festival.” And to add one final limitation to the search, perhaps destroying the chance of making the search a success, the Icelandic Film Festival “hidden” in the Special Collections must focus on three Icelandic artists working in three entirely different mediums.
Throwing caution to the wind, I impulsively added another layer of success-destroying restrictions into the mix. In addition to all the previous restrictions, now two of the artists must have been born in Iceland, the third born in the U.S. Two of the artists must have practiced their craft primarily in North America, while the other must practice in Iceland. I could even add that only one of the three artists must currently be alive.
But I won’t do that because, well, that sounds kinda crazy.
And yet, are these criteria so restrictive that I would be lucky enough to find a single qualifying video, let alone three?
And if failure is the end result, will I be forced to delete this entire edition of the “Gems” column and make a last-minute and frantic substitute search for vínarterta references in the Special Collections only to stir up controversy over the amount of cardamon needed and the proper number of layers for the perfect vínarterta?
With no malice toward vínarterta, I’d rather not “go there,” so in answer to those doubt-filled questions squabbling in my brain I say, “Piece of Cake.”
But you, dear reader, have the final say, as always. Read on to see if failure is the biggest part of this exercise:
The Hand-Curated Icelandic Film Festival
As the curtain rises revealing the big screen, and the lights dim, the projector light reveals the title of our first entry, “An Afternoon with Jóhann Eyfells,” (IR# I319121).
Jóhann is an amazing dynamo of a man. When this short film was made, he was 93 years old. He was a practicing sculptor for over half a century, who made huge volcanic-looking shapes out of metal, concrete, and other dense and heavy materials.
His finished pieces were so large and heavy that he had to use construction equipment to move his pieces into place. He had large cranes on his acreage in Texas where he developed his outdoor sculpture museum, but his favorite tool was the much smaller Bobcat. Watching him maneuver it with a gentle hand, it was clear that he loved that humble but powerful tool.
Eyfells was also the subject of another documentary called “A Force in Nature,” which was one of the offerings of the Icelandic National League of North America’s Icelandic Film Series.
Jóhann was born in Iceland, moved to North America where he taught and did most of his important work as an artist. Watching this film was a rare treat to witness the final days of a gentle soul but a giant of a philosopher-artist.
The next film in our festival
We hear an evocative heartfelt song performed by Icelandic Singer-Songwriter, Ásgeir. With his simple arrangement of acoustic guitar and another guitarist singing harmony, his haunting song “Going Home” drew many favorable comments including this one: “I decided a while ago, that this song will be my Going to Iceland anthem whenever I go there.:-).”
The opening lines set the stage:
“Home, I’m making my way home
My mind’s already there
Yes my mind is
Light, you’re with me in the dark
Light my way at night
Let your light shine…”
You can hear the Icelandic version and see the Icelandic text HERE.
The song is well worth a listen or two, before we segue to our final philosopher/artist, the self-described curmudgeon/poet with one foot in the U.S. and the other in Iceland.
Son of Minneota, Minnesota - Grandson of Iceland
In the documentary “Bill Holm Through the Windows of Brimnes,” we meet a truly unique thinker. Holm (IR# I549625), son of Minneota, Minnesota was a passionate observer of all things: people, places, the natural world, the mind.
He is interviewed by IR Member and retired professor, Wayne Gudmundson (IR# I540333).
He chronicled those observations in well-chosen words using the medium of poetry and essay to share his discoveries. Like the Arctic Tern which he admires for its incredible round-trip journey each year from the South Pole to the North Pole and back, He travelled from his home base in Minnesota to Iceland to spend summers near Hofsós in order to gaze upon the sea through the windows of his modest home and to think about the world and life. Many of his best meditations came through with gentle humor tempered by strong words and live on in his collected works.
While he has shared much with the world through his words, in the film he prefaces the reading of his poem “An American in Iceland,” with this lament about the thin fortunes afforded the practicing poet.
He says he always recommends his book (Windows of Brimnes) to everyone because “I’d like about 200,000 of you to buy copies of it so I get some royalties so I’m not entirely broke! Taxes went up in Iceland—we’ve got to do something—I either have to hold up a bank or write more exciting poetry.”
Bill Holm died in 2009 at the relatively young age of 65, never able to act on his pledge to rob a bank. He did write some exciting poetry, and this documentary showcases some of those lines and the life of a man who could find universal truths in the most mundane elements of life. His great talent was in using the written word to illuminate for us the deeper things of life that we often miss as we hurry through our days. We are much the richer for those long summer hours Holm spent sitting in silence, looking at life and the sea through his window in Brimnes, lost in thought.
With these three films, a wonderful and lively hand-crafted Icelandic Film Festival concludes. Three artists, three different mediums, two from Iceland, one from North America, two practicing their craft in North America one in Iceland. All sons of Iceland. And nary a mention of vínarterta. A worthy film festival successfully sourced from the video collections of Icelandic Roots.
What would your film festival from the Icelandic Roots video collection look like? If you take the challenge, let us know what you come up with. Send an email to ROB to share your collection. In the meantime, with no holiday vínarterta left, it is time to check the cardamom supply.
Here is a view of the Special Collections Menu in the Icelandic Roots Database