I’m going to be 40 next month. For a while I couldn’t think or say that without flinching a bit. I have had it instilled in me there are certain markers you hit at certain ages of certain life experiences. Once you pass that age, those experiences expire or there is nothing new beyond that. But the more I meet women who are in their early 40s, the more I realize 40 can just be the beginning. That is how I felt when I met Icelandic director Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, who’s screening her film “Band” at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Álfrún is an actress, writer, and also a music artist, who is part of an all-female band called the Post Performance Blues Band (ThePPBB). She felt compelled to make a documentary about her band. The other bandmates are Hrefna Lind Heimisdóttir and Saga Sigurðardóttir. In the film she shows the spirit of their band, and how they individually show great strengths as artists, but together they are an eclectic sensation. They are a sensation because these bad-ass women are following their dreams, and that inspires me as a soon to be forty-something. It’s also in a way a coming of age story, how you are never finished in this life as an artist or in your evolvement as a person. I’ve never seen anything like it before onscreen, and was so happy I could speak with her about this film.
What inspired this film?
The band, obviously, inspired the film. I felt like I was living inside of a film, because I truly find my fellow bandmates such inspiring artists. I did believe in what we were doing, even though we often had very few people in the audience. I think it was kind of like this survival mechanism for me to imagine a camera being present in these moments that felt kind of hopeless. I thought it wasn’t in vain, if there was a camera documenting this humiliation. But because I also believed in what we were doing. I thought the music was great and the performances were great, and it was something that felt so important to me. It’s with this feminist act as well, the band. Women around 40 behaving in a playful, even an over the top way with a message that ‘it is OK to fail, and that life is just hard and messy.’ I just thought if this film succeeds then at least it is not in vain.
Can you talk about the challenge of being a woman in a more male dominated industry.
I think it’s easier for men, they can be silly, and they can be playful, and they are allowed to go out of the home and do their band things and go touring. But as a woman, especially if you have children, it’s like can you be a mother, and an up and coming pop star at the age of 40? And be like an actual accepted artist? It’s like you’re at that stage of being a beginner again. That’s also something that I find quite fascinating. Like when you get older you might want to try new territories. But I also sometimes feel that I’m new in this world. I’ve only seen half of it, and I want to try something new. But often we feel like we should be grown ups and we should be really responsible, and like a know it all. But I always feel like I’m discovering something new, and trying new things, and I want to give myself the license to be a beginner again. Also, us, as a band, we are struggling because we don’t know how to behave as “a band”, in a way. Like we are total outsiders. I don’t know if it is because we are a women, it’s also because we’re new at it. But it is definitely a male dominated world, and some feel like the guys have an easier time in a way. Like they can fail and be silly, but we have to be perfect or sexy, and we have to be “strong” women. Like maybe I want to be a tender and soft woman? Can I be that?
Struggling as a female music artist is similar as being a female filmmaker, don’t you think?
Yes and also we make different films then men. We’re not going to make the same films, thank god. It’s our time now.
Talk about Iceland! One of my favorite places, I loved being immersed in this country again in this film. What were you trying to bring to the screen with representing your own country?
That’s really interesting because for me it’s the most normal place in the world. I know a lot of people think of it has this magical place, but for me, it’s just my home. So in a sense I really don’t feel like I was really trying to show people Iceland. If this is Iceland and you’re picking up on it, it’s just because this is where we are based. Of course it holds us and inspires us, definitely, but I wasn’t trying to make a film about Iceland. And I mean of course, I could have made a film where I over exploit the beautiful landscapes, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. It’s a city film as well, it’s mainly set in Reykjavík. It’s also the gritty side of things, like you see the graffiti and the city streets.
What do you hope people see in your film?
I want them to feel inspired to maybe step outside the box, and be playful as an adult. So I hope they see hope, and friendship, and something refreshing. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Any advice for emerging female and non-binary filmmakers?
This is a good question, because “Band” is my first film. I am an actress and I’ve done a lot of theater, and writing, but I never learned filmmaking, and I didn’t go to film school. But I think there are so many ways to begin a film career. My way into filmmaking was just making the film that was inside of me. I was not trying to make a film like somebody else. You have to have a good story, and you have to have a story that you must tell. And it has to be you who tells that story. I think that is something you’re picking up on. It feels true because it’s very true to me. That should be the same for any emerging filmmaker, somebody who has a strong story to tell, it needs to be told through your vision. I really want to see the world with your eyes. I want to see the way you see the world. I think that always makes it special and genuine. Even though you haven’t seen all of the films in the world, or read the screenwriting books, or have been to film school, if you have a vision, that’s what is important. Also, really get help from some people and talk about it. I think it’s very important to talk about it, to see if people are interested or engaged in what you are saying when you describe the film, and then you will find the way.
Anything coming up you’d like to share?
I’ve written a script for a new film, it’s fiction this time. I thought I was going to be writing a documentary script, but it kind of changed. So it’s called “Shitballs”, it’s a species, a rare species of algae called “shitballs”, and they are round green little balls. They’re all over Iceland. I’m obsessed with this species, so I wrote a whole film script about it.