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Emma Mortimore visits IceDocs with a Bursary

Emma Mortimore has worked in film exhibition for over 15 years and has recently set up Multistory Film to bring the best documentary cinema to Edinburgh and beyond, which she is currently planning to develop into an annual festival. Emma applied for and received a Film Hub Scotland Bursary to attend IceDocs, a new festival in Iceland. Read more about our Bursaries here, and apply for your own.

Here's Emma's blog about her experience. If you’re interested in working with her, please contact her directly: multistoryfilm@gmail.com.

The small town of Akranes, approximately 50km from Reykjavik, at first seems an incongruous location for the inaugural Iceland Documentary Film Festival (17-21 July 2019), but the organisers were clearly on to a secret they generously shared with attendees and I doubt any of us could now imagine it taking place anywhere else. Founded on an all but disappeared fishing economy, the town hasn’t yet benefited from tourism in a similar way to other areas of Iceland. However, its size, atmosphere and distractions made it the perfect base for a festival that, even in its first edition, paired a strong outward-looking vision with a warm, inclusive and informative approach to all its guests. It has the added benefit of Bióhöllin, a cinema built in 1942 by an enterprising fishing magnate, which still stands almost unchanged 77 years later, and provided a great viewing experience, along with a giant screen at Tónberg, the town’s music school. I learned the cinema fact on a walking tour led by the very amusing former headteacher of one of the founders, whose involvement pretty much sums up the spirit of the place.

It’s taken two years of planning to get IceDocs to this point and it’s a hugely ambitious project for the three founders who run it in their spare time: Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir (formerly of Reykjavík International Film Festival), Hallur Örn Árnason (independent documentary filmmaker) and Heiður Mar Björnsson (entrepreneur and filmmaker). It is clearly a labour of love and their passion filters through to the excellent team who assist them and the films and activities they curated.

The programme was ambitious, with 24 full and mid-length features (half of which were in competition), 15 shorts (6 in competition) plus special screenings, a children and families programme, Horizon North youth workshop, Let’s Talk Docs daily filmmaker discussions and a retrospective of Icelandic documentary pioneer Þorgeir Þorgeirson.

Particular film highlights for me were the compassionate Bruce Lee & the Outlaw (Joost Vanderbrug) – which won both the Jury and Audience Awards, – the visually stunning Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov), the sometimes nail-biting 4 Years in 10 Minutes (Mladen Kovačević), the humorous and informative Hamada (Eloy Dominguez Seren) and How Big is the Galaxy? (Ksenia Elyan), the expansive Human Shelter (Boris Benjamin Bertram) and the hugely entertaining (and Jury prize-winning) short All Inclusive (Corina Schwingruber Illić). I also very much enjoyed discovering Þorgeirson’s work which I hope to be able to share with a Scottish audience in the future.

Aside from watching great films, the festival facilitated natural and meaningful exchanges between like-minded professionals from across the documentary universe. I struggle to think of a time when I’ve had such interesting discussions and shared so much laughter and joy (and the occasional tear) with people I’ve just met. This is currently one of the aims of the festival going forward, to connect people and help them develop their projects and, having got off to such a flying start, I am sure that there will be some very interesting results.

Sitting in Edinburgh reflecting on the experience, IceDocs almost feels like a dream. It was a truly magical experience and one that could well become addictive. For my own personal development, I found it inspiring, encouraging and nurturing. I have no doubt that Ingibjörg was right when she said at the closing ceremony that this ‘small seed’ will in 100 years grow into ‘a huge oak’ and I look forward to following the festival’s development along the way. I urge anyone with an interest in documentary to attend; the programme is as unpredictable and mesmerising as the Icelandic scenery and the welcome as warm as the water that bubbles out from beneath it. 


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