How Grandfather Set up His "Million Dollar Shot":
Negotiating Directorial Roles and Authorship in Ethnographic Filmmaking
Any filmmaking interested in life as it is experienced by others is grounded in an ongoing negotiation between the filmmaker/s and their protagonist/s. We ask ourselves and those we film– which images, stories and/or performances should we be collecting in order to build an effective film tale that speaks truth back to them? In this presentation, I look at how the protagonists themselves may take on directorial roles through such negotiations, and explore how we as filmmakers may embrace a spontaneous and even playful fluidity of authorship. My case study is my feature-length documentary film “Half Elf” (2020), which is about my ageing grandparents, Hulda and Trausti, both now recently deceased. When I was making this film, they had been sharing their lives on Icelandic shores for over seventy years. As Trausti’s one-hundredth birthday nears, he begins to search for a coffin and is eager to change his name to Elf. Meanwhile, Hulda tells him to move to a hotel, because she does not know of any Elf. He bursts out singing while she wants him to stop screaming. The process of filming this story demanded constant dialogue between me and my grandparents about how they should be portrayed. I needed to navigate our different visions and use the problems they presented to support the filmmaking and deepen the research. Some of the ideas I had in the beginning came to fade as some of theirs gained ground, and my grandfather's singing became a much bigger part of the final result than I had ever imagined.
Jón Bjarki Magnússon
Jón Bjarki Magnússon is a filmmaker with a background in journalism, poetry and anthropology. He studied creative writing at the University of Iceland and received his MA in Visual and Media Anthropology from Freie Universität, Berlin, in 2018. His works include award-winning journalism on the conditions of refugees and asylum-seekers in Iceland, a book of poetry, and a short film on friendship in cyberspace, “Even Asteroids Are Not Alone” (2018). Jón Bjarki´s journalistic work has appeared on various international media platforms and he is a regular contributor to the Icelandic bi-weekly newspaper Stundin. He also does project work for Filmmaking For Fieldwork (F4F™), an educational project offering training in audio-visual research methods, as well as ethnographic and documentary filmmaking. He is the founder of SKAK BÍÓFILM, a small Icelandic production company dedicated to making anthropological and artistic films. Jón Bjarki splits his time between Athens, Berlin and Reykjavík.