Anna Saeunn has had plenty to do and both made her own works and collaborated on others, since she graduated from Acting at The Film School. And with an exciting year ahead, it was ideal to get in touch with her
What is your first memory connected to films?
That is a really good question. I would say that the historically based Disney cartoons were the first to appeal to me and get me to watch again and again, laugh again and again and cry again and again; “The Lion King”, “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas”. Before that I do not remember watching many movies but rather television programs on RUV, which was the only television station available back in Bardardalur where I grew up. “Baywatch” (of course!), “The X-files”, “Life goes on” and “Road to Avonlea” are few of the television shows I remember being hooked on as a kid, how ever appropriate the subjects might have been on my undeveloped brain.I have two older brother that I happened to watch a lot with and films like “True Lies” and “The last action hero” with Arnols Schwarzenegger were played quite often in the old VHS. Of course not forgetting the “Gremlins” trilogy that I can not fathom how often I have watched since I was very young and you could say that those films in a twisted way reflect my inner personality that is constantly combating between good and bad. Ok, maybe a bit dramatic to state that, but sci-fi and horror have always had a part in my heart along with historical shows and films, periodicals, and you could say that all the projects I am developing at the moment are either one….
First of all, at the time I wanted to delve deeper into acting. I had taken a short, but intense acting course for films at the New York Film Academy in LA two years previously that gave me a lot and I felt that this was something I wanted to explore further, but I lacked self confidence to evolve and put myself forward. I was still not completely convinced that this was the right way forward and thought that I did not have the confidence to go through the entrance auditions at LHI, and there was something encapsulating about connecting to the film form, but since childhood I had been playing around with story telling in different forms, including shooting sketches, which was to me one of the best and most fun way to share the creative force. But at the time I chose acting for many reasons, I wanted to get better into it, know myself and my body better and at least learn to use the tools in the actors arsenal. At the time the idea of directing a film was a bit absurd as the film landscape was, and is to a degree still today, mostly male dominated when it came to directors – women were more visible as actors, and even then perhaps not in very exciting roles. That was somehow the image I had of this world, and I saw that my role in it would mostly be through acting. I quickly realized though that I would probably never work as an actor and as the programs in the school mix acting with film making, I got a good base and experience in making films and that lit a fire in me that eventually won me over. Even though I was in the acting department, we had to make short films almost every semester and then a big graduation project that we both had to produce and act in – so there were quite a few trials and errors you went through in many areas, which I think is a great part of me being pretty versatile and knowing many facets of the process of film making, which is a quality I utilize in my film making, but also know it can be a hindrance.
So many ! Jeez! We were 12 together in class and as will happen with such groups we were very close during the studies. You can not really avoid it when you work every day for 2 years with people, work that demands so much of you both physically and mentally and you experience both the best and the worst of your fellow students, The revelation is unavoidable and the shield simply has to drop. Which made our studies so beautiful, because we were all so different but harmonized I think as a unit really well, at least no one left the studies which at the time I think was not common. I still warm up when thinking of those years and my class mates, perhaps because some time has passed and many things are forgotten and the good memories are stronger – at least for me, but is has to be said that we we went many different ways, being an eclectic group that still all had this desire to learn acting and share the creative force in that way. I I personally wrestled with depression during the studies and I know I would have gotten even more out of it if I had leveled my mentality a bit, but I did none the less receive a great deal from it. For instance the experiment we did in the fourth semester with Thorsteinn Bachmann. That was the course were many of us got their baptism of fire and the silent walk we we went with him was an adventure on another level. At the time my favorite subject was acting history as instead of solely looking at the history through our brain we were encouraged to be out on the florr and explore it with our bodies, something one had to get used to and learn, but in many of those classes I experienced a complete flow and a sort of enlightenment when it came to performance. And we must not forget about our warm-up games like SOT and ZOOM that two teachers assigned to us and got both the best and the worst from us.
As it was in those years we were mostly responsible for the progress of our films, but had an instructor through the process. The main problem for the acting department was getting enough technical assistance from other students, because they were both limited and often “fully booked” very early on and also busy making their own films. That is one of the struggles I will not forget. My graduation film was a musical short that was at the same time a thriller and musical and reflected at the time some of my character but I was pregnant and about to graduate, at a crossroads and wanted to “get out” certain elements that I had wanted to do in film for a long time, including a sour story line with sung scenes. I am glad I got a chance to express that in school and get it out of the way.The film is called “Flokkusal” (Wandering soul) and was written by me, my sister Hjordis and Karl Palsson, an old neighbor from the country and who was at the time also a student at The Film School. I at first had this incredible sci-fi idea with time travel and a very heavy story line, but I never found myself in that process and thankfully this idea came out and we developed the script together. The shoot was set for the beginning of June and of course not making things any easier they were set at the outer limit of Odadahraun, not far from where I was raised in Bardardalur. I was lucky enough to get a director and cameraman form the north, Skuli Gautason and Gunnlaugur Starri, but almost everyone else had to be “shanghaied” up north. Then it was either snowing or raining during the shoot so it was a challenge and pregnant Anna took away the lesson of not complicating things more then need be, especially when it came to a school project with almost no funding, and being six months pregnant. That was at least definitely one of the lessons. But what an amazing time I had making the film and I was very proud of it when it was premiered despite many technical faults, I had for instance done an all-nighter while color correcting the film before the deadline, that is simply something a pregnant woman should have skipped, but post production had its difficulties as time was short and my technical know-how was still limited. My graduation project was still an important challenge in film making but perhaps a little less in acting as I had no thought in playing my part along with everything else I was responsible for, but that might show the essence of where my interest really was.
I graduated 6 months pregnant with my first child so what came after was really giving birth and raising a child. I took time off from everything while I did that, did open one online store and ran it in the meantime, and took on being an assistant director for one film school project the following spring and then directed one film school film in acting the year after that. I had then taken one semester in National studies at the university but that fall I was offered a job on set of the film “Hrutar” (Rams) by Grimur Hakonarson, that was actually shot at my childhood home in Bardardalur, which undoubtedly put me ahead among candidates available for working in production assistance, as the film was made by assistance from just about all my neighbors in the valley. This project was for me an incredible experience, really my entrance to the field as I got to know the base group of people I have been working with since. Then it was an added adventure when the film was chosen to be a part of the Cannes film festival and I traveled with the film to assist in the process and got first hand experience in how the top of the film business functions – then of course the film is awarded and no one back home in the valley, that hardly anyone even knows exists, believes that the film shot in their little country side had been awarded one of the most prestigious awards in todays film landscape. I can not but admit that this was a boost to my self confidence and my CV. After that I worked in production management for a small film production company, Askja Films, where I got precious knowledge in the process of making short films with higher budgets than I had known before and got a better insight into the world of film festivals, script development, marketing, settlements, contracts, book keeping, shooting schedules…. I even won one pitching competition at Cannes in between… The list is endless. The year after I moved back up north where I I founded my production company NyArk Media , as I had a great desire to also build up the film industry in the north. I directed two documentary shorts that both were premiered at Skjaldborg documentary film festival and co-directed two full length documentaries. I then produced two shorts films within a short time period, “Umskipti” og “Þögn Silungsins”and started to develop my own short film to direct. In between I project managed the organization “Stelpur Rokka Nordurland” and took on various projects during, studied at the musical school in Akureyri and project managed concerts and was a part of script writing and directing of a musical, I then formed with a coworker a project to support young female musicians in Iceland and Lithuania and developed the business idea http://filmnorthiceland.is . This summer I moved with my family back to the south side to build on my career as a director and this fall I was a part of the Talent Lab at RIFF with my short film, where a number of film makers from all over the world got together and learnt the many facets of film making and last but not least, enhanced their networking.
I am still working on two short films that we shot last year, one is ready and has been premiered and has already won an award, but the other one is in its final stages and we hope to premiere in Europe early next year, but the follow up at film festivals is an unavoidable part of making a film and an ongoing job, for at least 1 or 2 years after the film is ready. I directed two music videos with the singer Jonina Bjort this summer. I have been battling severe exhaustion this past year, and you can even say I have been burnt out and I have only had limited energy and had focus that on the most important things, in my case finishing these short films and handing in book keeping settlements and more. The illness is a subject for another interview in a different venue but the good news is that I am strongly coming along and look forward to 2019 ! I am working a small contract work as a public relations for the film “Tryggð” (Loyalty) directed by Asthildur Kjartansdottir produced by Askja Films and Rebella Filmworks and will be premiered in January, but I worked on the casting process of the film when I worked at Askja Films in 2015, so I really enjoy and I treasure being able to come back into the fold at the end of the project, but the film is based on the book “Tryggðarpantur” by Audur Jonsdottir. And I am doing production work on a trailer for a full length film that will be shot around the holidays, a British production with an Icelandic director.
The future is unbelievably exciting ! I think it is safe to say that the last years have taught me a lot, both bad and good, as life is, especially when you decide to go a bit off the grid, have a variable income, travel so much for projects, and have to keep your family going and both friends and family connections working somehow as well. My biggest lesson of the last years is to take one day at a time, realize that I can not do everything and take everything on and I do not have to – that still does not mean I can do nothing at all. I am basically a sort of workaholic and have to work hard to keep the work/life balance, and it is still a project that I struggle with, but getting better at all the time and I live by that. The future holds incredibly exciting things; my first short film as a director, which is expected to be pretty well funded and I take that on in a new year with everything that has gone on in the past years and do my very best to make a short film that reflects me as an idealist and director, and also be able to get the best from everyone that will be working with me. The film is called “Zoo-I-Side” and is a sci-fi film that takes place in a dystopian future – not taking on the simplest process, I know, but it is a bit simpler to execute than it sounds. The next weeks will go into financing, hiring actors and crew, but Magga Vala, who was also at The Film School, will be in charge of shooting. The film was chosen along with 13 other projects to a large co-production market for the short film festival in Clérmont Ferrand in France in February where I will have the chance to pitch the film for a large group of people and get training and visibility and have the chance to find co-workers, therefor being a wonderful opportunity and a boost for the process and myself. Last fall I also took a course in script writing for television in re-training options at The Film School available for graduated students, and there I started developing the television show “2118”, that I will keep working on and I foresee using the knowledge that is available at The Film School in the next steps of development and returning for re-training courses regularly, it proved to serve me well at the place I am at today. Besides that I have a dream of making a known Icelandic book series into television programs in the future, but I wont delve into that at the moment.