Blue Lagoon and bread bowl soup – interview with Brett Gregory, writer and director of „Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós”

Bartek: First of all I wanted to ask you about the idea of your movie. Where did it come from?

Brett Gregory: When Eyjafjallajokull erupted last year so also did the idea for ‘Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós’.  Initially Nic Jackson, our cameraman, and Alistair Topping, our co-producer, travelled to Iceland to film the volcano and its surrounding landscape simply for the value of the beautiful and dramatic footage this would produce.  However, since Iceland has a very distinct and exciting music scene, I proposed we also try and interview some of the key people involved in order to understand better how a relatively small country like Iceland is able to produce popular music which is known the world over.

Bartek: A few words about the crew – how many people have been working on „Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós”? What budget have you had?

Brett Gregory: In total there was a crew of four: myself (writer, director, editor, producer), Nic Jackson (camera, lighting, editor, graphics, co-producer), Alistair Topping (interviewer, camera assistant, co-producer) and Jey Kazi (post-production sound).  Directly the budget was around £2000 (travel, accommodation, food etc.) but indirectly it was much more than this when you take into account the costs of the camera equipment and labour during the shoot and during post-production.

Bartek: What about the title of the movie? Sigur Rós name electrifies and is well known worldwide… But this movie is not about that band. Their name is only a starting point…

Brett Gregory: Since we in the UK only really know of Bjork and Sigur Rós, Serious Feather were interested in attempting to break this mainstream stereotype by investigating what other great bands and artists Iceland is currently producing and which music fans like ourselves would enjoy.  Thus, it made sense to give the documentary a title which would reflect this focus as well as to draw in a wider audience’s attention.

Bartek: There are many good icelandic bands and artists in your movie – some of them are already famous, others are about to open the door of wide audience from all over the world. Tell me, what was the attitude of Icelanders and icelandic artists? How the cooperation with them was working out?

Brett Gregory: The Icelanders we met and worked with were very relaxed, self-aware, talented, productive and helpful.  If they weren’t then we would never have been able to complete ‘Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós’ to the high standard it now is.  We were open and honest with them and made it very clear that we had no financial agenda; we simply informed them that we wished to explore and promote Icelanders and their culture on behalf of music fans around the world and, happily, they responded to this very positively.

Bartek: What was the most surprising thing for you when filming in Iceland?

Brett Gregory: As well as the stunning landscape and the kindness of Icelanders, two of the most memorable encounters was with the Blue Lagoon and bread bowl soup!

Bartek: Icelandic music is doing very well lately. For example in Poland we’ve had two festivals full of icelandic bands and artists last year. Two weeks ago we’ve seen Bloodgroup on two shows in Poland… Other concerts are still to come. Have you noticed simillar situation in UK or worldwide?

Brett Gregory: I do believe the next generation of Icelandic artists are beginning to make their mark in the UK.  For example, both Hafdis Huld and Olafur Arnalds successfully toured the UK recently and even played in Manchester, our home city.  One of my hopes is that ‘Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós’ helps introduce exciting original artists like this to a new young audience in the UK who are beginning to grow bored of the standardised predictability of TV music shows like X Factor.

Bartek: Working on that movie, listenting to icelandic music, talking to artists… have you found the answer why icelandic music is so fascinating
and so good?

Brett Gregory: One of the reasons we discovered that Icelandic music is so diverse, experimental and at such a high standard is due to the fact that all Icelandic school children have to learn to play a musical instrument such as a piano or guitar at a young age as a part of their formal curriculum.  Thus, those who choose to follow music as a profession will logically be highly accomplished and, as a result, the world of music benefits tremendously from this policy.

Bartek: Does Serious Feather have any future plans connected with Iceland?

Brett Gregory: As well as encouraging passionate people like your readers to continue to promote ‘Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós’ via their Facebook, Twitter and online blogs etc. in order to draw wider attention to such a wonderful country and its culture, we have discussed re-visiting Iceland in the future as a location for something like a low-budget feature film since its landscape is so utterly cinematic.  In the meantime however, following the ongoing success of ‘Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós’, people are very eager for us to explore and promote the independent music scene of a second European country as a part of our not-for-profit ‘Beyond …’ documentary series.  As a result, we are now actively seeking the necessary funding to produce something like ‘Poland: Beyond Vader’ or ‚Sweden: Beyond Abba’ etc.

Bartek: Thank you very much for this interview Brett. We hope to see you guys on screening ‘Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós’ at one of the polish movies, culture or music festivals.