L

Let’s Talk About Minorities! – An Interview with Nadia Abraham, the Founder of the Faroe Islands International Minority Film Festival

The number of film festivals is constantly increasing, and now the Faroese Islands also has its own share in the festival circuit. The Faroe Islands International Minority Film Festival had its very first edition with a focus on Black Lives Matter in 2017. Cinema Scandinavia sat down with its founder, Nadia Abraham, to get to know the initiative a bit better.

Why did you decide on founding a minority film festival on the Faroe Islands?

I had both personal and professional motivation. I did some festival work in Denmark with another festival, but found out that my passion was more on my home front. I’m biracial, my father is a black Palestinian, a Muslim, and my mother is a native Faroese. I grew up in Tórshavn where the majority of the population is white, and I’d say the country is still very limited when it comes to integration and cultural diversity. There is a lack of knowledge of these issues, and minorities, such as people of colour (POC) or queer people, are not represented enough in films and mainstream media. So I wanted to challenge the status quo concerning cultural, religious, sexual, and all kinds of diversity.

So one can say that your personal motivation was stronger than your professional one…

Yeah, we can say that. Growing up there, I struggled a lot with internalised racism, also because of being a queer person. When I lived there, you did not want to be queer. In a small community, you can be sure that everybody talks and words spread like cancer. I just didn’t want that to become my image.

So to expand on my motivation a bit more, I can say that my aim is to bring more people of colour and more people of colour who are queer onto the screen. Trans visibility does not really get a fair discussion, especially because there is only one cinema in Tórshavn and only mainstream films are screened there. And, in those mainstream films, you only get to see the story of a blond girl and a dark-haired guy. Therefore, at the festival, we show films that hardly make it there. We screen different kinds of documentaries and fiction films as well as indie and studio films. So we presented Tom of Finland, The Handmaiden and The Wound last year, for example.

I’m wondering if the situation is better there now…

Yes, sort of. There is a lot of Islamophobia these days, but the country is more diverse – especially my hometown Tórshavn. Today queer people have a bar where they can go and feel safe. It’s only one venue, still, a huge step in the right direction.

Do you still live in Tórshavn?

No, I moved away when I was 18-19 years old, which was the best decision I’ve ever made probably. Therefore, I have a team there and I also work with Bard Ydén, who is based in Norway and Berlin, when organising the festival.

What can you tell us about the difficulty of funding the festival?

NA: It wasn’t the easiest task to ever complete. The Nordic Culture Fund and the Nordic Culture Point were thrilled, and the Ministry of Education, Research and Culture also donated some money. They could see that there was a need to do some kind of work like this. The Film Fund, which is under the Ministry of Education, Research and Culture, only supports film production. I also applied for the Municipality twice and got declined twice, which was disappointing. And even the Faroese Islands is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Danish Film Institute doesn’t support Faroese film festivals. Besides that, I had a meeting with the Nordic House in the Faroe Islands, but they founded their own film festival a few months before I did.

You focus on minorities, still, there is a great variety of films out there choose from. How do you programme the festival?

Last year, Bard Ydén, who has been in the business for two decades, and I did all the programming with some assistance from Luis Pellecer as well. We used our networks, visited film festivals, talked to other programmers and also had films submitted through FilmFreeway. All films had to deal with the representation of queer, POC or other minorities or had some Scandinavian theme. We ended up with 300 films to watch.

Was it easy to decide on which films to screen at the festival?

It was tough. When you have a small programme like ours, it is always more difficult to choose films. However, sometimes you just know you need a film. Unfortunately, there were some we didn’t get even though worked really hard to get those.

How did the audience respond to the programme?

There were a couple of people who were so happy and ecstatic that we were doing the festival. That was such a great feeling since I had never had someone approaching me and saying that they were craving something for this. Queer people could finally see themselves on screen. Our screening for kids was also a huge success; we showed Richard the Stork. That was the most popular screening; people just kept getting in. There were also two people who came to the Faroe Islands just because of the festival, which was exciting. So we definitely had some good reactions, and probably there were some people who were less happy because of the festival happening. But I’m not going to focus on that.

How many visitors did you have?

In total we had 350 people come throughout the festival. We had hoped for more obviously, but it was the first year. I have hired a marketing director, Siri Sørensen, recently, so I hope she can get the word out more.

Did you also host film-makers?

Yes, we had a lot of them coming. One of our missions is actually to get as many film-makers as possible to visit the Faroe Islands and meet the Faroese audience. We want to give the audience a chance to speak to the directors, actors, etc. and ask them about their films. This way the connection between the audience and the films can become a bit deeper.

What kind of side events did you organise?

We hosted a panel on women in film called Dealing with a World in Crisis – Women in Film as well as had an art installation and a photo exhibition. We also managed to organise a Q&A session after all of our screenings. We had a youth programme as well, but, unfortunately, the schools were not interested in participating in it. A brochure was sent to all the schools by the cultural department in Tórshavn Municipality, but we did not receive any feedback.

Can you tell us the theme for the next edition or is it still a secret?

Without saying too much, it is definitely in the framework of human rights and minority, religions and Scandinavia.

What can we expect at the next edition of the festival?

It will be more political, and I, hopefully, host the first human rights debate on the Faroe Islands. We won’t be screening so many films this year, but we’re aiming at finding more films within our themes. We also have a person who is responsible for the youth programme and will visit the schools and introduce the programme on inclusivity and queerness. The teachers will have the opportunity to attend a lecture given by an educational sociologist on gender roles. So I hope we have more success this year.

 

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.