Dögg Mósesdóttir is a director, scriptwriter, producer and the founder of the Northern Wave International Short Film Festival. For the last seven years she has been the chairperson of WIFT Iceland (Women in Film and Television), an organization which aims to increase diversity and create a network for women in the film industry. We sat down with Dögg just before the start of this year’s Stockfish Film Festival in Reykjavík, where she is participating in a panel on gender equality issues in the Nordic film-making industry. We asked her about WIFT’s activities, women in Icelandic film industry, film festivals and several other projects she is currently working on as writer and director.
Please tell us how WIFT Iceland was founded.
It was founded in 2006 during the Reykjavík International Film Festival and it was very welcomed at the time by the whole film community, and the organisation has been growing ever since. It was a different generation of women who started it, the generation who has been fighting a lot and who we have a lot to be thankful for. There is now a younger generation of women coming, women who are doing a lot of great work. They are very active in the film business and they put a lot of energy into it. And I also think more women are joining now because they have seen the effects WIFT had in Iceland. So I think it really made a difference.
How do you think the position of women film-makers changed since WIFT was founded in Iceland?
This year, for example, we already have two feature films by women directors and it’s only February. But then again, no grants at all have been given to women this year. So that means we have to keep on fighting.
There have also been changes in the Icelandic Film Fund, they now pay more attention to the gender point of view. If you apply for a grant now, they always note whether it is a male or female director and how many women are there behind and in front of the camera. If female characters are not well written or are one-sided, they encourage you to work on them. It has taken us a lot of time to achieve that, we had to convince many people. But I think now pretty much everyone is convinced that gender equality needs to be addressed. In Iceland we have gender equality in so many other areas, and we are really proud of it as a country. But our creative field, and especially the film industry, seems almost like a black sheep in that context and I think that has a lot of impact on everything else.
What do you think are the reasons that there are so few women making feature films in Iceland?
The film industry in Iceland has been a bit of a boys club and not very welcoming towards women. A lot of women have talked about being sexually harassed in the industry so for a long time it wasn’t a very welcoming or safe place for women unless they had a powerful man backing them up. I’m hopeful that the #metoo movement will have the power to change this.
A lot of recent research shows that there are power structures and unconscious bias at play that keep women away. In Europe there are equal amounts of women and men studying to become directors but only a small percentage of women get to make a film compared to men, and it takes them longer to get there and they only get one chance. If they blow it they are less likely to make another film. Research also points out that it takes a lot more for women to be heard then men and we see that reflected in the number of films women are making, in Iceland and in most other countries. Women’s voices are not being heard.
You were a strong advocate for the introduction of gender quotas when it comes to film funding. Please talk briefly about that.
I actually wasn’t at first because I thought it was maybe too violent way for a change to get through and I was hoping there were some other ways to achieve gender equality. But the more I read and the more I heard about the situation in other Nordic countries, in Sweden especially, I was more convinced. There was recently a Nordic study that showed that when gender quotas were introduced in business companies, very qualified women were able to get through, while mediocre men got left out. So I believe that gender quotas are sometimes needed and that they could be a very good temporary tool. But the industry also has to be ready for it and we need to have enough women who are ready to go for the 50%.
Do you think that other Nordic countries have better policies when it comes to film funding?
Sweden is definitely an idol to me, I think they have a very good situation there, but it’s mostly thanks to Anna Serner from the Swedish Film Institute and her vision. I am worried about what will happen when she leaves. Norway had a chance to take the second place. They were in a very good situation while they had a left-wing government, but then the government changed and everything went back to the way it was before. Denmark is in total denial, they don’t think they have a gender issue but they do, and then in Finland, they have a very strong WIFT, which has a lot of influence. We have a lot of dialogue with other Nordic countries, we are all members of WIFT Nordic.
Are you positive about the future?
Yes, I am. Mostly because the community of women is very strong now, we are all speaking about the cause and are ready to do something about it, to make space for ourselves. And also because people now listen to what we have to say. It took generations to get people to listen. There is also the #metoo movement, which I think had very positive effects because women are now finally being heard. I think the situation is definitely shifting now, things have been stirred up and everyone has to look themselves in the mirror and make some changes.
The fourth edition of the Stockfish Film Festival is about to start. You have been involved with the festival from its beginnings. Please talk a bit about it.
The festival started as a collaboration between several film professional associations in Iceland because we were really interested in having a festival that comes from the film-makers themselves. WIFT was among the associations that started the festival, and we were really excited to have a voice in it and to make sure that our cause was heard. Since WIFT is technically not a professional film-makers association but serves more as a support group for women film-makers. We now decided to step out of the festival’s board, but we will still continue to work with the festival as collaborators. I think festivals are now more important than ever to keep the cinema alive, I believe they are the future of cinema.
You are also founder and director of Northern Wave International Film Festival. What should we know about the festival?
That is a short film festival with which we wanted to explore all aspects of the short form, with the focus on the artistic point of view. We have music videos, video art and short films of all genre there because we want to show everything that the short form has to offer. We want to exploit it to its maximum capacity. It is kind of a grass-roots festival for the emerging film-makers who come there from all over the world. The festival is held in a small fishing village in West Iceland, in an old fish factory that is now a hostel and a theatre, so the atmosphere is really unique. During the festival, we also organize a fish course competition and various concerts. So the community of emerging film-makers from all over the world is mixing with the locals, which makes the festival very special.
When you started the festival, did you have the local audience in mind, or were you thinking more about attracting international guests?
That was actually the most difficult thing to decide because, at first, we wanted to please everyone. In the end, local people are generally people working in the fish factory and many are not so interested in short films. We mainly focus on setting up a base for emerging film-makers, organising workshops and building a platform for them, and I was hoping the locals may join in. However, we decided that we are not trying to please everyone because they are very different groups of people, so it would be difficult to do so. But, of course, the festival is open to the public and everyone is welcomed.
You are currently working on several projects as a writer and director. Please introduce your TV series to us.
It is something I have been working on for about eight years. It is a ten-episode drama series, with the kind of black humour inspired by Six Feet Under. I am writing it together with Ottó Geir Borg and it is produced by Saga Film. We went with it to the MIA drama series pitching forum and we got a lot of interest in it. We are planning to start filming next year. The story is about a 35-year-old woman who is a passionate chef. She comes back home to Iceland, to her sister’s farm where they both grew up. While she was away, her sister turned the farm into a treatment centre for people with eating disorders, and the main character starts to work there as a chef. The series also deals with the relationship between the two sisters as well as their mother who is living with them and who is driving everyone crazy.
That sounds really interesting! What was your inspiration for the story?
I really wanted to explore the world of various women. The story is basically about the interaction between women and between different generations of women. Besides that, a friend of mine was telling me about her job in an eating disorder clinic. Since she was also a survivor of an eating disorder, she had a very comical view on working there. It was all very absurd and surreal.
You are also working on a documentary called Home Again, right?
Yes, I was just editing it before coming here. It has also been a long-term project, but now I am finally editing it. The film is about home birth and natural birth in the North. It deals mostly with Iceland, but we also followed midwives to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, so we got some insight into how things work there as well. Women are more connected to nature there and natural birth is much more common. At first, I wanted to make something very simple, but then things became more complicated and very political as well. There are a lot of layers to the story. It is also a very feminist film because it talks about women’s control of their own bodies from many aspects.
Is there maybe something that I didn’t ask you and you would like to tell us?
I didn’t tell you about our company. One of the projects we have been involved in is Doris Film. As part of that project, there was a female scriptwriting competition and 120 women applied, which was way more than we expected. There were five finalists and we made two scripts into films and we are developing one into a feature film. Our company, Freyja Filmwork, was founded because of that project. We are four women who own that company and we have a policy of putting women behind and in front of the camera. We started by producing one Doris project and now we are producing a lot more. First Doris Film in Iceland was Rainbow Party, which won the Edda award for the short film in 2016. And our Munda was also nominated for the Edda award this year.