Interview with Filmmaker Eva Sigurdardottir

Eva Sigurdardottir is a BAFTA nominated Film Producer and an Icelandic Academy Award winning Film Writer/Director/Producer, based between London and Reykjavik.

Eva’s short RAINBOW PARTY, which she wrote and directed was the London Calling Award winner 2015 as well as a winner of 12 festival awards and the Icelandic Academy Award winner in 2016. Her latest short film CUT has just began it’s festival career and has already picked up nominations for directing and writing. The film was funded by the Icelandic Film Centre, ShortsTV and Erasmus+.

Eva is the founder and owner of Askja Films which specializes in films and documentaries by female filmmakers. She was the Line Producer of EFA nominee and Festival de Cannes Prix Un Certain Regard winner RAMS by Grímur Hákonarson, and upcoming Sundance selection AND BREATHE NORMALLY by Ísold Uggadóttir, as well as an Associate Producer of multi-award winning feature HEARTSTONE by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson.

Eva is represented by Kelly Knatchbull at Sayle Screen.

Cut Film Still

Can you tell us about your short film Cut and how the idea of the film emerged?
Cut is about a young woman who tries to redefine herself. She signs up to a fitness/bodybuilding competition in an effort to show the bullies that she can’t be silenced or beaten down. But she soon realises that the gossip mill will never stop, and that it will take a lot longer for her to shake off her ‘slut’ reputation.

For a long time now I have wanted to tell a story in the bodybuilding/fitness world. I have friends who have competed in competitions like this, and I’ve seen just how much effort it takes. They become all-consumed and their life really revolves around nothing else but this competition. But not everyone wins, and so the ‘come down’ from these competitions can be a lot tougher than the prep – and so I’ve found these competitions and the people that choose to put themselves through them fascinating for a long time.

Body and slut-shaming are massive parts of our lives today, particularly young women’s. And I wanted to tell a story about this. Myself, I am what you would call ‘plus size’ and with that comes a lot of shame and judgment, which in my 30s I still find hard to cope with. But even when I was a teenager, during which I was so underweight that my parents thought I was possibly anorexic, I also got body shamed. It never stops for us women, and I wanted to explore this theme. And so with Cut I merged a theme I was passionate about with a world I was fascinated with.

Can you tell us more about your upbringing and how this influenced your characters?
I lived a very sheltered childhood, and so in a lot of ways I think I am living vicariously through my characters some of my teenage fantasies of rebellion. But I also grew up in a very religious community, and although such an upbringing has a lot of positives, it also brings with it a lot of judgment – and judgment leads to self-doubt and inner turmoil. All my characters seem to be struggling with both themselves, as well as they put too much weight into other people’s opinions on them. This surely stems from my childhood and upbringing.

Did you know from an early age that you wanted to become a filmmaker? Were you always drawn to the moving picture?

Not really, in some ways I was in denial that it was my destiny to work in film. I always loved theatre and dance, but as my father was working in the film industry I thought it was the lamest thing ever! But I always loved film and I grew up watching the classics. I also always had a video camera but I just didn’t realize that this was a career that might be for me until I worked on my first film, and I absolutely fell in love. There has been no turning back since.

What do you feel is the most challenging part of the filmmaking process?
Self-doubt. It took me ages to truly trust that I could do this, direct a film. I had somehow convinced myself that I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to direct as I hadn’t gone to a traditional film school, and that only super gifted people were able to choose directing as a career. But who was to say that I didn’t have my own gifts and talents? And that’s self-doubt. It’s amazing how you can be your own worst enemy sometimes.

I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by people who have continued to encourage me and push me to dare to try for my big dream. Now I know who to turn to in those moments of self-doubt, but it does indeed keep creeping back in. I think most of us can relate to this – particularly women.

I’ve been extremely proud to be a woman in a man’s world, and I do feel that we are breaking boundaries every day and redefining the film industry. I choose to be a champion of other women’s work, and I am always extremely grateful when I feel the same encouragement from my peers. Filmmaking is so much about commitment, belief and determination and I do really believe that it isn’t enough to just be talented, you also need to believe in yourself and make a conscious decision to ‘go for it’. Of course you also need talent, but it’s a combination of all these elements that we all need to succeed.

How do you work with your actors, do you rehearse prior to filming?
I love to rehearse with actors, and I try and cast them as soon as possible as I not only rehearse a lot, but I also let the actors influence the script. I want the piece to feel authentic, real and so I engage the actors early on and open up an honest dialogue with them about the script, the dialogue and their character.

I also love working with non-actors, because these people really tell you, unapologetically, what they like and dislike about their character. I always re-write my dialogue to feel more natural for my actors, and even allow them to make changes during filming if something doesn’t flow right.

Do you enjoy producing as much as directing?
I have been pursuing a career in producing for over ten years now, while directing is a more recent love. Well, more honest might be to say that directing was my first love, but I never pursued it properly until now.

Honestly, I love both producing and directing, and a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this. There is this idea that directing is the dream job, and that producing isn’t as glamorous. And while that might be true, there is so much more to producing than just raising money and hitting deadlines. A real creative producer is super involved in storytelling, and ultimately that is what I love – telling good stories, and collaborating with talented people while doing so. I get to do both when I produce and direct.

However, I am now making a shift more towards directing, and I think this is because I really have some stories I want to tell. While a producer can be extremely involved in the development of a film or a character, ultimately it is the writer and director who create and define the story and who that character is. Sharing something that you wrote/directed with an audience is like bearing your soul to the public – it’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

What do you hope for in your current and future work as a filmmaker?
Every day that I get to continue doing what I love is a blessing, and I am grateful for every single moment of it. It’s a privilege to love your job, and as long as I am enjoying what I do then I will feel extremely content and satisfied. I hope that I get to continue making films, both as a director and as a producer. I want to tell important and meaningful stories that resonate with the audience – not just light entertainment, but something with heart or with a purpose.

Film and television are such powerful mediums, and we need to bare that in mind when we publish our work. And we need to be conscious of the fact that we are both the guardians and the pioneers of our culture, heritage and language, and that what we put out there will be a part of not just our personal history but film history for years to come.

I also hope that one day I will be working in an industry which treats men and women as equals, as well as people of different ethnic background, with disabilities or with different gender preferences. Film should reflect society, and we are a mosaic of different people with different identities.  I want to see more of this variety on the big screen in the near future.

Daniella Alma

When Daniella Alma isn't working as Creative Producer for Monologue Blogger, she works in film as an actress.