Heartstone, the first full length film by Icelandic director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson, premiered at the film festival in Venice to rave reviews, which culminated in the film getting the Queer Lion Award last Friday as Best Movie with LGBT Themes & Queer Culture.
The verdict of the judging committee was that Heartstone was awarded “For the exquisite touch in showing the coming of age of two young friends and analyzing the acceptance of homosexual feelings and passions. For the strong and valid representation of the inner conflict that separates and then re-unites the two main characters, set against a natural environment as breathtaking as it can be hard and cruel.“
Guðmundur Arnar is already in Toronto where Heartstone will be screened at the film festival and he is understandably extremely happy with how the film was accepted in Venice. “I‘m thrilled and grateful,“ he says on the phone from Toronto. “I was a bit worried how the queer community would judge the film, but all the response has been very positive, and getting The Queer Lion establishes that.“
Asked why he decided on this subject, which has not gotten a lot of coverage in Icelandic films, Guðmundur says that he really does not have a logical explanation for that. “When I‘m writing I don‘t use the logical part of my mind, it‘s all intuition,“ he says. “This story just wanted to be told and I was not thinking in the terms queer movie or straight movie when I wrote it.“
Guðmundur grew up mostly in Reykjavík but during a part of his childhood he lived in the small village Þórshöfn á Langanesi and Heartstone is loosely based on his experiences there. The gay aspect is not based his own experience. “That aspect of the film is not based on anything I have experienced. But I know a lot of gays who grew up in small villages in Iceland and I know it was really hard for them. In those days nobody saw anything wrong with opposing gays openly. That has changed enormously in the last ten years or so.“
You speak as if you are a wise old man who remembers ‘the old days’, how old are you? “I‘m 34, but that‘s what I‘m saying, the attitude towards gays and queer people in general has taken a leap for the better in the last few years. The old days were not so long ago.“
“I was a bit worried how the queer community would judge the film, but all the response has been very positive, and getting The Queer Lion establishes that.“
Having no experience of being gay himself Guðmundur says he asked some of his gay friends for advice on how to approach the feelings of the young boy in the film, who experiences sexual feelings towards his best friend, but he then quickly gave up on that idea. “It turned out that their stories were all totally different and I realized that there was no one right way to tell the story. In the end I had to rely completely on my own intuition to approach the boys feelings. Judged by the reception Heartstone has gotten, that seems to have worked out well.“
How did the kids playing the characters of the film react to the gay aspect? “They thought it was cool. The boy playing the lead, the gay character, was unsure in the beginning of how he could
best convey what the character was experiencing, but I told him just to play that part in the same way as any other part of the character’s psyche and he did it brilliantly. I don‘t think he was uncomfortable with it, but I can of course not speak for him.“
It’s not very often that the first feature film of a director gets reviews like Heartstone, was that not a pleasant surprise for Guðmundur or was he expecting it? “I was hoping for it, of course,“ he says with a laugh, “and my short films, Whale Valley and Ártún, have been shown at a lot of film festivals and gathered up rewards so the festival crowd knew my work beforehand and was waiting for this film. So it‘s maybe not strange that they appreciated it, that’s what I was hoping for but not counting on it. So it was a pleasant surprise.“
Speaking of film festivals, Heartstone is now being shown in Toronto and next stops are the film festivals in Busan in South Korea, Warsaw in Poland and the international film festival in Chicago. After that the film will travel to more festivals all around the globe and the director will follow it, of course. Does that mean that he won’t have any time to work on his next project? “Oh, I will work,“ Guðmundur says with a laugh. “I will use the time on airplanes and hotel rooms to work on the script for my next film, which I have already started. That too is a coming of age drama, but without the gay aspect and totally different from Heartstone.“
But is he hoping that the great reception of Heartstone will open doors for him in Hollywood or some other big film industry? “I don’t know. I just want to continue making films. It’s not important to me where I get the chance to do that. But, hopefully, someday, I will make big movies that get wide distribution. That’s the long-term goal.“
Guðmundur developed and wrote his first feature film Heartstone during a Cannes Cinéfondation Residency. While in development, Heartstone also received an award from the Netherlands Production Platform.