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All these crazy stories about these mad women
1 Jun 2010
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I just want to make these films while it can be done, so it will not be forgotten. My children and their children will be able to see what the cost was for the situation we have today.”

Halla Kristin Einarsdottir. Made documentary film Women in Red Stockings about the redstockings in Iceland. In this film, she showed how one woman walking home one day can get an idea and change the world. She showed an organic movement, the cheerful attitudes of early Icelandic feminists, their vision, dedication, and solidarity. Interviewed June 2010.

All these crazy stories about these mad women

I want to force society to grow. I would like to put my pebble on the scales with many different important issues. That is what I try to do with my documentaries. Documentaries are about real happening things. They’re not stories that people have made up. They’re actually happening.

I like film-making because it gives me opportunity to focus on a subject for a long time but then turn to another subject that also interests me. I think it’s important that we make films that nobody has made. Therefore, I am making them. It all boils down to the fight for human rights, whether it’s women’s rights, gay rights, or the right to live your life differently from the main form that your society supports.

My first was a documentary called Transplosive about the situation of transgender people in Iceland. I had been working for a documentarian who also the president of the queer organization in Iceland for years then and participating in her documentaries. This was my first documentary, like my film. That was in 2005.

At the time, we were having this queer film festival, and we invited Susan Stryker[1] who had made a film about the transgender fight in America in San Francisco in the 60’s. We wanted to have something about the situation in Iceland as well. I was living with a transgender person at the time, so I had kind of access that not many people had to that side of things. I think it’s the only thing that’s ever been made about transgender people in Iceland.

It’s told from their perspective. There was four people total, different ages and sexes, and they had done different things and were at different stages in their transitions. I followed them and interviewed them and cut it together to make a whole.

Transgender people, we need to do a lot for them because they don’t really have any of the rights that they should. Operations are really up to one or two doctors who don’t have any special education in transgender issues. They can decide at whim who gets to go and have an operation, and trans people can’t change the name until after they’ve had the operation. Why should they have to have the operation to be able to change their names?

It’s also invisible. You can imagine in a country of 300,000 how few transgender people there actually are and how easily they can just fall through the cracks. That was why we had this queer festival that we made this film for. That’s why we invited Susan Stryker. She’s a gay, lesbian, transsexual activist. She’s been a head of the organization and we decided to have this festival in Iceland in order to bring this up as an issue. She came here on television, and she was talking about this.

After that, a transsexual group was founded. They made their own club and started speaking up in media and demanding rights. I think just that film festival changed a lot of things in the country.

It showed me what film festivals can do. I have a special interest in film festivals as a cultural phenomenon, so it’s very eye-opening what happened after that. I think films really can change the world and help spread ideas.

After Transplosive, I made some ten-minute films and fifteen-minute films, mostly to practice. Then I went to university to make my own films and practice. I studied art and film theory and cultural media and finished in 2009. My Master’s thesis project was a film called Women in Red Stockings, which was about the history of the red stocking movement in Iceland, the fight for women’s rights.

I started working on the red stocking film late November- December 2007. At the time I was really looking for space to make my own films. I decided I would take on cultural media because I could work on media of my own choice. I had decided I would make a documentary and was searching for an interesting subject.

Then, I saw the center for oral history was looking for people to interview women of the Red Stockings. I got in contact with them and asked them if I could take a job and film it and then use the material to make my film. They liked that idea, so that’s what I did. That film was made with loose change, practically.

I didn’t know too much when I started in the interviews. But I was curious. You heard all these crazy stories about these mad women, how ugly they were and how boring and how strict. Maybe you found some old photographs in old papers, but I never knew them, who they were. I just thought I wanted to hear their side of it, what they did and how they did it.

 I put it in context, and I read a lot about it. I interviewed them and was there to listen. They told me lots of things.

They were fighting about equal pay—that women would be paid the same salaries that men were—and that women could educate themselves as well as men and have the same rights and opportunities to do the same things.

I was most surprised by the fight for the rights to abortion. I never knew that it had been so hard here. This was happening around the year I was born, and it was a huge part of their work. It took ten years, and it was very hard for them. They were called murderers, and I think that took a lot out of them. One of them said it took so much energy that they didn’t have enough energy to think about anything else.

From all the women in the Red Stockings movement, we had sixteen to work with for the film. We didn’t get all of the ones we wanted to speak to. Some of them were living abroad, some didn’t want to talk to us, some were dead. Most of them weren’t that comfortable with being put in front of a camera to talk about these things, but they’re like, “Yes, we have to tell this story.” They did it, and they were good.

They’re not at all the stereotype screaming troll. There were no screaming trolls, actually. All they had in common was that they would speak up when they saw something they thought was wrong. They all had backbones.

I took the material and made that film. It came out last year and it won a prize at the documentary festival here, the main prize, and subsequently it was shown on national television a couple of times. I was a bit surprised actually that it won the festival, a film of that name. I think that gives a lot of hope for feminism in Iceland that a film with this name can win a film festival where the audience decides.

The difficult part was I was very alone when I was doing it. I was more or less locked away for months going through material and putting this together. Of course, I was hoping it would be good, so I wouldn’t be using the interviews to do crap they wouldn’t like. I was afraid of that.

I had to fight with myself and dare to show it. It’s kind of my greatest enemy, myself, and pumping up my self-confidence to actually come out with it. Like, at the premier when all the Red Stockings were in the program, I had to stand there and address them and show them the film. That was probably the hardest thing. Then, I was very glad when they liked it. Who wants to piss off the Red Stockings, you know?

Also, I think I do lots of things for my daughter. I want her to know about the women that fought for her rights. In a way, my daughter motivates me to do the things that I want to do and not to give up and keep on doing stuff. I want to be this image that shows her—in my dreams—that she can do anything. So I will never give up on what I want to do because that is something that is simply not allowed.  

Right now, I am in pre-production again. I want to make a film about what happened after the red stocking film, where women made political parties. They went to the parliament and all kinds of exciting things happened.

Basically, that film will be about power, the struggle with real power when they actually got into the parliament. They stay with one foot in the grassroots, but then they also take the stab at being real politicians and fighting there. I find that very interesting, to hear what they have to say about that when they just marched into theAlþingi,[2] and started wreaking havoc. How did that go and how did other political parties filled with middle-aged guys react to that?

Then, there are the grassroots operations around that. What actually happened with a grassroots movement that went political? They founded Stigamot, the crisis center for women who had been raped and for women beaten at home. That is what happened afterward. I think it will be very interesting to do those interviews.

I just want to make these films while it can be done, so it will not be forgotten. My children and their children will be able to see what the cost was for the situation we have today. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s still better than it was forty years ago. 

I went into the film industry because I wanted to make my own films, but I’m also working for the Reykjavik International Film Festival and for the City Council about film literacy in schools. It’s not as if I can constantly live by making documentaries of my own interest. I do other stuff as well. Sometimes I edit, sometimes I teach. I try to blend the projects I want with other things because I’m also a single mom, and I have to pay the bills.

I think it’s influenced me, being a single mom and not being able to work like filmmakers in Iceland usually do. I can’t take four days off to shoot a commercial off in the country or two months to go to the north to make a film.

I really think you have to be dedicated to the things you want to do something about because there are always problems. For example, nobody’s going to call you and say, “Hey, I have a lot of money. Would you like to make a film?” You’re raising enough money to do it with change, which of course is very hard. I think the people who really want to make films, they are the ones that just make films with what they have.

I wish filmmaking were more about making films than trying to fund them. But in any work, you’re really lucky if 10% of your work is exciting. It’s a lot of menial stuff that you have to do. Still, I think making films is like a virus. You don’t get rid of it. It’s something you have to be a bit driven to do that, especially in Iceland where it can be a bit difficult financially.

I just go ahead and do it. You meet people that always want to do something and they have grand dreams about it then they wait and they wait and they wait for something else to happen, some application to go through. I think you just have to start doing it. When you see opportunities about something you care about, then use the opportunities as they come to you. Everybody has chances to do something as they go along. Opportunities come by and you just have to act on them.

You use what you have to help. I can make films, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m not a person who’s very good at holding speeches and working on meetings, but I know how to make films. That’s my strength and that’s what I do. I would be bored to death holding meeting after meeting discussing theory and stuff like that. The gender theorists here are very strong and it’s good to have them. It’s also good to have the ones that want to go into politics and change everything from there. I think equality won’t work until all kinds of people do what they can from where they are. It has to come from everywhere.

Me, I always wanted to be an artist. I went to art school and I was going to be a painter. I always made drawings and paintings that were critical of the norm and how things were. I started making art videos and performances, and they were often about tradition and women. Then I got into filmmaking and then I started working for this documentarian and that’s where I got interested in documentaries.

I think no matter what you’re doing, what you’re thinking will shine through. For example, you can’t make a film called women in Red Stockings and not consider yourself feminist.

A feminist is just somebody that realizes that there is no equality. You can’t have a little equality. Either there is equality or not. And there are loads of kinds of feminists. There’s not just one idea. Everybody can have their own idea about how to do this, why to do this, and associate with all kinds of different groups within feminism. Feminists are just people who realize that it’s not equal and want to do something about it.

In Iceland, you hear a lot about how feminism is a very bad word and there’s stigma to be branded a feminist. People often start saying, “I’m an equaliatist… I am all for equality.” But I never hear anybody say that unless they are going to trash feminism in the next sentence. “I hate feminists. Feminism is bad.”

Me, I’m not an equaliatist. I’m a feminist. I think there should be all kinds of feminists. I think we need all of them. People see just one kind of type behind feminism so we need more kinds in order to show people our diversity. You can’t really tell illogical people anything. You have to show them.

I’m not actually worried about feminism. I’ve known lots of strong women that just go ahead and do what they want and work hard and don’t let themselves be told anything. There are so many great women out there. Women around the world give me hope because they are very hard working and intelligent. I’m not really worried about the future. I see young women today who are just bursting with energy and will do great stuff. We all have to continue doing that, just have fun doing it.  

I think you should do the things that you really want to do and find some like-minded people along the way. If you have like-minded friends, you will have a lot of fun doing things with them, whether it’s putting on a play or film or writing a book or doing a television show or whatever you can think of. You can find lots of like-minded people around the world. There’s always somebody somewhere that is thinking the same thing as you.

It’s the hidden part of the suppression that I’m worried about, the lie that everything is equal. In some respects, the façade of things has changed. It’s easier to do what you want in terms of education and in terms of the family life and to find jobs but basically we still have all the same problems.

I can’t really put a finger on it exactly. It’s kind of this: It’s gotten harder since the time of the Red Stockings to put your finger on the discrimination. It’s more hidden then it used to be because it’s not supposed to be there. They’re trying to tell us that there is no discrimination.

Now, women are still struggling with many of the same things but it has gone more underground, and it’s harder to find a way to deal with it.

I remember when I was like fourteen, and I went to school. All the boys could learn how to do woodwork but all the girls would be set to knit. I found this very unfair. I wanted to build birdhouses instead of sewing dresses. I actually called the equality committee and tried to bring charges to the school headmaster. They just told me to collect peoples’ names and make a petition. None of the girls wanted to sign because they all liked sewing better. Nobody was interested. I don’t know. Then, fifteen years pass and I make this film.

I just do what I can and, well, it’s fine. It’s the way I turned out without thinking about it. I’ve always been this way. It just comes out more with age. You get more self-esteem to actually show who you really are. I like being a girl. I think I can do everything just as well as the guys and even better.

In the perfect equal world, it doesn’t matter what you are; it matters what your interests and talents are and how you want to use them. Of course, we’ll never actually get that, I think. But we can try. Equal opportunity to use your talents and your interests, even if you’re born rich or poor, man, woman, gay, straight, transgender.


[1] Susan Stryker: American lecturer, author, journalist, queer activist, and artist.

[2]The Alþingi: The national parliament of Iceland and oldest parliamentary institution in the world, founded in 930. 

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