I just heard that Days of Gray is being screened at Iceland Airwaves. I’m looking forward to this. In the meantime, here is an article I wrote on the project a short while back for Iceland Review online.
There is a film being made in Iceland this summer. There are several actually, but this one doesn’t star Tom Cruise or Ben Affleck, or even follow any of the usual rules of the movie world. It’s already caught the imagination of a band of Internet followers, and is the sort of magic that could only happen in Iceland. I catch up with Ani Simon-Kennedy, director of Days of Gray, to find out more.
I need to clarify; Days of Gray is not Days of Grays by Finnish metal band Sonata Arctica, nor is it 50 Shades of Grey, the quasi-erotic novel currently everywhere.
So, what’s Days of Gray all about?
‘It’s a coming of age film. It’s the story of a 12-year-old boy. But it’s not that simple. The boy lives in a post-apocalyptic world, where his homeland is divided by a wall. On one side of the wall, the residents have a contagion that results in horrific animal style mutations. On the other, where the boy lives, the residents are obsessed with not becoming infected. It’s a film about kids, but not for kids. It’s about what happens when the boy meets a girl from the other side. The girl has some mutations. Can they have a friendship? Can they overcome the boundaries and fears in their way?’
I’m intrigued, but it isn’t just the dark subject matter that grabs my attention. The whole set up is a polar opposite to the mainstream process in making movies.
But then, this isn’t a conventional film. It’s been conceived as a silent movie, albeit one with a score performed by Icelandic band Hjaltalín. Hjaltalín are a seven piece band from Reykjavík, who unfairly draw comparison to Arcade Fire. Unfairly, I say, because their brand of lush chamber pop / rock sounds nothing like the Canadians, and secondly, because Hjaltalín are much, much better. If you don’t believe me, you should try listening to the gorgeously titled ‘Sleepdrunk Sessions’. Then come back to me.
How did Hjaltalín become involved in the project?
‘Well, I was introduced to Hjaltalín by one of the crew. I was blown away by their music, and their entire performance. For a while, Hjaltalín were one of the key influences on the feel of the film, but that evolved, and they are now doing the score.’
Ani goes on to explain that the long-term plan is to show the movie across the globe at film and music festivals, with Hjaltalín playing the live score. This sounds like a plan to me, and my head is filled with thoughts of sitting in the midnight sun in a park in Reykjavik, supping an ice-cold beer whilst watching and listening to Days of Gray. I pull myself back into the real world.
‘Why did you choose Iceland?’
‘It was a very easy choice. We have a very multi-national team here, and one of us is Icelandic. He kept showing us these incredible pictures of the Icelandic landscape that he’d taken, like on the way home one night. It seemed perfect for the film. And then once Hjaltalín were on board, it made sense entirely for Days of Gray to be filmed in Iceland’.
So it’s not just a chance to travel to Iceland and spend a few months there?
Ani laughs ‘Yes, well there is that, and we have just come back from a scouting trip. We have found a number of locations to film, and we have completed casting. So far, our entire cast is Icelandic’.
Language barriers could have been an issue, but with a silent film, this is circumnavigated. ‘We wanted to create a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, where there was no more language, and in addition we are a very global team – roughly a third French, a third American and a third Icelandic – it made sense to make the film silent’.
I’m intrigued about how the concept of a silent film came about. Ani explains; “We normally produce music videos, so in some ways this is a music video with an album length score by Hjaltalín. At the same time, it’s how films used to be shown – a silent movie with a live band. It’s like it was back in the day’.
Something that certainly isn’t old fashioned is how the project has been funded. Instead of the regular routes, Ani and her team chose to crowd-fund the film via website Kickstarter. The concept behind this is that you introduce a project, and backers pledge funds in support. Ani was taken by surprise as to just how successful this was ‘We had 438 backers in 60 days’ she said ’but this isn’t about making money. We wanted to build an audience from the very start. We wanted people to share our enthusiasm and excitement for the project. We wanted people to get involved; it’s a complete labor of love’. People certainly have got involved, from all over the world, and showed their support.
Ani tells me that a recent visit to Iceland was her first. It’s clear though, that Iceland is an integral part of this film. It’s as much an ingredient as the characters, the story or the exceptional score. It’s as essential as Hjaltalín or Ani herself. I can’t wait to see it. I can’t wait to hear it. I get the feeling that Days of Gray couldn’t happen anywhere else but Iceland.
Days of Gray website.