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Remembering Godafoss: The Lost Ship

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Remembering Godafoss: The Lost Ship

Review by Alana Odegard.

godafoss-coverThe story of The Lost Ship (Árásin á Godafoss), directed by Björn Brynjúlfur Björnsson and premiering on Icelandic TV in 2009, grabs your attention from the outset.

The film is divided into two parts that run approximately 50 minutes each. The first tells many stories: the story of Iceland’s history, the Second World War, the people onboard the freighter Godafoss and of course the attack on the ship itself in 1944.

The beginning of the film includes footage of an Icelandic Coast Guard ship off the shores of Iceland. As the narrator informs us:

“Its aim is to try to find Godafoss, a steammerchant ship sunk in this area by a German submarine in the Second World War. The exact location of the wreck is unknown. A search was made for the ship soon after it sank without success. Despite several later attempts, it’s been impossible to locate the wreck of Godafoss.”

As divers are seen descending to a depth of 40 meters beneath the sea, searching for “the watery grave of about 50 men, women and children,” you can’t help but be drawn into this incredible story.

I had never heard about Godafoss before watching this film. I was aware that despite not having a full-fledged army, Iceland had some ties to the war what with the US Naval Air Station that was located in Keflavík and the remnants of WWII bunkers and barracks that still exist here today.

However, it’s not uncommon to hear (from Icelanders themselves) that the only “real” war Iceland has been involved in were the Cod Wars.

Therefore I was more than surprised to learn of Iceland’s own tragic WWII story that left an entire nation reeling.

As I mentioned, the documentary provides a history of a great many things including that of the newly-independent Iceland and includes some fantastic footage and photographs of Iceland in the late forties.

The documentary also takes us aboard a German submarine and reveals the story of some of the crew members and the many hardships of living and working in a U-300.

A history of the Godafoss ship itself is relayed, having been built in Denmark as the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip’s flagship vessel.

The film follows Godafoss in the final days of the Second World War as it’s loaded in the harbor in New York, sets sail in dangerous waters for Scotland without incident and then onwards to Iceland as part of a convoy.

Unfortunately it’s when the ship is in its homestretch that things go terribly wrong.

As the first part of the film comes to a close, be prepared to shed a tear or two (I know I did), just another sign of how well The Lost Ship connects you to the stories of the passengers and crew of Godafoss.

Whereas the first part of The Lost Ship focuses on Iceland’s reaction of the attack on Godafoss, the second part of the film features interviews with the now elderly surviving crew members and passengers of the ship.

I had thought the first part of the documentary had done a good job of telling the stories of those onboard Godafoss and of the attack, but when you hear the interviewees’ firsthand accounts it really doesn’t get much more personal.

Watching their faces as they recount the attack, it’s easy to see that they remember the day the ship went down as if it was yesterday: how it felt when the torpedo hit, the sounds of people calling for help, how the cold sea water felt as the ship went down and making peace with believing that they were about to die.

One interview tells the story of how one man who had lost his pregnant wife and young son in the attack traveled to the home of the German submarine’s captain with the purpose of shooting him, believing the captain had committed a warcrime.

The series of interviews, shot in color in contrast to the black and white footage of the first part, are truly captivating.

In particular it’s fascinating to hear about the many supernatural and spiritual elements of the story (including everything from predictions of the wreck made by fortunetellers, in dreams and by Ouija boards), which, for one reason or another, struck me as being rather Icelandic.

Relatives of the victims are also interviewed, as are German submariners who fought in WWII on the U-300.

It goes without saying that this film explores a serious subject matter and as such I was pleased to discover that instead of English subtitles, the English version of the film features the voice of a professional and articulate English-speaking narrator.

(Although, the titles of the people featured in the film have not been translated).

Given the poor track record of English subtitles in Icelandic films (awkward word choice, rife with spelling errors, etc.) I thought it was appropriate and wise to use a narrator to ensure the story is told as articulately as possible.

More than anything, I’m glad that I now know more about this important part of Iceland’s history.

The Lost Ship does an excellent job of telling an informative story in a gripping and engaging way and I feel richer for having watched it, the true test of what any good documentary should do in my books.

stars50

The Lost Ship is available in webstores such as nammi.is.

Alana Odegard – [email protected]

Ready and willing to watch anything that comes her way, Alana has an unquenchable thirst for the motion picture art form. Alana studied film as part of her BA degree and as the story so often goes, she is tirelessly trying to find ways to surround herself with the enchanting world of film. She hopes this passion will one day spill over from the realm of pastime to likewise envelop that of fulltime day-job as well.

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