Comparison Impossible


In the December 7th issue of Reykjavík Mag was an interview with Ísold Uggadóttir, an Icelandic filmmaker who moved to New York in 2001 to attend grad school at New York University’s elite Tisch School of Arts.

Her first short film, Family Reunion, was screened at Reykjavík’s International Film Festival, and has been nominated for an Edda Award, Iceland’s equivalent of an Oscar.

She’s asked in the interview about the differences between shooting a film in New York and Reykjavík, and responds, “In Reykjavík we were able to have every friend, relative, and acquaintance help out with every aspect of the film. Without insurance, we borrowed cars, equipment, name it.”

She continues, “In New York... you need insurance for everything and sometimes you have to bribe people. Our New York crew was less personal friends, and more people we advertised for on the Internet. In New York it’s easy to find random people with film experience who want to add credits to their resume.”

Which is precisely what has drawn me to New York over the years: it’s mysterious and unpredictable, and this combination creates an energy that cannot be replicated, or at least especially not in Iceland.

However, Uggadóttir makes several valid points: since family’s everything in Icelandic culture, everyone’s willing to chip in and contribute. It’s also more lax – no insurance, everything’s word of mouth, etc. There’s something to be said in favor of this. In a country of 306,000 people, you know who to call when you need something done – and almost always they can be traced somehow in some elaborate family tree.

But what she fails to point out about the culture in New York is the openness of those random strangers that make things happen there – that show up to the film shoot, that deliver your pizza, that help you with your cell phone at the Verizon store. Since living here, I’ve realized how unabashed Americans are when it comes to meeting new people. The vast majority of us aren’t shy. Though certainly not true of all Icelanders, I’ve experienced scant chance encounters since living here, and I miss those serendipitous meetings.

Sure, folks answer ads on Craig’s List in New York because they want their film credits, but people come together in New York – and make things happen in New York – in a way that isn’t replicated anywhere in the world. Uggadóttir’s film would’ve been a helluva harder to produce without the collective manpower of those random people who wanted to contribute to the cause. Call them random family.

I bought a stainless steel refrigerator for $80 from a homeless guy hanging out in the Home Depot parking lot in Queens a couple years ago. Sure, there’s no telling the origins of that refrigerator, or what he ended up spending my $80 on, but it worked great and when you live in New York, sometimes you just have to have a little faith in those folks who appear out of the city’s deepest, darkest crevices that make things happen and bring even more color to a city of 8,000,000 mosaics.

It’s impossible to compare the two cities, of course, it’s like pulling a dinghy alongside a big, bad cargo hauler. But one thing’s for certain: Reykjavík’s a place where everyone knows each other, but Reykjavík’s also a place where the underbellies of society – drugs, prostitution, domestic violence, child abuse, to name a few – still aren’t openly discussed on a large scale. Wake up, folks, because I’m sorry to say your beautiful little country isn’t immune.


Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.