Heima : Production Notes
It’s strange to say
now, but when we first thought about making a film of Sigur Ros we
didn’t immediately consider Iceland. The band hadn’t toured the country
this century, and the crowds in, say, Portugal were so very excitable
that our minds were initially elsewhere. At some point, however,
Kjartan mentioned that he’d had always had a notion that they should
play a show in the National Park at Asbyrgi in the far north of Iceland,
and we latched upon this as a sign.
So, three years ago, in the middle of 2004, we made a reconnaissance
trip to this strange canyon just shy of the Arctic Circle, to check
Midsummer Day light levels and think about how we might stage such an
event. In the end, we decided the midnight sun would be too bright for
a film incorporating the band’s onstage lights and visuals, and the
shoot was conceptually pushed back a few weeks to late July, to allow
for some dark to creep into proceedings, but hopefully not so far as to
make it too cold to play outdoors at night.
We couldn’t shoot the following summer because the ‘Takk…’ album was
about to come out and the band’s calendar was full of artwork deadlines
and the like, and anyway they hadn’t played live for ages and would be
too rusty to film. So instead we settled on the very end of the touring
period, a whole year later, in the summer of 2006.
Slowly the idea mushroomed. Seasoned Icelandic all-rounder, Kari
Sturluson came in on the creative and logistical side, and gradually
more locations were added - inevitably including a hometown show in
Reykjavik - til we had a full tour of the island in our sights. Since
certain shows had to be free for practical reasons, it was decided to
make every stop on the tour free, and for Sigur Ros to roll into town
with something like their full production, regardless of local
facilities (or lack thereof) and the sheer expense and folly of the
exercise. Only two of the shows, Reykjavik and Oxnadalur were
publically announced, with the other smaller community hall show and
Asbyrgi relying purely on word-of-mouth.
In the event, the open-door policy worked amazingly well, with people
of all ages, who would never have normally bought a ticket for a Sigur
Ros show, just coming along to check it out. As the tour went round it
gained a semi-mythical status, with the biggest national daily,
Morgunbladid, saying in an editorial that this was some kind of gift
that was joining the nation together at an important time.
We stopped at many amazing places on the two-week jaunt around the
country, some with audiences and some without. A disused herring
factory at Djupavik, with its strange circular fish-oil tanks in which
Jonsi sang ‘Gitardjamm’; a lonely protest camp against the building of
a dam in the pristine wilderness; a traditional “Thorrablot” meal with
an audience of pagans, among them.
Although the band wanted a visual record of the live show with which
they had just toured the world, we also wanted to deliver a different
kind of experience of watching Sigur Ros than you get in a gig venue.
Many people watch Sigur Ros with their eyes closed (sic) and enjoy the
show as an overall experience. What we wanted was to move the camera in
much closer and reveal what was actually going on on stage.
We watched a lot of rock (and non-rock) films in trying to work out
what we did and didn’t want to do in making what turned out to be ‘Heima’.
We liked ‘Jazz On A Summer’s Day’, ‘Pink Floyd Live In Pompeii’ and ‘Walkabout’.
We didn’t like ‘Travis Live At T In the Park’. Both ‘Pompeii’ and
‘Jazz…’ had amazing close-up photography that felt almost invasively
intimate, the cutting was minimal and any camera motion – and there was
little - was at snail’s pace. All these things were great. Plus ‘Jazz…’
also made amazing use of the audience at the 1958 Newport Festival.
From Nic Roeg’s debut ’Walkabout’ we saw a way of making an ostensibly
beautiful environment look annihilatingly huge, a place where humans
really had little right to be, which is how Iceland had always seemed
to us on our way round. In order to do this, we put aside any ideas of
using American or European directors (we’d talked to a few), who might
find the clichéd lures of volcanoes, geysers and the Blue Lagoon too
irresistible, and went instead for an all-Icelandic crew, collected
around local producer and man-who-can, Finni Johansson.
We filmed eight shows, ranging from the smallest (Snaefell protest camp
- incidentally the first time the band had ever played acoustically
anywhere) to the biggest shows of the band’s career (Reykjavik was the
largest show ever in Iceland with around 25,000 people), in addition to
filming a bunch of locations without audiences.
Denni Karlsson, the director of the summer filming, started the editing
process in the early autumn, but the initial results fell somewhat
short of the grand expectations we had had in trying to follow the
footsteps of some of the most enduring music films ever made.
We played around with the footage for months, trying to get a proper
film out of it, before admitting that what we had was a bunch of pretty
performances without much of a narrative thread to hold it together.
Meanwhile, on a parallel track, we were talking to a guy called Dean
DeBlois, a Canada-by-way-of-Hollywood dude, who’d written and directed
‘Lilo & Stitch’, and was asking us if we might want to get involved
with a forthcoming animation feature.
We’d met Dean the previous autumn at our Hollywood Bowl show and knew
he was a keen fan of the band. So we didn’t feel too bad asking him for
some advice with how to progress a movie that’s hitting the creative
buffers. We knew he’d been Head of Story at Disney and figured he might
be able to give us some pointers. We sent him the 120 hours of footage
we’d shot in the summer and he spent a weekend staring at a computer
He also read the Tour Diary written at the time of the tour on the
band’s fan-site, and for the first time worked out what exactly we’d
been trying to accomplish all along. The next week he came back with
what he thought we needed and said he’d be up for helping us get it.
So, in the spring of 2007, Dean wound up in Iceland to shoot another
substantial tranche of live footage with the intimacy brief to the fore,
as well as environmental colour, sub-textural links and, crucially, the
face-to-face interviews with the band, which – despite the fact that
the band were uncomfortable with talking to camera - he felt would
provide the glue to hold the whole thing together. He also came up with
a title, ‘Heima’, which instantly seemed better than our, then sadly
accurate, ‘Lost In The Lava’.
Finally, we found English editor Nick Fenton, who was suggested by a
mutual friend who had wanted use him for a Joy Division doc, but had
graciously allowed us to “borrow” instead. Thankfully, Nick decided not
to watch our blind alley edits and, looking at the work with fresh eyes,
immediately found layers and connections that brought a new weight and
power to the film.
Between them, Nick and Dean provided the final missing pieces of this
jigsaw project, producing a honed and impressive end result from what
were pretty disparate elements. Dean’s undoubtedly commercial eye and
Nick’s more experimental leanings seemed to hold each other in some
kind of dynamic tension, lifting the film further and higher than we
could have hoped or, at times, expected.
‘Heima’ was filmed on Hi Definition entirely on location in Iceland and
mixed in Dolby 5.1. It was off-lined in London through June and July,
and then finished in Los Angeles in August 2007. All the music was
recorded live on the road with absolutely no overdubs by Birgir Jon
Birgisson, who is the engineer at Sigur Ros’s studio in Alafoss, and
Ken Thomas, co-producer of ‘Agaetis Byrjun’, ‘( )’ and ‘Takk…’.
Heima : An introduction
Last year, in the endless magic hour of the Icelandic summer, Sigur Rós
played a series of concerts around their homeland. Combining both the
biggest and smallest shows of their career, the entire tour was filmed,
and now provides a unique insight into one of the world’s shyest and
least understood bands captured live in their natural habitat.
The culmination of more than a year spent promoting their hugely
successful ‘Takk…’ album around the world, the Icelandic tour was free
to all-comers and went largely unannounced. Playing in deserted fish
factories, outsider art follies, far-flung community halls, sylvan
fields, darkened caves and the hoofprint of Odin’s horse, Sleipnir*,
the band reached an entirely new spectrum of the Icelandic population;
young and old, ardent and merely quizzical, entirely by word-of-mouth.
The question of the way Sigur Rós’s music relates to, and is influenced
by, their environment has been reduced to a journalistic cliché about
glacial majesty and fire and ice, but there is no doubt that the band
are inextricably linked to the land in which they were forged. And the
decision to film this first-ever Sigur Rós film in Iceland was, in the
Shot using a largely Icelandic crew (to minimise Eurovision-style
scenic-wonder overload), ‘Heima’ - which means both “at home” and
“homeland” - is an attempt to make a film every bit as big, beautiful
and unfettered as a Sigur Rós album. As such it was always going to be
something of a grand folie, but one, which taking in no fewer than 15
locations around Iceland (including the country’s largest ever concert
at the band’s Reykjavik homecoming), is never less than epic in its
Material from all four of the band’s albums is featured, including many
rare and notable moments. Among these are a heart-stopping rendition of
the previously unreleased ‘Gitardjamm’, filmed inside a derelict
herring oil tank in the far West Fjords; a windblown, one-mic recording
of ‘Vaka’, shot at a dam protest camp subsequently drowned by rising
water; and first time acoustic versions of such rare live beauties as ‘Staralfur’,
‘Agaetis Byrjun’ and ‘Von’.
Heima is the first chance to see Sigur Rós live on DVD. November 5,
* The huge horseshoe canyon at Ásbyrgi was, according to legend, formed
by the hoofprint of this mythical beast. John Best, Manager Sigur
Ros. 15th Sept 2007