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Gnarr: Comedy and Politics in Iceland

Meet the director who captured a political marvel: the election of a comedian as mayor of Reykjavik, on a platform of free trips to Disneyland. He refuses to work with anyone who doesn't watch The Wire!

Note: This interview originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. Gnarr will be available on nationwide VOD and iTunes on February 7, 2012.




In 2009, silver-tongued satirist Jon Gnarr formed a punk political party and ran for mayor of Reykjavik.  His Best Party, made up of members with no background in politics, campaigned by parodying the Icelandic government, largely for the country’s economic meltdown. But as the Best Party pulled ahead in the polls, what started as a joke snowballed into the election of a comedian. Lucky for us, filmmaker Gaukur Úlfarsson caught the whole hoax on camera. 


Tribeca: How long had you known Jon?  What inspired you to document his campaign for mayor of Reykjavik? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson: I had not known Jon personally for more than one year. I obviously had known of him from his work and was a huge fan, but we met formally at a dinner party at a mutual friend’s place and got along really well. After that, we spoke almost every day and started working on writing a TV project together. While we were doing that he was constantly talking about wanting to run for Mayor. I didn't take that too seriously and thought it wasn't such a good idea. But one night when I couldn't sleep, I had some sort of a vision, that actually this could be brilliant, and I decided to start recording the process. 


Tribeca: What is it that makes comedy so sincere a form of communication? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson: In the case of Jon running for Mayor, I think that the people of Reykjavik were so fed up with all the fighting and arguing of the usual politicians, and because of the collapse, all of this tiresome noise magnified and nobody seemed to be able to get anyone's attention. So Jon playing the funny simpleton politician, the one that has no idea what’s going on, was a breath of fresh air to most people. 


Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson:There were many crazy things that happened, as you can imagine. Jon is quite unpredictable, as you can see during the film, and he is unafraid to do really strange things. But I would have to say that the result from the vote has to be the craziest of all.



Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned while making Gnarr, particularly about the realm of politics? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson: I think it would have to be what we are seeing now, with the Best party in charge, (all people that have no prior experience with politics), and the fact that things haven't collapsed yet. Those were the scare tactics of the other parties, to get the voters to realize that if we elected these clowns, the city would go down in flames. We have been taught to believe that there are special types of humans best fit for running our lives. That is a great big lie as we are seeing now. 


Tribeca: What do you want audiences to take away from Gnarr? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson:I would like people to feel well, like after a great meal, well, happy and full of hope, knowing that anything is possible, and feeling that the world is their oyster. 


Tribeca: What's your advice for aspiring filmmakers? Unlikely political candidates? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson: It's easy to quit when things get tough, and things will get tough. But if you find that you really have to do something, that you have something important to say or a great story to tell and are able to get through the tough times, then that is, in the end, what will separate you from the quitters. The same goes for politicians. But also, be sincere, don't try to fake yourself through things you don't know or don't understand—just say that you don't know or don't understand. 


Tribeca: Do you think the American government is ripe for a Best Party? If it’s possible in Reykjavik is it possible here?   


Gaukur Úlfarsson: Absolutely! The message of the film and the reason why it has to be heard throughout the world is that times really are changing. People have had enough of social imbalance, and I think that in America, people are realizing that even though capitalism has worked for a period of time it doesn't do so anymore, not for the masses. It has got gaping holes in it that are making the rich ten times richer and the poor ten times poorer. That’s a system that doesn't work. Therefore, you need to give the power to people with no political background or upbringing, good and sincere people that you know you can trust and who will be able to restructure the whole system. Just remember, if you do so, things will not fall apart. 


Tribeca: What are your hopes for Gnarr at Tribeca? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson: I hope that people will enjoy it, that they will laugh and learn something, and that it will get massive distribution so that the rest of the world can see what can be done.



Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson: I would have to say Woody Allen. 


Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/tv show) are you currently recommending to your friends most often? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson:  We have so many quality novels published in Iceland every year, so the books I recommend are mostly Icelandic. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film that I have recommended to many recently, and also Food, Inc. In the narrative section, I really liked The Fighter, and I was also quite impressed with Buried.


I have been recommending The Wire for a long time and I still do so, also Boardwalk Empire and a British show called The Thick of It. I recommend Icelandic music to anyone. The music in Gnarr is all Icelandic and has pieces from many bands in our brilliant music scene, like Sing Fang Bous, Pascal Pinon and many more. 


Tribeca: What would your biopic be called? 


Gaukur Úlfarsson: A Moon On The Man. 


Tribeca: What makes Gnarr a must-see?


Gaukur Úlfarsson:  It's full of laughs, hope, inspiration, music and pure joy.



Gnarr will be available on nationwide VOD and iTunes on February 7, 2012.


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