Herd in Iceland – zwei Filmemacher auf Islands Pferdepfaden

Lindsay Blatt und Paul Taggart im Interview über ihr aktuelles Filmprojekt, isländische Traditionen und ihre neu entdeckte Pferdeliebe.


Mario: Paul and Lindsey, you are making a movie about herding in Iceland. What is the story you want to tell people?

Lindsay: Through the film, we aim to show how the Icelandic people are connected to the land through the horses. Iceland is an unforgiving landscape, and its geography and weather play a big role in shaping the culture. The horses are special because they are allowed to roam free for part of the year and when they are used as riding horses - their personality really comes out. The time in the mountains make the horse nimble and able to think on their own. The Icelandic people take great pride in this and have a lot of respect for the horses.

Paul: I was drawn to this story because of the connection the people have to this animal - the Icelandic horse - the care and pride they have for their pure breed. Something the nation has spent considerable energy in protecting. It is this story of people trying to connect with nature and with a way of life, when things were simpler; that I would like to show people and in return hopefully the audience will relate to this the same way that I did when filming in Iceland.


The horses seem to take a symbolic role in this. Travelling in Iceland - did you find similarities between the mentality of the horses and the people? What are people like from such a rough country?

Lindsay: That is a great point! We definitely saw a connection between how the horses act and how the people act. It all seems very minimalistic. The horses are compact but sturdy and the people live a modest lifestyle. There is also a gentleness that we saw in all the people who work with animals. They have a dry sense of humor, and when working with the animals, they always show a lot of respect. The horses are easy going, so the riders don't need to force them into situations. The people trust the horses and vice versa.

Paul: Many of the people we filmed were leading two lives: a life in the city working 9-5 jobs and then a second life back in their country homes, often the homes they grew up in. Their personalities often change dramatically when they're on their ranches or riding. When they were with their horses their general attitude became positive and enthusiastic.


When shooting, did you encounter situations where you experienced conflicting situations? In the sense of that this life is something they want to perserve, but are they also afraid of losing their tradion?

Paul: They are working hard to preserve this lifestyle. One character in particular had been actively working to create a business around his breeding and his family ranch, making huge family events in an attempt to bring the family back to the country and back into the riding lifestyle, with the hopes of making a fulltime life regarding horses.

Lindsay: It does seem that raising horses is very challenging. Much of the business is based on exporting to other countries, so when the financial crisis hit - it had a big impact. They also have a lot of tourism, so there were fewer travellers coming to do long riding treks for their vacations. I don't think anyone is going to get rich off of it, but everyone we met had so much passion for the work, they seemed to find a lot of satisfaction in what they are doing. As for the annual round-ups, I think it will continue to be a very special time of year. Several people we spoke to, compared it to Christmas. The event, when the horses are reunited with their owners, acts as a family reunion and a celebration.. The people that live in the cities still see the event as a way to connect with their community and the land. Some people only go riding once a year, and the round-ups are their opportunity to get into the mountains and re-connect with the tradition.


Paul - you've been working on a journalistic piece about the guys from the Sea Shepherds. That's a very controversial topic, involving lots of conflict, drama, connections to bigger happenings like over-fishing and industrialized food production vs. nature. Is it harder - as a film maker - to capture the silent things? Things that happen daily and still need to be told?

Paul: One nice thing about this project is that we worked in both, stills and motion... so the need to capture those moments, the quieter moments in between the action, was often satisfied with the still images. This said, capturing those moments on video did prove to be difficult at first, but after two trips to Iceland it became much easier. We also worked hard to spend a significant amount of time with the subjects, which always helps in creating those images either on video or in stills. We also stayed in the homes of many of our subjects, which broke down the walls that a camera creates; it really helped in gaining more access to the intimate, smaller moments in the story.


What were the most surprising things on that journey for you? What made the story important for you?

Paul: Falling in love with the horses... I knew I would love taking photos of and making a story about them,

but I did not expect to become so attached to them and so excited every time we met a new herd. Standing in a field with a hundred horses breathing on you, while you try to photograph them, is pretty amazing.

Lindsay: The most surprising aspect is that they still collect the herd in the same way they did hundreds of years ago. On horseback. Ranchers in other countries are using more technology, either motorcycles or helicopters. But since the region the horses live in is relatively small, they are still able to do this on horseback. I was also surprised to learn that anyone can go and ride an Icelandic horse through the mountains. You don't need to be an experienced rider to be overwhelmed by the incredible surroundings and by being in a group of hundreds of riders and thousands of horses.


When you look at kickstarter, it seems movies which aim at portraying a certain group of people - for the mere sake of the portrait - gain more attention. Do you believe documentaries can have a positive impact on the portrayed people? How did the people react when you said: "We are shooting a movie about you guys."?

Paul: most people were excited to see someone focusing their cameras on this specific group of horses. They are so excited about the Icelandic horses that they are in turn excited to see them get some time on screen. There were some ranchers and breeders that were not thrilled by the idea of being on camera, as most of us are not, but they quickly came around once they knew we had pure intentions for the story.

Lindsay: I think at first they couldn't quite see how special their story is. But as we spent more time with them, interviewing them about why they have a need to ride and be around horses, they could start to see how we were fascinated by it, too. Getting people to talk about what is important to them, sometimes gives them a better understanding of it themselves. I do believe that this film will have a positive impact on the farmers in Iceland. It shows how hard they work and how much goes into raising horses. Our audience is full of horse enthusiasts, but also includes people that love nature and adventure. I hope that more people will want to get out into the wild on horseback after seeing this movie, and perhaps they will do that in Iceland.


What's your explanation for the different feelings and behaviour people have towards animals like horses or dogs and life stock like pigs and cows in mass production? Did you talk about this topic with the people in Iceland? How did they think of this ambiguity?

Paul: People in Iceland have a very real sense of their animals and do not mystify them in the way that other countries might. Many people in Iceland eat horse meat and many breeders send some of their own horses to slaughter. So the mentality towards these animals is contrasting, but definitely not sugar coated.

Lindsay: That was not something we got in to. I'm not certain about this, but I don't think there is a lot of factory farming on Iceland. We did see cows, but they are mostly in large areas and not on feedlots. But I can't speak about their feelings on the difference between animals as pets and animals as food. They do slaughter horses for food though. It isn't a major part of their diet and only on a couple of occasions did we see it on the menu, but you can definitely buy it at the grocery store.


What's the difference for you guys between travelling and shooting a movie or writing reportages and traveling freely? What are the positive and negative aspects of both?

Lindsay: I truly enjoyed the collaborative process. We are both working with the same goal in mind, and to be able to have an open discussion on how to get there, is really satisfying. The days are long and there is a lot of equipment to carry - but to be able to spend the evenings looking at footage and editing the photos is very fulfilling. Being able to approach people was also one of the highlights. When you have an excuse to connect with them, because you want to film them, it opens up a lot of opportunities to relate with them on their own terms. I guess for the negative, it would be that we are self-funding the project - up until now. Vacations don't have the pressure of needing to have a final product, once you come home.


How did you finance the project - and how can people help you to make the final movie?

Lindsay: The movie is a kickstarter-project, which means it is partially crowdfunded, and we are thankful for every single person helping us financing this amazing project. All the money we are raising is going to hire post-production staff. An editor, a colorist, and a sound mixer. Also - should our campaign be successful - we are looking to have the film premier at the Reykjavik International Film Festival in September 2012.



Lindsay, Paul, after this project: What are the next steps for you? Do you already have plans? Which stories need to be told?

Lindsay: I would love to continue with the theme of herding. Herders around the world. There are other locations where this way of life is being threatened. That would connect more to the food system, and why we are eating too much meat for the scarce resources we have left - but that is a much bigger project!

Paul: We recently started our own production company, which grew out of shooting Herd in Iceland. And with the Production company, Lantern Fish Media, we hope to continue doing work related to the things we care deeply about, which are predominately nature driven stories. With Lantern Fish Media we are shooting multiple projects, some are client driven and others are passion projects, but nature is a theme that runs throughout. We are in production right now on a short film about plant based vaccine production which is infinitely interesting.


Sounds interesting! I wish you guys good luck! Thanks for your time and greetings to New York!





Das Leben mit diesen robusten Pferden und sie in ihren Herden zu (be-)hüten, ist eine der ältesten und wichtigsten Traditionen Islands. Herd in Iceland rückt diese ins Rampenlicht und leistet so einen Beitrag sie zu bewahren.

Mehr über dieses und andere Island-Projekte

Paul und Lindsays Projekt auf Kickstarter
Made in Iceland - 25 Tage allein in Island

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