Backyard

by James McNally on January 31, 2012

in Documentaries,DVD

Backyard

Backyard (Director: Árni Sveinsson): While it’s true that I’ve long been a fan of Icelandic cinema, I have been a fan of Icelandic music for even longer. In the late 1980s, a band called The Sugarcubes and their elfin singer Björk intro­duced me to the unique sounds of this tiny country, and since then, I’ve come to love dozens of bands from Iceland. Someone in another recent doc­u­mentary about Iceland’s seem­ingly bound­less cre­ativity said that the fear of failure is almost nonex­istent, so people take risks. They also help each other out, which is exactly how Backyard came to be.

Each August the city of Reykjavik cel­eb­rates Menningarnótt (Reykjavik Culture Night), a daylong cel­eb­ra­tion of the cre­ative spirit of its cit­izens. There are all kinds of offi­cial and unof­fi­cial events, and in 2009, Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson (of FM Belfast) decided to hold a con­cert in his back­yard and invite his friends to play. He wanted to record the audio, but he also invited his friend Árni Sveinsson to shoot video. None of the bands (or even the two Árnis) thought they were making a “real” movie, so the whole thing is incred­ibly loose. Based on my own exper­i­ences in Iceland, most things organ­ized are “incred­ibly loose.” Icelanders like to fly by the seat of their pants, to be honest, but it gives the film a real energy, too.

Though we get the back­ground around the plan­ning (which seems to happen in a matter of days), the majority of the film’s brisk 73-minute run­ning time is given over to the per­form­ances, and what a treat. The lineup is incred­ibly diverse, from the lo-fi styl­ings of Borko and Sin Fang Bous to the raucous assault of Reykjavik! to the feel-good party sounds of Retro Stefson and FM Belfast (whose finale “Underwear” is guar­an­teed have you boun­cing around your living room grin­ning like an idiot). And though the musical styles change, it’s great to see how many bands actu­ally share mem­bers. In a small place like Iceland, this might be a neces­sity but it also allows for some very inter­esting musical cross-pollination. It’s fit­ting that the film ends with many of the musi­cians soaking together in one of Reykjavik’s thermal swim­ming pools.

Some of these bands (múm, Hjaltalín) were known to me, but most were new dis­cov­eries, and luckily the DVD package (buy it here!) comes with an audio CD of the songs as well. It’s been on con­stant rota­tion over the past few months for me, rein­for­cing my sin­cere belief that Iceland is pound-for-pound the most cre­ative place on the planet.

Official site of the film

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