Arm in arm

Núna (now) festival links Icelandic and Canadian cultures through art


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ICELAND may have a tiny population — less than half the size of Winnipeg’s — but it has grabbed global headlines twice in the last two years.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/04/2010 (4595 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ICELAND may have a tiny population — less than half the size of Winnipeg’s — but it has grabbed global headlines twice in the last two years.

First, in 2008, came the banking collapse that plunged the island nation into an economic crisis that still has it reeling.

Then came the eruptions this spring of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which belched ash that disrupted air traffic across Europe.

The fourth annual Núna (now) fes­tival of Icelandic and Canadian art erupts this weekend and will keep spewing molten creativity over the next three weekends.

Could it be that the gods who dwell in the Icelandic highlands are angry over recent environmental destruction of their majestic land?

Acclaimed Icelandic writer Andri Snaer Magnason has a smile in his voice when he talks about it by phone from Reykjavik. But he admits there’s something eerily prescient about a musician’s remark in Dreamland, an alarming 2009 environmentalist documentary that he co-directed.

"The mountains are the home of the gods," the apparently psychic woman says. "I think they’ll rise up to defend themselves."

Dreamland screens Friday at Cinematheque and Saturday at Gimli’s Lady of the Lake Theatre, with Magnason in attendance for post-film Q&A sessions.

The screenings are part of the fourth annual Núna (now) festival of Icelandic and Canadian art, which erupts this weekend and will keep spewing molten creativity over the next three weekends, until May 23.

There are 16 Núna events in Winnipeg, Gimli and Riverton: two documentary films, live and recorded music, theatre, dance, visual art in the form of an outdoor mural and a photography show, and even a lecture about the cultural significance of the classic prune-filled dessert, vinarterta.

The "Iceland-Canada art convergence" receives significant funding from the Icelandic government, as well as from corporate sponsors in both countries.

It’s programmed by six Manitoba artists of Icelandic descent, who take turns making research and networking trips to Iceland: actor/director Arne MacPherson; artist/writer Erika MacPherson; dancer/visual artist Freya Olafson; musician John K. Samson of the Weakerthans; bookseller/singer Tristin Tergesen; and filmmaker/writer Caelum Vatnsdal.

The committee has not kept festival attendance records, Samson says.

The six aren’t shy about programming their own work. On May 8, there’s a sneak-preview screening of We’re the Weakerthans, We’re From Winnipeg, a tour documentary directed by Vatnsdal about Samson’s band. The feature-length doc is being submitted to fall festivals and won’t be seen here again until its release months from now, Samson says.

The festival has appointed its first artist-in-residence, an Icelandic 29-year-old of half-Danish background who, surprisingly, shares the name of Louis Riel’s sister, Sara Riel. The artist, known for her street and graffiti projects, says she’s the only person in Iceland with that surname.

She has been commissioned to create a mural on the side of the Berns & Black building (formerly Birt Saddlery). The design incorporates migrating birds as a metaphor for Icelandic immigration and a Grey Nun’s habit in reference to Manitoba’s Sara Riel.

The festival is bringing in 21 artists in total. Ten of them are the cast of Humanimal, an award-winning 2009 work by Iceland’s Me and My Friends that blends theatre, dance, visual art and music to explore what it means to be human.

Samson sees great relevance for Manitobans in Dreamland, Magnason’s documentary wakeup call, with its impassioned warning about protecting natural resources — think Lake Winnipeg — before they’re sacrificed in the name of progress and profit.

Dreamland, completed just before Iceland’s banking collapse, is based on Magnason’s 2006 bestseller Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation. The film disturbingly documents how Iceland has encouraged multinational aluminum companies to construct huge, greenhouse-gas spewing smelters in small communities.

Iceland sold energy to the aluminum companies at ridiculously low prices and allowed massive hydroelectric dams to be rush-built without proper environmental-impact studies, the film says. The dams caused permanent flooding of unique ecosystems, destroying wildlife habitats, rivers, spectacular waterfalls and farms.

The government adopted a mentality of "staying drunk to avoid the hangover," allowing more and more aggressive industrial growth to prevent the economy from deflating, according to the documentary.

Magnason, a poet, novelist and playwright who appeared in Winnipeg as a poet in 2002, says he wrote Dreamland because the scientists and other experts who had tried to speak out had been silenced.

Iceland is now at a crossroads, he says, but the rising grassroots green movement has scored several victories.

It did seem as though the gods were chiming in, he says, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano started spewing on March 20, stopped for two days precisely when a damning 2,000-page report on the banking scandal was released, then blasted more powerfully.

"It’s very poetic — almost like it was choreographed," he says.


For complete information on Núna (now) and links to artists’ sites, visit


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