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  • Writer's pictureSúsanna Svavarsdóttir

Birnir Jón Sigurðsson, harnessing the Creative Force

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Birnir Jón Sigurðsson
Birnir Jón Sigurðsson

Birnir Jón Sigurðsson was raised in the ambitious and competitive town of Kópavogur

In Iceland, everything you need is short-distance. When you are raising children, it is easy to let them have a try at most anything that sparks their interest. If it is sports, a proper sport-hall is sure to be in your neighborhood. Be it music, and a music school is sure to be connected to their school. In most places, the same goes for dancing and drama, art and handicraft, skiing, hiking, sailing, fishing, hunting. Most Icelandic children have a chance to get acquainted with their field of interest from a very early age. And, did I mention travelling the world?

In Kópavogur a young man, Birnir Jón Sigurðsson, was raised enjoying all the advantages of a prosperous community. Situated next to Reykjavík while still being a "kind of" small town, the Kópavogur administration has always been ambitious and competitive. With the first music hall in Iceland, Salurinn, an excellent museum/gallery, Gerðarsafn, great libraries and first class sports facilities, Kópavogur has been able to offer their young quite an advantage when it comes to finding out what they want to do with their life.

A sabbatical year

In spite of his young age, Birnir Jón already has a surprising experience and success in writing and directing drama, as well as filmmaking. He has been writing and directing at the Ungleikur (Young Theater), a venue for young people who are planning for a future in the theatre and has recently premiered one of his pieces at a Ungleikur festival at the City Theatre.

After graduating from college in 2013, Birnir Jón decided to take a sabbatical before starting to prepare for the future. "I spent four months working on everything I could get my hands on to gain some money. Then I spent six months travelling through Spain and South-America," says Birnir Jón. "My purpose was to gain experience, get acquainted with different cultures, amass ideas and have fun. It was really worthwhile."

Upon returning to Iceland, Birnir Jón spent a year at the University of Iceland studying Film Studies. He also staged a musical at his former college. "It was a strange experience," he says, "I staged the musical along with a friend of mine. Neither one of us had any experience in staging anything, but suddenly we were working with 50 teenagers, actors, dancers, musicians and set designers. It was a matter of learning as you go and was a powerful experience. Fortunately, the staging was a big success."

First price for first short film

But, the dice was rolling. The summer before starting University Birnir Jón was working at "Creative Summer-jobs" a project launched by Kópavogur a few years earlier. The aim of the project was to give young people a chance to work in their creative field of choice. Birnir Jón and his friend made a short film. During the winter, the film won the first price in a short-film competition in Iceland. It was sent to a short-film festival in Tahiti where it also won the first price. It was sent to further three short-film festivals, amongst them Cannes. Birnir Jón took the film to Cannes and said it was a very educational experience.

"During my year at the University I also joined the University Theatre Group," says Birnir Jón. "Apart from acting I took part in creating a play along with the group and the director. We performed in a theatre in Hafnarfjörður. There I got to know a new friend, Arnar Geir, and the following summer we made another short film we still haven't yet submitted for viewing.”

Running a film school

“When I returned home from South-America, I knew I wanted to do something creative. I enrolled in Film Studies because I wanted to learn about filmmaking. But, the university course was all about theories and not at all what I was looking for. So I decided to create a project called the Film Commune, an independent non-profit film school in Kópavogur. Lára Marteinsdóttir and our teacher, as well as, I run it voluntarily and we get rent-free facilities from the town. Monday through Thursday we meet between 10.00 and 14.00. We bring our works and ideas there, work on them and discuss them amongst ourselves.

We motivate ourselves, and each other, to work on something creative, instead of just drifting. On Fridays, we work with a teacher. We watch and discuss films and receive a bit of academic basis. The Film Commune is all about finding your voice, your own projects. It is about dedicating time to your ideas and projects.”

Learning responsibility

“Kópavogur offers excellent facilities for those who are planning their future. They provide a house, called Molinn, which is used, among other things, by young people preparing a future in the creative industry. We can work there during the winter. During summer, we can apply for a grant in Creative Summer-jobs. For eight weeks, we receive basic salaries while working on our own projects. It is invaluable and a great encouragement. Of course, we have to complete our projects that provide us with a sense of responsibility. We are simply thrown into the deep-end of the pool and told to swim. It has been a great experience."

When asked what it was like for a creative child to grow up in Kópavogur, Birnir says it was okay. "The funny thing about Kópavogur is that it doesn't have a town center with a centralized art scene. Instead of a center it has a town shoulder called Hamraborg. There we do have a library, the music hall, the music school, the museum and Molinn. My feeling is that Kópavogur has always been a bit more about sports, but I think it is beginning to wake up and fuel the art scene due to programs like the Creative Summer Jobs and art grants. I quite like the development."

In spite of liking his hometown, Birnir is getting a bit restless to turn his time and energy full-time to filmmaking. His next step will be to find a film-school abroad. He hasn't decided where, but he is well prepared. And yes, two of his latest music videos will be aired in December.


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