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Teitur Magnússon on His First Feature Film “Owls”

Owls is Teitur Magnússon’s first feature film and is among the eight Icelandic films which premiered in the Icelandic Panorama category at the Reykjavik International Film Festival. RIFF focuses on young talent and up-and-coming directors. 32-year-old Teitur Magnússon’s film tells the story of widowed Páll, who is living a secluded life in the Icelandic countryside when a woman unexpectedly turns up on his doorsteps. A victim of domestic abuse, the woman forces Páll to face his own painful past. 

Owls is your first feature film. What is it like for you to present it at RIFF?

This is the first time I am at a festival and the first time I’ve shown my film since I was at film school. I did not intend it to be seen by an audience. I intended it to be a showcase for producers, but it was suggested to me to send an application to RIFF. To see it with an audience was amazing and nothing like I had expected. The film is quirky and at some points the audience reacted in ways that were surprising to me. They laughed at moments where I intended it to be serious and I was a little afraid of having made a film like Room. But I realized that people were really engaged in the story and the debates afterward made me realize this.

What was it like to screen it for an audience?

I screened it twice and the first time, the only questions at the Q&A afterward were from foreigners. There were no questions from Icelanders and in some weird way this meant a lot because it felt like I was connected to people from outside of Iceland.

It feels very special and I just hope that I can make more films so I can be part of it in the future. They are doing an honorary section for the director Árni Ólafur Ásgeirsson, who taught me a lot at film school. Unfortunately, he passed away this year at only 49 years old. He premiered a film the same day that I did and that was very special for me. I have no words for what this means to me.

Is the festival good for networking?

Yes, but it is pretty hard to say what exactly I get out of it. I have done everything on my own, so I have had no one to advise me on how to go about it at the festival. So I am kind of walking in the dark. I have just been trying to be as present as I can and try to reach out to people and tell them that I have a film screening here.

There is a big film culture in Iceland even if it is a small country of 360,000 people. How is the film community?

It is a small community so we have easy access to the biggest directors and actors in Iceland. I was taught by many of them in film school and a lot of professional actors act in student films. So everybody is part of one big network. Icelanders are communicating a lot with each other and are very helpful to each other. It is easy to reach out. There is a sense of community and we all gain from each other’s success. I know that if someone is doing well like Baltasar Kormákur, it helps every filmmaker in Iceland.

How did you finance Owls?

I financed it myself with the other producer and the actor in the film, Bjartmar Einarsson, who financed half of it. It is a really small budget and we made it in 13 days. We only did ten-hour days.

What is your background?

I went to the Icelandic film school and it is a speed course in filmmaking. I took classes in scriptwriting and directing and graduated in 2016. It was suggested to me that I should become a PA to gain experience, but I did not see the point in doing that and instead got a night shift at a hotel and wrote the script for Owls while on the job. I wrote every single night.

You shot the film in one location with only three actors. Why did you choose to make it this simple?

I wanted to make a film that was character-based and I wanted to make a very personal and deep story. We went to really dark places. The idea for the story came when I was working night shifts, where I experienced these horrifying things. There were many cases of domestic abuse. The couples were on romantic weekends in Iceland and still, this happened. I had no experience with domestic violence and could just not believe how this could happen on what was meant to be a romantic trip to Iceland. So I started researching domestic violence and I was shocked by how common it was. So I started writing in 2019 and when Covid hit and domestic violence was even more in focus, our story became even more relevant.


Did you always want to become a filmmaker?

I wanted to become a filmmaker since I was a child. I grew up in a small fishing village of 500 people about 40 minutes away from Reykjavik. It was James Bond films that caught my attention when I was 7 and then I started making films with my friends.

What do you think you take away from the festival?

To be more confident and believe in myself and in what I am doing. I had a hard time sleeping before the premiere because I was nervous and it was stressful. I feel very uncomfortable when I have to speak in front of people about my film and I have a hard time receiving praise. But it is something that I have to work on. It is one and a half years ago that I made the film and I was nervous about the subject but I felt it was important to be part of the discussion about it. So I have learned to trust myself. I think I can do this. I want to be a filmmaker. That is what I am going to do even if it might be hard. I want to do it well.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a film that I started writing in 2018. It is also character-based and it is also quirky but the subject is not as terrible.