AVA 2021 Commendation

Half Elf (2020)

DIRECTOR: Jón Bjarki Magnússon

ABSTRACT: A lighthouse keeper prepares his earthly funeral while trying to reconnect the elf within. Hulda and Trausti have shared a roof on Icelandic shores for over seventy years. Her love of books is matched by his love of stones. When he bursts out singing, she begs him to stop screaming, when he tells her he wants to change his name to “Elf” she warns his family will abandon him. Now, as his one hundredth birthday nears and Trausti senses the hand of death upon him he is on a quest to find the coffin that can carry this elf back to the mysteries beyond…. Meanwhile, Hulda retreats into a world of poetry with the help of an electric magnifying glass. ‘Half Elf’ is a modern Icelandic fairy-tale, where life is celebrated – despite everything, despite ourselves and despite the reality that awaits all of us in the end. (64 minutes)

BIO: Jón Bjarki Magnússon is a filmmaker with background in journalism and poetry, interested in making anthropological and/or experimental films rooted in and around the intersection between play, performance and the real. He studied creative writing at the University of Iceland (2012) and received his MA in Visual and Media Anthropology from Freie Universität, Berlin, in 2018. His journalistic work has appeared on various Icelandic and international media platforms over the last decade and won him several prizes such as “The Icelandic Journalist of Year”, by the Union of Icelandic Journalists (2014). Magnússon currently does project work for Filmmaking For Fieldwork (F4F™), an educational project offering training in audio-visual research methods, ethnographic and documentary filmmaking, and is the co-founder of SKAK bíófilm, a small Icelandic production company invested in ethnographic filmmaking. His films have been selected for competition at key European film festivals, such as Docslisboa, Nordisk Panorama, and Tromsö International Film Festival. His short film on friendship in cyberspace, Even Asteroids Are Not Alone (2018), was awarded Royal Anthropological Institute´s (RAI) & Marsh Short Film Prize for ‘the most outstanding short film on social, cultural and biological anthropology or archaeology’ in 2019, and his feature observational film about the life and death of his aging grandparents, Half Elf (2020), was nominated for The Icelandic Film & Television Academy Award as the best Icelandic documentary of 2020 and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Icelandic Documentary Film Festival (Skjaldborg) in 2020.

AVA 2021 Judges:

‘Half Elf’ was, for me, a delight, an experience of unfettered joy that was unexpected given the film deals with the how one approaches end of their life. The film follows Trausti and Hulda, an Icelandic lighthouse keeper and his partner, as he approaches his 100th birthday. We are invited to share the journey with Trausti, a quirky character whose love of singing and elves frustrates Hulda, as he goes about his daily life. We see him cooking porridge, carefully working the electric burner to set the temperature correctly; we follow him on his walks; we sit at their table, listening to their conversations. Some of the most emotionally resonant moments of the film come as Trausti visits his casket, lovingly humming and singing to it as he strokes the wood, straddling, it almost feels, both this life and whatever it is to come with a lightness of being that offers inspiration to us all.

Aaron Seaman, on behalf of the Board of Judges (Film Category)