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What Metalhead Will Teach You About the Power of Art

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Ragnar Bragason is the writer/director of Metalhead, an official selection at TIFF 2013. It screens Saturday, Sept. 7; Monday, Sept. 9; and Friday, Sept. 13.

The climate in Iceland is changing. Metalhead was filmed over a period of 8 weeks in the dead of winter where I intended to have the characters treading on deep snow, the terrific forces of nature mirroring the inner struggles of the characters and accenting their isolation. But there was none. It didn't snow for months on end.

We are growing up, both as a nation and as filmmakers. The first features were made here in the late '70s, which means that by then I could read and write, had kissed a girl and secured my first paying job. The film marking the autumn of Icelandic filmmaking is the great Land And Sons by August Gudmundsson, released in 1980, dealing with the transition from the farms to the city post-WWII and as the title suggests the male aspect of it. But things have changed and in a way Metalhead is a sign of the times. In my new film I return to farm life but this time the protagonist is a young woman.

A tale of a girl, dairy farming and heavy metal music, Metalhead is a dramatic film, a coming of age story both tender and grim with moments of rebellious comedy. It's a story of a terrible loss and how we deal with our grief, dreams and nightmares. The subject matter is, I think, as a statement on the human condition, universal in scope. I don't think the film is nostalgic but maybe you can find a longing for a more humane society, where community cares and the idea of family has more value. The Icelandic film industry crumbled following the crash of the economy (some say moral values) in 2008. So you could say that this film is made in the shadow of a tragedy. But things are looking brighter after a rebellious struggle and the Icelandic film is coming of age. From a small nation of 300,000 people, this summer we saw an Icelandic director, Baltasar Kormakur, at the top of the U.S. box office with 2 Guns (his 2nd time), and Gudmundur Arnar received an award for his short Whale Valley at Cannes.

In my work, whether in film, television or theatre, I use methods inspired by the work of Leigh and Casavettes, gathering the best available actors and involving them in extended character study through intensive work to achieve authenticity. Filmmaking is an ongoing journey and collaborating closely with my actors has opened up new avenues of creative possibilities. In Metalhead I was also able to combine a lot of things I love.

It is a personal film. I grew up in a small community in the remote part of Iceland and as a teenager sought refuge and inspiration in heavy metal music. With this film I want to celebrate the music and the impact and influence it has had on me and millions of others around the world. Rarely in the past has heavy metal been featured in a film in a serious way. Up till now the focus has been on the ridiculous and comical elements (to a great effect in Spinal Tap for instance) but I wanted to incorporate it differently. Metalhead is a film about the power of art. How art can touch our souls and help us become better people. It's an emotional drama that hopefully will touch the audience, at once funny and profoundly sad. It's a ride that is often emotionally challenging but ends on a hopeful note.

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