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Interview: Benedikt Erlingsson on his film ‘Of Horses and Men’

Interview: Benedikt Erlingsson on his film 'Of Horses and Men'

Of Horses and Men, Iceland‘s Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : None Yet. International Sales Agent: FilmSharks International

*The film has been selected for the prestigious New Directors New Films series read more HERE.  

It also just screened in the beautiful open air under a dome of stars at the fourth edition of the exclusive infiniti ArteCareyes Film & Art Festival on the Pacific Coast of Mexico in the state of Jalisco.

Delightfully comedic and adorned with gorgeous vistas of the Icelandic landscape, Benedikt Erlingsson’s directorial debut Of Horses and Men is a compelling exploration of the animal instincts in all of us. Set in a rural community where horses are a crucial part of the social interaction, the actor turned writer/ director allows the spectator to see the world of his human characters through their equines’ expressive eyes. His story combines a peculiar affinity for tragedy with lighthearted charm. The humorous director spoke with us about his personal experience with horses, the pressure of competing for an Academy Award nomination, and how much harder it is to work with humans than with animals.

Besides being Iceland’s Official Oscar Submission, the film has been selected to screen as part of two competitions during the Palm Springs International Film Festival: Awards Buzz and New Voices, New Visions.

Of Horses and Men also screened at the Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. in January and just screened at the Careyes Film & Arts Festival on the Costa Careyes, Jalisco, Mexico.

Read the Review Of Horses and Men HERE

What is your relationship with rural life like the one presented on the film? Did you grow up in a place like the one your characters lived in? Or are
you simply fascinated by that lifestyle?

I was brought up in downtown Reykjavík, but as a teenager I worked on a horse farm in the highlands of northern Iceland. I worked there for four summers as a
“harvest boy” This was a culture shock. Maybe you could say that this film has been a therapeutic healing program for me.

And yes, you could say that I am fascinated by this lifestyle and it has become my own.

I got my first horse when I was 16 year old. Her name was Roshildur and she was part of my salary from the farm. She has been my life companion for 30
years until I had to put her down this winter.

There is a darkly comedic tone in your film? Is this something that you were conscious about while writing it or did it develop organically because of your
own sensibilities?

Maybe it’s part of my style as a storyteller. You could say that in my target group is only one person that I have to amuse. And that person is me.

What do you think is particular about horses in comparison to all other domesticated animals?

I think horses are the most codependent domestic animals that can you find. You really need to be in the “program” to fully understand them.

The human/horse interaction in your film seems to be driven by the animal’s gaze and their somehow human-like expression, could you talk about why this
interested you?

The eye can be a mirror. Sometimes that is what happens when a human really looks into the eye of an animal

If I were better in English, I could answer this question with a poem.

How difficult was it to work with horses and actors at the same time?  In a sense the horses are playing a part themselves. Did featuring these majestic
creatures so prominently become a challenge?

To work with actors is my profession. Both my parents were actors, my wife is an actor, I’m an actor, I’m surrounded with actors all day in the theater
and then in the evening i go to the stables and ride my horses. So this film as my first film is a very natural and safe choice. It is my base.

To work with horses was amazingly easy. And of course they are not in any union and that made the producer very happy.

The financing was in fact my biggest challenge. The homo sapiens are the problem makers .

Going back to the horses, they seem to also be spectators, they observe the madness and irrational behavior of people. Did you want to comment on the
civilized state we think we live in and how many times our animalistic instincts overpower that?

Yes. Exactly. And this on going battle to harness the nature in us and around us.

The direct translation of the Icelandic title (HROSS Í OSS.) is “Horse in us.”

There is definitely a distinctively Icelandic feeling to your film, both culturally and visually. What do you think your film says not only about humanity
as whole, but specifically about Iceland?

I am maybe too close to the subject to provide a good answer. But I can say I believe in the basic attitude that by being local you can become global.

Lastly, since your film is representing Iceland at the Academy Awards, is there any pressure or expectations? How does this honor make you feel?

How does this honor make you feel? That’s a very private question and a good one.

The official answer is : I feel honored

But there is another answer and maybe more sincere and that is : frightened

If I were a horse I would run away.

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