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New Ulm Film Society screens ‘Sveit’ with director

NEW ULM – The short film “Sveit” screened at The Grand Thursday night as part of the New Ulm Film Societies Minnesota film series.

“Sveit” is an experimental short documentary about writer-director Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson’s family and their emigration from Iceland to the United States during the late 19th century. Kristjansson-Nelson attended the screening was available to answering questions.

“Sveit” was mostly shot in Iceland near her family’s place of origin. Kristjansson-Nelson shot the film between 2005 and 2007 and amassed 60 hours of footage which she condensed into 30 minutes of film. The film describes the film as a “geneography” of memory and places.

The film uses memories and stories from her grandfather’s experiences coming to America. From a young age Kristjansson-Nelson was determined to explore what it means to be from Iceland.

“I was raised being told I am Icelandic but no on in my family had been there,” Kristjansson-Nelson said. “We are all Americans but we also told we’re from somewhere else.”

For Kristjansson-Nelson the connection to her families homeland was limited to her grandfather who fluently spoke the language. This connection became even more tenuous as in his later years her grandfather developed a medical condition effecting the language sections of his brain. This left Kristjansson-Nelson with the difficult task of assembling a past with only a vague selection of memories. Instead of avoiding the inconsistencies Kristjansson-Nelson decided to embrace them.

The documentary is not told in the traditional style and often uses abstract imagery to communicate the muddiest of exploring a persons heritage. The film jumps from scenes with little transitions and is told using imagines with overlapping narration, often in two separate languages. The documentary even incorporates stories from Norse mythology.

“When I approached the subject I could have had people just tell their story, but so much of it seemed abstract,” Kristjansson-Nelson said.

During the question and answer period following the screening Kristjansson-Nelson was asked if in finishing the film help bring clarity to her family history or if it brought more confusion. Kristjansson-Nelson admitted it was a little bit of both, saying its less about clearing up specific facts and dates and more about finding out who we are now and who we will be in the future.

Kristjansson-Nelson return to Iceland last May and is in the early stages of shooting a film on the housing market crashes impact on both Iceland and the United States. Kristjansson-Nelson currently teaches film at the Minnesota State University in Moorhead.

Next month on Aug. 25 the Film Society will screen the final film in their Minnesota Series. The last film is “Sweet Land”. Director Brent Shields will be in attendance.

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