A new Icelandic documentary is premiering in Reykjavik tonight. Atomy follows the journey of quadriplegic social entrepreneur, Brandur, who is paralysed from the neck down, as he goes to Nepal to seek therapy in the hope that it may help him to walk again.
The director, Reykjavik-born Logi Hilmarsson, tells Nordic Watchlist about making the film which saw him spend about four years following Brandur’s emotional journey.
Nordic Watchlist: Tell us more about Atomy and how the story came to be?
Logi Hilmarsson: The story came as I was becoming good friends with Brandur, whom I had met when I was connecting with various local entrepreneurs. I had started a production company and was trying my hand at being more business minded. I linked with some startups that made things that felt interesting or important. Brandur was involved in a company who was planning on building and testing very promising and efficient greenhouses.
Brandur was paralysed from the neck down but it didn’t stop him from being very active and positively influence a lot of the people around him. At the time I didn’t know or ask the circumstances of his condition but whatever the details, his perspective on things was very interesting to me.
One day he told me that he was heading to Kathmandu for therapy, a trip he was tying to justify by meeting other activists and politicians to to talk about the plight of the disabled in Nepal.
What stood out for me though, was that Rahul, the therapist whom he had met once before in Iceland, had apparently told him that he could get him, a quadriplegic person, back onto his feet.
Recognising that it was indeed a story worth documenting. Brandur invited me to tag along. I put all that business stuff on the back burner and went on a journey which lasted for about four years.
Nordic Watchlist: How comfortable was your relationship with Brandur and how did you build that trust to be able to document his journey?
Logi Hilmarsson: Brandur is quite extroverted and very comfortable with having lots of people around but the film in its present form wouldn’t exist if we didn’t simply enjoy hanging out to start with.
Alma, his girlfriend at the time, became a huge part of the film as well and although she is much more reserved, we could connect on many things. We are all about the same age and have enough of the same interests to never run out of things to talk about.
Little by little we all become used to having cameras and a sound-man as part of our moments together. As the therapy started and Rahul completely took over the narrative, the camera became an integral part of the process of getting him back on his feet, both as a witness and motivator.
Nordic Watchlist: You had your first screening at Reykjavik International Film Festival at the end of 2022 – how was the film received?
Logi Hilmarsson: Both screenings went incredibly well. Many attendees with no connection to the subjects or filmmakers came to us telling us that they laughed and cried and that they would be thinking about the film for a long time afterwards.
Nordic Watchlist: What is next for the film – have you got more film festivals planned?
Logi Hilmarsson: The film was in large part funded by the Icelandic Film Centre. They seem to have a lot of faith in it and have devised a strategy for me. I have just started sending it to all the bigger festivals around the globe and will continue to send it everywhere all this year.
There are plenty of other factors outside of a film’s merits that determine whether or not it gets to certain festivals… So, yes, I’m planning on many more festivals, while not taking it personally if I don’t get in and acknowledging that I’m lucky if I do.
Nordic Watchlist: What do you hope for your audiences to gain from watching Atomy when it is released?
Logi Hilmarsson: Atomy is a very dense film, there is a simple entertaining thread that drives the story but there is also a whole lot to unpack when it comes to the reality of people working together to engineer a ‘miracle’.
Brandur and Alma serve as good proxies for the audience to identify with and maybe the way the film documents the changes they go through can help some people who are suffering through their own issues to find transcendence or simply peace.