Tue. Nov 12th, 2019

The coven of Björk | Culture


In 2000, Björk achieved the maximum recognition to an actress at the Cannes Festival for his role in the musical of Lars Von Trier Dancing in the Dark, which also won the Golden Palm. Shortly after, the singer announced that she would not work in the cinema again. The experience, as she has let herself know over the years, was traumatic. Then, the controversial Danish filmmaker's film was talked about as his screen debut, but the data was not accurate. At the moment, the promise of not acting again has not been broken, although the premiere, almost three decades later, of The Juniper Tree (titled in Spain When we were witches) returns to the screens in pure state the magnetism of the Icelandic artist. The film, which never had distribution, can be seen from today in cinemas in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Ferrol, Santiago de Compostela and Seville.

Everything about this American opera Nietzchka Keene (who died in 2004 at age 52 due to pancreatic cancer) is enigmatic and surprising: an English film shot in Iceland in the late eighties, photographed in exquisite black and white , starring an emerging singer but then was not an international star, based (very freely) on Juniper, a story by the Grimm brothers, and with a disturbing argument: two witch sisters, daughters of a witch condemned to the stake, flee their destiny. Along the way, they settle in the house of a widowed peasant and his young son, hiding his identity and fearful at all times of the stigma that pursues them.

Portrait of the late American director Nietzchka Keene.


Portrait of the late American director Nietzchka Keene.

The film was shot in the volcanic landscapes of Iceland with a Björk 21-year-old who, although she was already a mother, looked like that same wild girl who had debuted at 11 with a folk record and then jumped into the punk scene of her country with groups like KUKL (witchcraft, in medieval Icelandic) or Tappi Tíkarrass ( plug the bitch's ass), and from there to The Sugarcubes, the pop band that would throw her to fame before her solo success with Debut (1993).

But When we were witches It is much more than a beautifully restored film. The photograph signed by Randy Sellars not only absorbs the inhospitable beauty of the landscape but that of an interpreter whose presence was enough to evoke hidden forces of nature. The rescue of the film pays tribute to a filmmaker who, interested in medieval Nordic languages, embarked on this project with two dollars and after receiving a Fulbright scholarship in Iceland. There he studied and wrote a film that was filmed in 1987 but did not finish riding until 1989, when he won a new scholarship. During the following years, the film would travel for festivals, including Sundance, without being distributed. After his death, Keene's file was donated to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Film and Theater Center. There has remained during all these years the only copy that existed of the film.

Amy Slope, curator of Harvard Film Archive, has been one of the main drivers of this project. Slope was Keene's student and, in her words, she must have found her professional course. Slope recalls that this film was a victim of oblivion ("along with many of the other independent films of women during this period of time") but has survived thanks to its obvious artistic achievements. With the complicity of the renowned restorer and independent film historian Ross Lipman ("this movie is wonderful," he recalls from Los Angeles) both went to the Martin Scorsese Foundation to get the money needed to restore the film. It was the Film Foundation team who, surprised at the material, decided to extend the final check. Sponsorship that would also be added later foundation of George Lucas.

A frame of ‘When we were witches’.


A frame of ‘When we were witches’.

Three decades after its forgetfulness, the film is now presented not only as a work without time and imposing beauty but as a film with a current theme thanks to the new feminist wave: the memory of how thousands of women and girls suffered from throughout history, persecution, torture and death sentences under the accusation of being witches, sorceresses or magicians. Wild processes that Keene wanted to talk about from his poetic Icelandic coven. But not even the stratospheric success of its protagonist witch managed to avoid any work that, according to Amy Slope, is a powerful double example "of the cultural isolation that condemns visionary women."

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