Beyond the ethereal landscapes of fire and ice, Iceland has a distinct culture unbeknown to many. Here, herders have a special relationship with their horses — a culture all its own, distinctly different from anywhere else in the world.
Lindsay Blatt and Paul Taggart of Lantern Fish Media spent six weeks with Icelandic herders in a quest to film a way of life that has remained virtually the same for hundreds of years. Their film, “Herd in Iceland” documents the yearly event of a community coming together to gather their horses after the animals spend several months raising their young and roaming freely in the wild.
The filmmakers launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the remaining costs for editing, translating and promoting the film. We caught up with Lindsay and Paul to learn more about their incredible project.
Culture-ist: What compelled you to create a documentary focused on the history and culture surrounding the herding of Icelandic horses? Lindsay & Paul: We were really attracted to all the different elements of the story. It’s hard to go wrong with the amazing landscapes Iceland provides. The people are so generous and inviting with their time and willingly offered to share their traditions with us. The horses are beautiful and full of spirit. We truly believe Herd In Iceland will appeal to a diverse audience, from people who love nature and animals, to adventure, history and travel junkies, to those who love beauty and even fashion (check out the hand-knit woolen sweaters)!
Culture-ist: How long did it take to film the documentary? Lindsay & Paul: We filmed in Iceland in both 2010 and 2011, each trip lasted almost 3 weeks.
Culture-ist: What struck you most while interviewing the local people about the preservation of the herding culture? Lindsay & Paul: They really see this annual event as a community gathering. It’s like a harvest festival, and people come in from all over the island nation. Urbanites go to the countryside to ride, see their families, and to take a break from city life. The local farmers and breeders are genuinely happy to be reunited with their horses. (The horses spend several months in the mountains, and having them back home seems to make the owners quite happy.)
As for the culture of herding, it was interesting to see that not much has changed in a few hundred years. Yes, there are some trucks and walkie-talkies used — but almost everything is done on horseback. It is very hard work; the herders cover a lot of terrain, and are constantly trying to keep the sheep and horses moving in the right direction. There are breeders that have a few hundred horses, and make a living exporting them. But there are others who just have a dozen or so, simply because they want to have horses in their life.
A lot of people grew up in the countryside and then moved to the city for work, but having a few horses helps to keep them connected to the land. Some people we met are trying to find a way to move back to the countryside, so that they can make a living off horses. “Horse people” are extremely passionate, and are beginning to looking for an alternative to some of the more corporate work they are doing in the city.
Culture-ist: What do you hope people will gain from watching the film? Lindsay & Paul: We believe that people will see the great pride that the Icelandic people have in their unique horses. Everyone knows Iceland as the land of fire and ice, which it is, but there is so much more. The farmers are keeping the land open so that their horses and sheep can be raised in the wild. The horses are allowed to roam freely and raise their young for part of the year, making this herding culture distinct from others around the world.
Culture-ist: If the Kickstarter campaign is successful (and we hope it will be!) where will the documentary be shown? Will the general public be able to purchase a copy? Lindsay & Paul: We are looking to premiere the film at the Reykjavik film festival in September. From there it will go on to other festivals around the world. Those that pledge on Kickstarter, will be able to download a digital copy before the DVD is released. We also have lots of other great rewards, such as photographs, the DVD, 66 North gear, Icelandic horseback riding in The Berkshires, and even a photo session where we will come to your farm and photograph your horses.
About the Filmmakers: Lindsay Blatt and Paul Taggart began working together more than seven years ago. Lindsay was the photo editor on the international desk at a news agency, and Paul was a contract photojournalist covering international news. Their first collaboration came about when Paul returned to the NYC office from a long assignment in West Africa. Lindsay greeted Paul with the question “Do you like whales?” Less than two weeks later Paul was on a vegan pirate ship full of animal conservationists chasing the Japanese whaling fleet off the coasts of Antarctica. The assignment lasted nearly two months and was first published in National Geographic Adventure Magazine; it has since been republished around the world in dozens of magazines and newspapers. The images were also included in a book called The Whale Warriors chronicling the adventure, and later used in the publicity materials for the Discovery Network program Whale Warriors. Since Lindsay and Paul’s pirate days they have collaborated on numerous projects together. Just over two years ago, when Paul returned to the U.S. from Beirut, Lindsay asked him “So, do you like horses?”
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