In the Icelandic musical adventure “12 Hours to Destruction,” writer-director Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir revels in a wholeheartedly youthful story of a school band battling nasties to save their dance.
The film, part of the Finnish Film Affair’s Nordic Selection of works in progress being held this week in Helsinki, is an ambitious project, produced by one of Iceland’s leading players, The Icelandic Film Company/Kisi Production, founded in 1991 by Julius Kemp and Ingvar Thordarson.
With a strong rep for both critical successes at festivals and for wider audience films, the company seems well suited to creating the whimsical project.
Kemp says the idea originated in his mind a few years back when, while doing parent duty, he encountered a musical called “Abbababb!,” created by Icelandic punk musician, rocker, TV host and children’s book writer Gunnar Lárus Hjálmarsson (a.k.a. Dr. Gunni).
Hjálmarsson composed the record album in 1998 for children, a surprising project for one of the key figures of the Icelandic underground music scene since the 1980s, but it was a hit. Hjálmarsson was a member of the band Bless, which featured an early-career Björk doing backing vocals on one album. He is also a leading figure in the Icelandic debate over disco vs. punk, a subject that has been explored in major national cultural venues.
Kemp found himself unexpectedly charmed – something he says is all too rare when watching productions aimed at kids. He knew the story of juveniles fighting bad guys to save their school dance would work on screen, he says, adding, “I thought of directing it myself.”
But instead, he opted to bring in Magnúsdóttir, who he says, “said yes in five minutes.”
Though the director jokes that her dedication to the film’s upbeat story is “a little cheesy,” it’s clear Magnúsdóttir knows what she’s doing.
Aside from being a well-known Icelandic actor (“Heartstone,” “Paris of the North”) Magnúsdóttir is the owner of Cubs Productions and studied screenwriting for film and television at The Vancouver Film School.
As she describes the story of “12 Hours,” it transpires in the summer of 1980 as 11-year-old Hanna and the rest of her childhood band “aim to bring criminals to justice when a threat to destroy the last school dance comes their way.”
The fearless kids soon find themselves immersed in trouble, of course, as the stakes grow and their quest “pits good vs. evil and disco vs. punk.” It also wraps up “with love and unity conquering all.”
Filming with a youthful cast was not the only challenge, says Kemp, adding he was told last year, “It’s not a good time for a children’s movie” by culture officials. But the producers found ways to ensure COVID safety protocols while shooting both in a studio and in the fresh air.
In the end, the cast thoroughly enjoyed their musical adventure and managed impressive choreography – though Kemp insisted kids be free to interpret some of the dances not quite in lockstep. That and the heightened colors and 1980s-style costumes and sets make for appealing visuals, he adds.
Kemp and Magnúsdóttir, who is also producer on the 2.3 million-euro film alongside Kemp, Thordarson, Markus Selin and Jukka Helle, is pitching the film at Finnish Film Affair, seeking a sales agent, distribution and festival deals.
It’s one of five titles being pitched at the industry event, which runs alongside the Helsinki International Film Festival. For the second year, Finnish Film Affair spotlights emerging talent from neighboring Nordic countries with fiction works by first- or second-time feature directors presented. The projects are competing for the best Nordic project award, a 3,000-euro package from Konstsamfundet, a Finnish association supporting the culture of the country’s Swedish-speaking minority, to be used in the winner’s international marketing.
Magnúsdóttir, who confesses a lifelong love of adventures and musicals starting from childhood, says she’s thrilled to be taking on both forms in “12 Hours to Destruction.”
“I’m very excited and proud that my first feature will be for a family audience and in the musical genre,” she says.
And while the film sits comfortably within the young audience sector, it departs from predictability, skipping over the most common crises storylines. The protagonists here do not wrestle with drug addiction, early teen sex or “lousy divorced parents,” the director says. Rather, says Magnúsdóttir, “I want to show the opportunities kids have today.”