Release Year: 2007
Directed by: Dean DeBlois
Type: Film

disc 1

Sé lest
Ágætis byrjun
Olsen olsen
A ferd til breidafjardar 1922 (with steindór andersen)

Disc 2

Sé Lest
Ágætis byrjun
Vaka (Snæfell)
Vaka (Álafoss)
Olsen Olsen


‘heima’ is sigur rós’s first ever film, filmed over two weeks in the summer of 2006 when the band undertook a series of free, unannounced concerts in iceland. they hauled 40-plus people round 15 locations to the furthest flung corners of their homeland for their debut venture into live film, to create something, well, inspirational.

on their way they went to ghost towns, outsider art shrines, national parks, small community halls and the absolute middle-of-nowhere-ness of the highland wilderness, as well as playing the largest gig of their career (and in icelandic history) at their homecoming reykjavik show.

‘heima’ (icelandic for “at home” or “homeland”), truly, shows sigur rós as never before. whereas seeing the group live is normally a large-scale and sometimes overwhelming experience, making full use of lights and mesmeric visuals, ‘heima’ was always intended to reveal more of what was actually going on on stage. it does this via long-held close-ups and a rare intimate proximity, without ever once breaking the spell.

loosely based on a documentary format – and including personal reflections from the band – ‘heima’ also serves as an alternative primer for iceland the country, which is revealed as less stag destination-du-jour and more desolate, magical place where human beings have little right to trespass.

‘heima’ features performances of songs from all four sigur rós albums, many radically reworked, as well as two exclusive new songs in ‘guitardjamm’, which was filmed inside an abandoned herring oil tank in the far west of the country, and the traditional ‘a ferd til breidarfjardar 1922’, performed with poet steindor andersen.

‘heima’ was directed by dean deblois, a long-time fan of the band and director of the oscar-nominated animated feature ‘lilo & stitch’, using an icelandic crew.

heima director interview

dean deblois, director of “heima”, was nice enough to answer some questions we had about the film and his experience making it. many thanks to dean for taking the time.

what is your background in film?

i come from an animation background, having worked on feature films since 1990. i worked for don bluth studios in ireland and disney in the states. the bulk of my animation career has been spent in working with story, first as a storyboard artist, then as a writer/director. after lilo & stitch, i decided to pursue live-action filmmaking, and set up several feature film projects at disney and universal to write, direct, and produce. i’ve also done a little music video work, but mostly to learn the tools.

how did you get involved in the heima project?

i had been in touch with the band over the years by way of the their management. they knew that i worked in feature film and that i wanted to do something in collaboration with them. in february of this year, the managers/producers of heima (at the time entitled ‘lost in the lava’) asked if i would take a look at their troubled project and offer some feedback. i did… and they forwarded our correspondence to the band, who felt that i was articulating what they had wanted from the start. so i was asked to take over as director and fly out to shoot the necessary material. ‘heima’ in name, concept, and approach grew out of those first exchanges.

how easy was it to switch from animation to actual film?

all forms of filmmaking are the same, really. it’s all storytelling and structure, no matter how vague the narrative or how specialized the medium. animation takes a long time and requires a lot of planning, but as such, you’re conditioned to go in with a meticulously thought-out strategy. live action moves faster, and feels more spontaneous, but it’s easy to make the mistake of shooting heaps of footage… only to discover in the editing suite that there isn’t a cohesive film to be found. it’s all in the planning. and a good editor (cue nick fenton!)

what was it like coming in ‘halfway through’ and making a film from someone else’s footage? how did you tackle this challenge?

a salvage operation is never ideal; there are strained budgets, ruffled feathers, and the stylistic restrictions of what has already been shot. but that said, i was up for the challenge and thrilled to be asked. the production team at truenorth were welcoming and great to work with. we had the band’s full support too. at the end of the day, everyone just wanted the film to work.

my plan from the start was to keep as much of the usable tour material as possible, but then supplement it with footage that would give us intimacy, context, and a consistent point of view. in the end, we shot nearly eighty additional hours of footage over two trips (performances, interviews, nature, thematic imagery) and the resulting overall scope feels balanced to me.

were the band different in person than you imagined?

based purely on the music, i had imagined broody, introspective, withdrawn characters, but i couldn’t have been more wrong. they’re all warm, friendly, and surprisingly humble. they don’t take themselves seriously at all. they obviously switch into a different gear whenever they’re playing, but the rest of the time, they’re fun, playful, and always up for a drink. we’ve become friends — and that’s been the best part of this whole experience.

the interviews in heima are more personal than previous interviews with the band. how did you manage to get them to open up to you?

i don’t know that i’m the one to answer this. i certainly didn’t employ any kind of tactic. i was warned from the beginning that they wouldn’t likely do the interviews, but when i met them in person, i explained that the missing story had to be imparted retrospectively. i also promised them that they would have final say, so nothing would go in that they were uncomfortable with. they knew that i held them in high esteem, so maybe they just decided to trust me.

how was it decided which songs would appear in the film?

the songs were determined based on whether the band liked that particular performance (there were no overdubs in the film) and whether the camera coverage was adequate to support the song. everyone had their list of favorites, but in the end, several songs had to be cut out or shortened to keep the film around 90 minutes.

what is your favourite moment in heima?

i have several favorite shots in the film, but my favorite overall moment is staralfur, mostly because it’s my favorite sigur rós song. we shot plenty of coverage, so it’s full-length and uninterrupted. i also really love gitardjamm, which has some the original crew’s best photography. it’s also a great testament to nick fenton’s editing. i like von too. it’s some of alan calzatti’s best camera work, and it completely delivers on the intimacy i was after.

is there any scene that didn’t make the final cut that you wish people could have seen?

there are many interview clips that i would have loved to include, but they either didn’t fit the sentiment of the moment or they weighed down the film. it was important to the band that the film be allowed to breathe and not get too ‘documentary.’ there was a great clip for example, in which jonsi talks about feeling ‘at home’ in iceland. he said if it wasn’t for all of the small town years of questioning his orientation and the norms, he wouldn’t have channelled so much into his music. sigur rós as we know it might not have come to be!

i also loved a new song that we shot on a whim, which the band later named ‘heima.’ it will be included on the second disc of the dvd release, so i’m not that distraught. it’s a beautiful recording and some of the most intimate footage we shot.

Producing Heima

it’s strange to say now, but when we first thought about making a film of sigur ros we didn’t immediately consider iceland. the band hadn’t toured the country this century, and the crowds in, say, portugal were so very excitable that our minds were initially elsewhere. at some point, however, kjartan mentioned that he’d had always had a notion that they should play a show in the national park at asbyrgi in the far north of iceland, and we latched upon this as a sign.

so, three years ago, in the middle of 2004, we made a reconnaissance trip to this strange canyon just shy of the arctic circle, to check midsummer day light levels and think about how we might stage such an event. in the end, we decided the midnight sun would be too bright for a film incorporating the band’s onstage lights and visuals, and the shoot was conceptually pushed back a few weeks to late july, to allow for some dark to creep into proceedings, but hopefully not so far as to make it too cold to play outdoors at night.

we couldn’t shoot the following summer because the ‘takk” album was about to come out and the band’s calendar was full of artwork deadlines and the like, and anyway they hadn’t played live for ages and would be too rusty to film. so instead we settled on the very end of the touring period, a whole year later, in the summer of 2006.

slowly the idea mushroomed. seasoned icelandic all-rounder, kari sturluson came in on the creative and logistical side, and gradually more locations were added – inevitably including a hometown show in reykjavik – til we had a full tour of the island in our sights. since certain shows had to be free for practical reasons, it was decided to make every stop on the tour free, and for sigur ros to roll into town with something like their full production, regardless of local facilities (or lack thereof) and the sheer expense and folly of the exercise. only two of the shows, reykjavik and oxnadalur were publicly announced, with the other smaller community hall show and asbyrgi relying purely on word-of-mouth.

in the event, the open-door policy worked amazingly well, with people of all ages, who would never have normally bought a ticket for a sigur ros show, just coming along to check it out. as the tour went round it gained a semi-mythical status, with the biggest national daily, morgunbladid, saying in an editorial that this was some kind of gift that was joining the nation together at an important time.

we stopped at many amazing places on the two-week jaunt around the country, some with audiences and some without. a disused herring factory at djupavik, with its strange circular fish-oil tanks in which jonsi sang ‘gitardjamm’; a lonely protest camp against the building of a dam in the pristine wilderness; a traditional ‘thorrablot’ meal with an audience of pagans, among them.

although the band wanted a visual record of the live show with which they had just toured the world, we also wanted to deliver a different kind of experience of watching sigur ros than you get in a gig venue. many people watch sigur ros with their eyes closed (sic) and enjoy the show as an overall experience. what we wanted was to move the camera in much closer and reveal what was actually going on on stage.

we watched a lot of rock (and non-rock) films in trying to work out what we did and didn’t want to do in making what turned out to be ‘heima’. we liked ‘jazz on a summer’s day’, ‘pink floyd live in pompeii’ and ‘walkabout’. we didn’t like ‘travis live at t in the park’. both ‘pompeii’ and ‘jazz” had amazing close-up photography that felt almost invasively intimate, the cutting was minimal and any camera motion ‘ and there was little – was at snail’s pace. all these things were great. plus ‘jazz” also made amazing use of the audience at the 1958 newport festival.

from nic roeg’s debut ‘walkabout’ we saw a way of making an ostensibly beautiful environment look annihilatingly huge, a place where humans really had little right to be, which is how iceland had always seemed to us on our way round. in order to do this, we put aside any ideas of using american or european directors (we’d talked to a few), who might find the clich’d lures of volcanoes, geysers and the blue lagoon too irresistible, and went instead for an all- icelandic crew, collected around local producer and man-who-can, finni johansson.

we filmed eight shows, ranging from the smallest (snaefell protest camp – incidentally the first time the band had ever played acoustically anywhere) to the biggest shows of the band’s career (reykjavik was the largest show ever in iceland with around 25,000 people, with even premier league football cancelled for the day), in addition to filming a bunch of locations without audiences.

denni karlsson, the director of the summer filming, started the editing process in the early autumn, but the initial results fell somewhat short of the grand expectations we had had in trying to follow the footsteps of some of the most enduring music films ever made. we played around with the footage for months, trying to get a proper film out of it, before admitting that what we had was a bunch of pretty performances without much of a narrative thread to hold it together. meanwhile, on a parallel track, we were talking to a guy called dean deblois, a canada-by-way-of-hollywood dude, who’d written and directed ‘lilo & stitch’, and was asking us if we might want to get involved with a forthcoming animation feature.

we’d met dean the previous autumn at our hollywood bowl show and knew he was a keen fan of the band. so we didn’t feel too bad asking him for some advice with how to progress a movie that’s hitting the creative buffers. we knew he’d been head of story at disney and figured he might be able to give us some pointers. we sent him the 120 hours of footage we’d shot in the summer and he spent a weekend staring at a computer screen. he also read the tour diary written at the time of the tour on the band’s fan-site, and for the first time worked out what exactly we’d been trying to accomplish all along. the next week he came back with what he thought we needed and said he’d be up for helping us get it.

so, in the spring of 2007, dean wound up in iceland to shoot another substantial tranche of live footage with the intimacy brief to the fore, as well as environmental colour, sub-textural links and, crucially, the face-to-face interviews with the band, which ‘ despite the fact that the band were uncomfortable with talking to camera – he felt would provide the glue to hold the whole thing together. he also came up with a title, ‘heima’, which instantly seemed better than our, then sadly accurate, ‘lost in the lava’.

finally, we found english editor nick fenton, who was suggested by a mutual friend who had wanted use him for a joy division doc, but had graciously allowed us to ‘borrow’ instead. thankfully, nick decided not to watch our blind alley edits and, looking at the work with fresh eyes, immediately found layers and connections that brought a new weight and power to the film.

between them, nick and dean provided the final missing pieces of this jigsaw project, producing a honed and impressive end result from what were pretty disparate elements. dean’s undoubtedly commercial eye and nick’s more experimental leanings seemed to hold each other in some kind of dynamic tension, lifting the film further and higher than we could have hoped or, at times, expected.

‘heima’ was filmed on hi definition entirely on location in iceland and mixed in dolby 5.1. it was off-lined in london through june and july, and then finished in los angeles in august 2007. all the music was recorded live on the road with absolutely no overdubs by birgir jon birgisson, who is the engineer at sigur ros’s studio in alafoss, and ken thomas, co-producer of ‘agaetis byrjun’, ‘( )’ and ‘takk”

– john best, manager of sigur rós. 15th sept 2007.


klikk film and emi records in association with the icelandic film centre present:

sigur rós – heima
jón þor birgisson , kjartan sveinsson , orri páll dýrason and georg holm
featuring: amiina, brassgat ì bala and steindór andersen
music by: jón þor birgisson , kjartan sveinsson , orri páll dýrason and georg holm
edited by: nick fenton
executive producers: jón þor birgisson , kjartan sveinsson , orri páll dýrason, georg holm and kári sturluson
executive producers for emi: terry felgate, paul baines, stefan demetriou
director of photography: alan calzatti
line producer: finni jóhannsson
produced by: john best, dean o´ connor
directed by dean deblois