Hot Docs Review: Gnarr [2010, Gaukur Úlfarsson]

Toronto – In May of 2009, Iceland found itself in utter turmoil. After having shut down most European flights, that crazy volcano was still smouldering and causing sporadic havok. In addition, the economy was in shambles. The country’s cheeks were about as red as Eyjafjallajokull’s lava. Icelanders felt completely disillusioned with the rampant corruption of their government. The financial turmoil in Iceland seemed to be powered by the reckless greed and brinkmanship of suits and politicians so very removed from the values of the people.

I had the opportunity to be in Iceland at the time, and it seemed like everyone was pausing to have a good post-concussion blink. I picked up a copy of the Reykjavik Grapevine and was introduced to comedian Jón Gnarr. After being so underwhelmed with politics of the day, he decided on a lark to form his own party and run for mayor. His platform included such gems as a drug-free parliament by 2020, a polar bear for the zoo, free towels at the pool and “all kinds of things for weaklings”.

“This campaign begun solely so that I can get a good salary and use the city’s summerhouse by the water.” –Jón Gnarr

Underneath all the comedy was a message that resonated with the people of Reykjavik. Maybe sustainable growth was better than that other kind? Something really weird happened: people got excited about politics. All of a sudden an outsider was on the inside and speaking truth to power. Before long, the aptly named “Best Party” became a serious contender for the mayor-ship. Within a month of my visit, Jon Gnarr was sworn in as mayor of Iceland’s largest city.

Politics is a weird thing. It informs so much of what we as a people can do. It spells out our rights and the parameters of our society. It has a cyclical and intimate relationship with our very values. That being said, it’s easy to see how people get depressed when they see government’s so routinely campaign on one platform and govern from another.

For the politically-minded, this is a heartening story. As Canadians head to the polls shortly for their own election, I hope that we can catch even a bit of the fever of Iceland one year ago. Decisions are made by the people who show up.

Gnarr plays at Hot Docs, with screenings on May 1, 2, and 8th.

Posted on by Mark in Hot Docs, Reviews