Private Project


An abandoned building on Iceland's northern coast has fallen subject to the natural forces of erosion and entropy. As the ruins and the landscape slowly yield to the wind and sea, a loose assemblage of flora, fauna, humans, and revenants share the task of giving the structure a new purpose. At the border of fiction and documentary, Mannvirki contemplates this multi-layered world of uncertainty and hope.

  • Gústav Geir Bollason
  • Gústav Geir Bollason
  • Hrönn Kristinsdóttir
  • Annick Lemonnier
  • Sara Nassim Nassim
  • Erwin van der Werve
    Key Cast
    'Nummer achttien – the breath of life'
  • AnKatrien Lecluyse
    Key Cast
  • Þóra Sólveig Bergsteinsdóttir
    Key Cast
  • Vikar Mar Valsson
    Key Cast
  • Logi Cornelis Florian Erwinsson van der Werve
    Key Cast
  • Nói
    Key Cast
  • Ninon Liotet
    I Had Nowhere to Go
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 11 minutes 1 second
  • Completion Date:
    January 27, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    100,293 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • IFFR Rotterdam International Film Festival 2023
    January 27, 2023
    World Premiere
    Official Selection/Tiger Competition
  • Kino2023 Vilnius International Film Festival Kino Pavasaris
    March 25, 2023
Director Biography - Gústav Geir Bollason

Gústav Geir Bollason is an artist and filmmaker living in the north of Iceland, in the small coastal village of Hjalteyri. He manages the local art space "Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri", which—although remote—has gained attention and accolades especially for its film programs, video installations, and experimental music workshops.
Bollason’s own artistic practice is primarily a response to landscape and the life it harbours. Creating drawings, found-object sculptures, animations, videos, and films, he often combines these media in installations that give rise to fictional extensions of reality. In his filmmaking of landscape narratives—situated somewhere between art films, documentary accounts, and subjective fictions—Bollason works alongside other local residents in his interventions in situ and allows the settings to comprise an expansion of his atelier. Shooting mainly around the northern Icelandic coast where he lives, he also films in the island’s barren highlands and at sea, often focusing on liminal zones, wastelands, and ruins. These sites afford rich exploration of subjects including environmental change, energy and material use, and entropy as well as the stories and myths embedded in landscapes. In disorder and decay, Bollason highlights the opportunities offered by change and the passage of time.
Bollason studied at the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts (now Iceland University of the Arts) in Reykjavík and the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in Budapest. He graduated from L’École Nationale supérieure d’arts de Paris-Cergy in 1995, and lived in Paris until 1999 before returning to north Iceland.

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Director Statement

Mannvirki is a contemplative tale of adaptation to a ravaged environment. Set in and around the concrete shell of an old factory reclaimed by wind and weather, humans and non-humans alike interact with ruins that become the keystone of an emerging ecosystem. As these characters’ micronarratives unfold and coincide, the building and the creatures it supports begin to function as a unified whole, until this entity too succumbs to entropy.

Style and storyline
An art film shot digitally in an austere landscape on an Icelandic fjord, Mannvirki is composed of numerous short scenes featuring different subjects. Wild and domestic animals on land and at sea are captured observationally, while the human actors—sometimes alone, sometimes not—engage silently in uncanny tasks in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic environment. Each scene is a careful and deliberate composition. With the use of static camera and slow panning shots, artistic framing, sensitive attention to natural light and texture, and predominantly diegetic sound, the tone of the film is pensive and introspective.
The factory ruins, both inside and out and at varying scales, act as a magnetic force for the camera as well as the characters: focus returns time and again to the building itself, which gives the film its name (mannvirki is an Icelandic word meaning building, structure, or other human construction). Rather than advancing an obvious storyline, the editing implies associations and suggests rhythms, similar to the poetic documentary mode in which narrative content and character development are secondary to subjective exploration of a topic. However, the odd and often inexplicable actions of the human figures in the film indicate that Mannvirki is not a documentary, but instead a speculation. Carefully performing unusual tasks related to gathering and hoarding, the characters’ attention is always trained on what is immediately in front of them. The reactivity in their actions hints at a need to overcome some sort of environmental devastation, perhaps due to the original function and impact of the factory.

The building
The disused factory that serves as the setting for Mannvirki is also the film’s central protagonist. Weathered on the interior as well as the exterior and in various stages of decay, it also provides shelter and a gravitational centre for the living beings around it. These characters interact with the materiality of the building and respond to its wounds inflicted by natural elements, pollutants or contaminants, and the ravages of time. But the building too can be thought of as an active agent in the assemblage, perhaps in possession of its own awareness—an awareness of earthly time, industrial acceleration, and its own story. Its consciousness might also merge with that of the landscape and environment, or connect to cycles of entropy and transformation.
As the film unfolds, the camera travels continually around and throughout the building, as if exploring a complex network of tunnels or even the corpse of an enormous animal washed ashore. Its countless spaces and features offer a diversity of visual experiences in terms of lines, shapes, textures, negative space, and light and shadow; its different areas also contain varied soundscapes. The barrenness of the concrete shell, like the harsh natural landscape around it, is notable: both are host to sparse but hardy vegetation and lichens, but both are also subject to relentless erosion by the Arctic Ocean and the ever-present wind.

Human and non-human characters
In the absence of the factory’s initial function and context, the humans and non-humans in Mannvirki seem equally unaware of what the building once was. Regardless of their species, these characters appear as parasites on and around the ruins.
The people’s activities are ordinary, quotidian, but absurd. Gatherers and gardeners, they harvest kelp and hunt for mushrooms, using peculiar tools amalgamated from salvaged materials. They busy themselves distilling, fermenting, and composting unfamiliar substances. Does this loose collection of individuals attempt a return to previous conditions, or do they hope to establish new, more productive dynamics? Gradually, their efforts seem counterproductive, and they eventually give the impression of contributing to, rather than resisting, the entropy and erosion.
Other living things further add to the unfolding of the ecological space in Mannvirki, and their dramas are interwoven with the people’s stories. Plants flourish in cracks in the concrete; insects turn up unexpectedly. A variety of animals come and go on land, at sea, and on the wing, while colourful lichens suggest a slow takeover of the building’s surfaces. Just as scenes shot from different angles and places around the building work together to give an impression of the entire landscape, so too do the different human and non-human characters work in tandem to represent a complex timescape: their varied, subjective, and relative perceptions of time overlap and collide.
Whatever the temporal perspective within each scene, the film as a whole seems asynchronous with the mechanical rhythms of the present day. Together with the barren natural and built environment, Mannvirki could be seen to represent not a landscape or a timescape but instead a timeless dreamscape. Its post-apocalyptic scenes sometimes chimerically give way to the darkest depths of the building where grotesque figures, perhaps having stepped out of prehistory, occupy and interact with its cavernous spaces. Glancing in this way from the future to the distant past, Mannvirki is a subtle nod to the senselessness of all human endeavours, which—like the building at the heart of the film—will eventually collapse in on themselves.