Countdown to CIFF: #2. Grandma Lo-Fi – The Basement Tapes of Sigrifour Nielsdottir

For the 10 days leading up to CIFF’s opening gala, I’ll be posting a quick write-up per day on some of my favourite movies at the fest. I’m not exactly unbiased — CIFF does give me a paycheque, after all — but these posts are my own opinions and not those of the festival.

This one admittedly shares a few traits with Beauty is Embarrassingwhich I mentioned a few days back. So if you’re thinking you don’t need two inspirational artist documentaries, that’s fair enough. But you’ll be missing out, because Sigrifour Nielsdottir is about as charming as old ladies get, and the documentary about her is pretty darned charming, too.

Nielsdottir decided to start making music at the age of 70, using a keyboard and a cassette deck. Over the next seven years, she made almost 60 albums, all self-released, using household objects and even her pets to add to the ambiance in all her ditties — which I do think is the appropriate word. These aren’t the most sophisticated songs you’ve ever heard, but they’re sweet enough to have won over some pretty major figures in Iceland’s music scene. And those musicians turn up throughout the film in special effects sequences that are so hand-made that they make Michel Gondry look like James Cameron.

The whole film rides the creative energy that Nielsdottir can’t seem to contain. It’s shot on Super-8 and 16mm, and looks about as much like a labour of love as possible, with animated bits and plenty of flourish. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome, wrapping up in around an hour — which means there was room for me to fit in two shorts in front of it, including one narrated by Tom Waits that’s up there as far as “greatest things I’ve seen this year.” So, maybe that’s enough extra encouragement?

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