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Saved by the (Half) Elves:

Visualizing Aging, Family and Earthly Decline Through Dreams, Metaphors and Icelandic Folklore
Jón Bjarki Magnusson


In this paper, I look at how ethnographic filmmaking became research practice when I focused the lens towards the everyday life of my grandparents. Furthermore, I explore how imagistic, metaphorical, or even fantastical elements where the key to solving our audio-visual anthropological puzzle in a way that left my grandparents’ experiences open to different interpretations. Here dreams, metaphors and Icelandic folklore, situated somewhere near the borderlands of biomedical and mystical categorizations, helped me to engage with my grandparents’ earthly decline in a meaningful way, offering conclusions to complicated negotiations between what I know as rational and emotional, closeness and distance, familiar and mysterious. Finally, I look at the different potentials of film and a text, highlighting how different forms have enabled me to engage with this story in fundamentally different ways.

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This publication has emanated from research supported in part by a grant from Science Foundation Ireland under Grant number 18/CRT/6222. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.

My deepest gratitude goes to the editors of this issue, Barbara Pieta and Jay Sokolovsky, for their encouragement and feedback throughout the writing process; my grandparents, Trausti Breiðfjörð Magnússon and Hulda Jónsdóttir, for their humor and love and for letting me into their lives; my partner, producer and composer Hlín Ólafsdóttir, for her beautiful vision and astonishing music; my supervisor and associate producer Andy Lawrence for his guidance and ways of calming me down in times of trouble; associate producer Veronika Janatková, for giving me most needed advices; and other dear friends for giving much of their work and doing much more than I could have expected.

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Faces of nature

Faces of nature

A rock formation shaped like a face near grandfathers homestead in the Strandir area in the Westfjords region of Iceland.

A film still from the film Half Elf


2The sound of howling wind mixes with images of a flickering light on the top of a cowshed before moving onto another shot where two horses appear under snowy mountains in the distance. We hear the voice of an old lighthouse keeper reminiscing about an important event from his past:

“Once upon a time in the Sauðanes lighthouse, I woke up when someone rang the doorbell during a heavy snowstorm. But there was no one there. So, I decide to keep the light on since I had lit it already. An hour later someone rings the doorbell again, and I go to the door. There was a boy there, he had been on his way to a nearby farm. And he said: Dear Trausti, if you hadn’t turned that light on just in time, then I would have gone west of the light. I wouldn’t have survived. This is a dream. I believe it.”

3This old believer in the supernatural power of dreams later adds: “Those who are able to be taken over by a dream probably just have a special gift. It’s just a relationship. One that you have with that man, or this being you are dreaming about”. (Half Elf 2020)

My grandparents’ lighthouse

My grandparents’ lighthouse

The light from the Sauðanes lighthouse in Northern Iceland has guided many seafarers through the dark.

A film still from the film Half Elf

Visualizing the Research

4The last stages of the life course are usually underrepresented in Icelandic arts and media. As people get older images of them fade from our screens and their voices start to disappear from the airwaves. In this paper, I look at how documentary filmmaking became research practice when I focused the lens towards the everyday life of my own grandparents. Furthermore, I explore how imagistic, metaphorical, or even fantastical elements born from within the research itself, helped me realize the ability of ethnographic filmmaking to communicate the more hidden realities of those facing the last stages of the life course. Here, filmic language and its images became an important instrument to give shape to vague and ambiguous elements lingering somewhere on the borderlands of biomedical and mystical categorizations. Finally, I will look at how this text has helped me contextualize many of the threads behind my research, in ways that the film itself did not allow for.

5My case study is my first feature length documentary film, Half Elf (2020), made during the master’s in Visual Anthropology program at Freie Universität in Berlin, produced by myself and Hlín Ólafsdóttir, in collaboration with Andy Lawrence (also the supervisor of my MA project) and Veronika Janatková. The film is about my now deceased grandparents who shared life on Icelandic shores for over seventy years. As his one hundredth birthday nears, Trausti Breiðfjörð Magnússon, my grandfather and lighthouse keeper, begins searching for a coffin and tells his wife that he wants to change his name to “Álfur” (Elf). My grandmother Hulda Jónsdóttir warns him that if he does this his family will abandon him and she retreats into a world of poetry with the help of an electric magnifying glass.

6As Barbara Pieta (2021, this issue) suggests in this volume, much can be gained from interrogating the act of seeing as a practice of care in and of itself. In a similar fashion, Lisa Stevenson (2014) demonstrates how the imagistic aspects of images can help to attend to the uncertainties related to care as well as to moments between life and death. In the following text, I will show how these opaque and caring qualities of images guided my visual research through the use of a camera that helped me to discover different tensions while providing me with a (filmic) language suitable to portray those tensions in ways open to various possible readings. I will present the story behind this visual research in chronological order to show how it developed from one discovery to the next. First, I will discuss how my approach to using the camera as an observational research tool opened my eyes to elements that might otherwise have remained in the shadows. By recognizing the camera’s role in the unravelling of some of the deeper issues that were at play in my grandparents’ life during the filming, I do believe I am better able to shed light on how these findings helped with the general development of the project as a whole. Furthermore, I will show how the discoveries that followed led me to more sensitive topics such as my grandmother’s frustration with grandfather’s behavior which she attributed to his early stages of dementia.

7Finally, I will explore how imagistic elements rooted in dreams, metaphors and Icelandic folklore became the founding material binding my visual anthropological puzzle together. I will argue that while this text, written after completing the film, allowed me to set my grandfather’s story within the broader discourses of aging and cognitive decline, the imagistic method has helped me do quite the opposite: open this story up to other possible meanings and prevent it from being limited by this frame. Specifically, the textual form provided a safer context for necessary critical engagement with biomedical categories, thus contributing to anthropological efforts to deconstruct them. In contrast – and this is one of my paper’s underlying arguments – the images and their capacity to attend to the uncertainties of the lived experience (Stevenson 2014) allowed me to stay nearer my grandparents’ way of being in this world, offering more open conclusions to complicated negotiations between what I know as rational and emotional, closeness and distance, familiar and mysterious.

8The process of making this film and editing into a narrative that spoke “nearby” (Minh-ha 1982) rather than about my grandparents’ experiences and understanding of the world, required constant navigation between my different roles as a grandchild, filmmaker and a carer. Here, the camera became a tool for discovery, mediating our kinship through sensitivities between the two of them, myself, as well as the greater family, sometimes leading to tensions and forcing me to search for new directions. Perhaps, such filmmaking could be best likened to a line dance, where one is constantly trying to find the right balance between what to portray and what not. And maybe more importantly how to portray it in an ethical yet truthful way. By merging a poetic approach of using a camera that followed flows wherever they led and aligning my editing with the metaphors presented on the journey, I set up to give my grandparents the full imaginative reign (Crapanzano 2004).

Ordering groceries

Ordering groceries

Grandmother makes an order for groceries.

A film still from the film Half Elf

Visualizing my Grandparents – Developing Filmic Gaze

9What am I doing? I would ask myself as I walked through a typical Icelandic snowstorm one early February morning in 2018. I was on my way to my grandparents’ home. The idea was to shoot an observational film as they went about their daily lives. To dwell with them for longer periods of time while collecting video footage, sounds and interviews. As a newspaper journalist for over a decade I had experience in taking interviews, but I had never shot a film before, and I was afraid that I would only be wasting their time. My grandparents would surely get tired of me before I even knew how to handle the camera around them, wouldn't they? I would like to start by elaborating on these beginning stages of the filmmaking, my initial insecurities about my own situatedness with the camera as both grandson and filmmaker, and how it came to shape the research. But before doing so, I should elaborate a little bit about the idea behind the project and where it came from.

10To some degree this project sprung from a personal urgency. Grandfather was ninety-nine years old at the time and grandmother ninety-six. I knew that if I would not follow up on this idea right away, it would probably never be done. Grandfather had loved the idea as soon as I mentioned it to him. Making a whole film about him and grandmother would surely be the best thing for me to do at this moment. He would take me on his walks, show me his porridge making in the morning and tell me stories about his four decades as a lighthouse keeper at the Sauðanes lighthouse. We could even go and visit his own coffin! Grandmother was less enthusiastic. Yes, I could of course come over and try to record something, but she had serious doubts that it would be of any value to anyone. What was so interesting about two oldies living together in a small basement apartment in Reykjavík? They were not doing anything special and did not have anything profound to say. But if I thought there was anything in this for me, she would obviously play along.

11One important aspect of my interest lay in how grandfather seemed to be dealing with a life lived in such close proximity to an impending and ever nearing finality. For years he had been preoccupied with preparing his own funeral. He would be buried by a former cathedral priest near his homestead in the isolated Strandir region of the Icelandic Westfjords, in a wooden Danish coffin that he had already bought, where his friend and favorite singer would sing songs of his choosing. Most importantly, guests would be served strong liquor upon arrival into the country church — whiskey, cognac, or vodka which he had thoroughly collected throughout the years for this exact occasion. This was supposed to be fun! The two big boxes of alcohol should be safeguarded by his son (my father), a non-drinker who was therefore best suitable for this. And I should of course bring the camera and record the whole thing! As grandfather gave orders to his next of kin about each detail of the event, grandmother made fun of him for micromanaging his own death. “What if you pass during the harshest winter months when the roads are closed? “Grandmother would ask laughingly. But the former lighthouse keeper had thought about that.“The Icelandic Coast Guard will just have to ferry all of you to the Strandir region along with the priest, the coffin maker and the singer!” Grandfather's humorous relationship with his earthly exit interested me, especially since death is mostly viewed as a private affair in contemporary Iceland, as in other western societies (Palgi and Abramovitch 1984).

Grandfather’s coffin

Grandfather’s coffin

Grandfather visits the coffin maker to look at his coffin which he later referred to as “his house”.

A film still from the film Half Elf

12It is one thing to be familiar with the narratives running through the lives of others, but a different thing altogether to engage with their possible meanings through visual methods. I had already collected some material during the previous summer, but I was unhappy with it. I now felt that my use of the camera and microphones had been flawed, the images often dull and lacking the necessary variety of angles and inbuilt cutting points to edit well into a sequence. I was indecisive with the camera, constantly searching and not quite sure what I was looking for. My framing lacked clear focus and the sound was substandard. David MacDougall points out that this is often the weakness of inexperienced filmmakers. He describes them as “looking at nothing” but hoping to find something by moving the camera around and “never coming to a rest”. This, he says, “is a camera that is hunting, searching for something to see and never finding it. It is constantly dissatisfied, as though nothing were worth looking at” (2006: 7).

13However, as my filmic research developed further, I came to see these first steps in a more positive light. By looking repeatedly at the material during editing I came to realize how I did not want to use the camera. I would therefore aim to return much more focused. The framing of each shot would be more precise than before, the camera movement slower and I would dwell longer on shots that I felt spoke truth back to different aspects of their characteristics, dreams, and imaginations. I would come by their home more often and stay longer each time, hoping they would get used to having me and the camera around. My goal was to be a kind of a mediator, between human beings very dear to me which were now nearing the end of their lives, and outsiders deserving to see them for who they were and how they had lived in this world. Inspired by my recent studies, I would be there to “film-see”, “film-hear” and “film-think” (Rouch 2003: 98), through the embodied eyes of a “drawing camera” (Grimshaw and Ravetz 2015), and ears of attentive microphones, as my grandparents went about their daily activities.

Preparing for a shot

Preparing for a shot

Me trying out a gimbal while grandfather Trausti watches in the background.

Photo by Hlín Ólafsdóttir

14Anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall notes that images may reflect our thoughts and even lead to them, but they hold within them something much richer and more complex than could be described in words (2006: 1). Referring to images as “mirrors of our bodies”, a kind of an imprint of the whole of the activities recorded, he emphasizes the importance of looking “purposefully” and “with desires and heightened responses” in our attempt to truly take them in (2006: 3). This, according to MacDougall is a form of looking that precedes expressing ideas or describing anything, one that even precedes thinking (2006: 7). Similarly, ethnographic filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch spoke of those rare moments when “the inspiration of the observer is in unison with the collective inspiration of what he is observing”, comparing it to “those exceptional moments of a jam session between Duke Ellington’s piano and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet” (Rouch and Fulchignoni 2003: 186.) The problem, however, according to MacDougall, is that too many filmmakers are afraid of abandoning “the protection of conceptual thought” and giving themselves unconditionally to what they see (2006: 8). He goes on to argue that one must examine this fear wholeheartedly to find one’s own way of freedom, “we can only learn by accepting that we are alone, that no one will help us, that we must make it ourselves” (2006: 8).

15I would argue that the mere act of using the camera, microphones and techniques associated with them to purposefully look at my grandparents as they moved through space gave me a stronger insight into their existence and experiences. This type of filmmaking for fieldwork (Lawrence 2020) helped me to recognize details that would have otherwise gone past me and opened my eyes to certain elements of my grandparents’ life that I had not given much thought and/or attention before, such as my grandfather’s porridge-making early in the morning. Here everything had its own rhythm. Movements in the space were slow but firm. Grandfather hummed while placing the pot beside the cooker while going through the same routine he had done all his life, facing each challenge with a healthy mixture of playfulness and irritation, before cutting his banana with a tool he has carried with him ever since childhood — an old pocketknife. Similarly, just as she did decades ago, when necessities were transported by ship to their isolated Sauðanes Lighthouse, grandmother would still make a list of things needed before ordering to get them delivered. She moves swiftly around the kitchen to check each drawer and cupboard before sitting down by the kitchen table to write a list of things to stock up on. After using her magnifying glass to go thoroughly over what might be missing, she would move over to the telephone to make the order.

Grandmother and her magnifying glass

A film still from the film Half Elf


Grandmother and her magnifying glass

Grandmother Hulda tries to fix her magnifying glass in order to read her shopping list.

Credits : Jon Bjarki Magnusson: Half Elf 2020

Video link:​830934661

17I have come to see these first in-depth camera observations of my grandparents’ everyday life as a foundation for everything that came afterwards. By looking attentively at their actions through the lens of the camera, I came to find a balance between the all-encompassing role of the grandson I had always been, and the role of the filmmaker that I was trying to become. Zooming in on grandfather’s 99-year-old hands as they fought their way through a 21st century kitchen offered a different kind of gaze, somewhat detached from my decade long role as his grandchild. I was not there to help him open the bag of oats, tune the modern cooker, or share a meal, as I might have done on any prior visit. No, I was there to observe how he went about his daily struggles as if no one else was there. This was extremely difficult at first. I could not control the temptation to lend him a helping hand and in so doing I lost track of that which I had been filming prior. When insisting that I would stop filming to sit down and eat my share of the porridge in his company, I followed his orders as if being seven again at the Sauðanes lighthouse. But as my visits became more frequent my role as a filmmaker grew stronger. I acted more firmly than before, being able to film my grandparents’ actions for longer periods of time without getting distracted. And while my camera presence and a newly developed gaze provided me with new insights, it also uncovered tensions – which is what I will highlight in the next section.

The Elf within – Visualizing Tensions, Triggering Change

18One of the things I have come to learn throughout the process of making this film is that a documentary project interested in understanding the inner worlds of the people it seeks to portray should be ready to thoroughly explore the tensions felt in the field. These might be very subtle, or more obvious, and they might be hard to fathom at first, but they spark questions that lead us forward in our search for answers, yielding yet another round of questions at every turn. And it is through such an open conversation between all that which is being recorded and continuous analytical thinking that new ideas come forth (Lawrence 2020). I would like to touch on such encounters between my grandparents, before going into how these encounters pushed me to interpret their possible meanings in a visual space I was comfortable with, somewhere nearby fiction and the fantastical, dreams and metaphors.

19When my grandfather was only ten years old, he dreamt of an elf [álfur] who told him he would never drown at sea. A true believer in dreams and growing up to become a fisherman on open row boats and later a captain of bigger ships, before taking on the role of a lighthouse keeper, he believed that this elf had always been his protector at sea. It was because of this, grandfather now told us that he wanted to change his name to Trausti Elf. Grandmother would get angry and tell him that if he changed his name he would be rejected by the family and need to move to a hotel. She did not know of any Elf and would therefore not want to live with him. This was a complete and utter nonsense according to her. The old man had finally become totally mad! Grandfather did however make little of grandmother’s frustration and even called a priest to organize the name change. Grandmother reacted quickly and contacted the priest herself to correct this before things would go too far.

20Why would someone want to change his name at the age of ninety-nine? And if that was his genuine will, why could he not just do so? If his idea sounded strange, her exaggerated reactions felt somewhat stranger. However, with its roots in the Icelandic folklore of past centuries, “Álfur” [Elf] is not a common name in Iceland, and it has an aura of weirdness to it. Elves, also known as the “hidden people” or huldufólk, are believed to be hidden from sight, living in hills or rocks nearby human settlements, defending their natural habitats and original way of life at all costs. A human that is looking out of place or lost in some ways, is sometimes referred to as looking “like an elf out of a hill” [eins og álfur út úr hól], as a famous saying goes. Given the aura of the name in Icelandic culture, and the fact that the companionship of humans and elves has commonly been discouraged in Icelandic folklore (Bjorgvinsdottir 2018), grandmother’s view was somewhat understandable. Their very much heated conversations about all of this did however confuse me at first. They were so intense that I did not even dare to record them on camera.

21This was made especially frustrating since I felt it represented something very important about the state of their relationship. Something that was hidden from sight and boiling underneath.

22But one of the layers that had now been brought to my attention was a strong sense of separation between the old couple. And just as grandfather had cast his nets on his open rowboat in the old days, I would now aim to cast mine to be on the lookout for frames that spoke in some way to that mysterious and omnipresent disconnection. And I knew right away when I had found one. I had the camera set up on a tripod in the living room whilst focusing on grandfather as he sat on a chair in the corridor when realizing that the mirror image of grandmother was present in the glass on the living room door beside him. I zoomed out to change my framing until they were both visible, grandfather contemplating in the forefront as grandmother sat by the kitchen table, in the same space but different rooms. This image later became the establishing shot of my grandparents together — but apart. One piece of our visual anthropological puzzle:

Together / Apart

Together / Apart

The first frame in Half Elf where grandfather Trausti and grandmother Hulda appear together.

A film still from the film Half Elf

23I had always known how different their personalities were from each other. Grandmother loved being at home, watching television or reading books with the help of her electric magnifying glass, while grandfather wanted to be out and about, to admire his rocks or seek the company and attention of other people. I wanted these different characteristics to be present in the film in various ways, but I also found it problematic that my camera seemed to influence their behavior in ways that I considered rather unusual for them. Grandfather would often perform in front of the camera whereas grandmother would retreat. At first, I believed she had less interest in the filmmaking, so I focused on my grandfather. I would follow him on his walks, go with him to play Boccia, conduct lengthy interviews about stones, dreams or whatever was on his mind at that particular time, record him singing favorite songs in a nearby bus-stop and be a fly-on-the-wall when he visited his coffin-maker. I felt strongly that one of my roles was to capture this last performance of the old man, but unfortunately I felt that by doing so I was getting further and further away from my grandmother and leaving her in the shadows.

24I would argue that my role as a grandson both facilitated and inhibited this progression. I believe it was partly because of my playful relationship with grandfather that grandmother was hesitant to take part in the filmmaking at first. To be clear, grandmother being annoyed with grandfather was nothing new to me. Ever since I remember she had made fun of his constant flair for showmanship. He would burst out singing at the corner-shop or out on the street, very much to her disliking. Whenever guests came over, he would take over the conversation, sometimes even intervening when she was trying to get some point through. He had always been the joker in the deck and everyone knew about that, especially grandmother. Or as grandfather phrases it himself in the film: “My dear Hulda does not like the attention. She says that’s my role, the show-off” (Half Elf 2020).

25What surprised me now when spending so much time with them alone, was that it seemed like she had less tolerance for his behavior than before. Many things he did seemed to irritate her in one way or another. And the more I tried to play along with grandfather, the further I seemed to drive my grandmother away from the filmmaking itself. And sometimes, I even had the feeling that she blamed the camera for these developments. Could it perhaps be so that the camera was to blame for pushing grandfather to do things like changing his name to Elf? Had the presence of the camera affected him in such a way that it brought out the “Elf” in him? Did he, being a performer at heart, maybe feel that he needed to do something really special for his grandson, who had come all this way to make a film about him? Was this his way to shake things up a little bit? To shift the focus of the camera from the mundane every day to something more exciting, playful and funny? I could not help but ask myself such questions.

26Jean Rouch described how the “self” of the filmmaker changes in front of the eyes of those being filmed during the shooting. “He no longer speaks, except to yell out incomprehensible orders (“Roll!” “Cut!”). He now looks at them only through the intermediary of a strange appendage and hears them only through the intermediary of a shotgun microphone“ (2003: 99). He goes on to describe this state of the filmmaker as a “film-trance” which affects everyone around and takes an example of how he himself as a filmmaker ethnographer had unlatched and sped up the possession process of a member and priest of the Zonghai-Zarma when making his film Tourou et Bitti (1971). In this way, Rouch argues that filmmakers alter any setting they aim to truthfully depict in their documentation of reality. And what is more, is that their camera has the ability to become a catalyst for change, reviving that which would have otherwise remained hidden, and put it in the forefront of the film in the making.

Grandfather singing in the bus-stop

A film still from the film Half Elf


Grandfather singing in the bus-stop

Grandfather sings one of his favorite songs in a bus stop next to his home.

Credits : Jon Bjarki Magnusson: Half Elf 2020

Video link:​830935030

Dementia - The Word that Closes the Case

28Here I would like to include a little more background information, something which I attained through conversations with my father throughout the filmmaking process. Some years prior to the filmmaking, grandfather told my father that he suspected that someone was taking money from his bank account. They went together to the bank to see if anything was wrong and found nothing out of the ordinary. After grandfather voiced his suspicion that grandmother might be behind this, my father and his siblings knew that something was not quite right. Following this, my grandfather’s doctor ascribed this behavior to the early stages of dementia and its deterioration of brain functions, and prescribed him some medicine. As far as my father knew, the medicine had worked well, and grandfather had not had any episodes since then. As the filmmaking progressed, I did however slowly start to get the feeling that grandmother assigned certain behaviors of grandfather, such as his obsession with taking Elf’s name, to his diagnosis. At first, she did not communicate this directly to me, and I did not feel comfortable with asking. I could however sense it in the way she sometimes reacted to him.

29Sampaio has noted how “communication voids” in intergenerational family relationships can be regarded as an act of care in itself as people may avoid sensitive topics to avoid hurting their next of kin (Sampaio 2020). When focused and meditated on in meticulous ways, silence itself can become an important protagonist advancing our ethnographic understanding (Alexandra 2015). Instead of looking only at what was being communicated openly, it was therefore also important to pay close attention to everything that was not being said (Sampaio 2020). And as my attention was drawn closer to the silence between all of us, I started to sense that grandmother’s irritation with grandfather might partly be explained by what she considered his cognitive decline. As the silence was slowly broken, I came to learn that grandfather had had two sides to him in recent years. The happy-go-lucky one that I knew and loved, and a more bewildered side, which was mostly seen only by grandmother. He sometimes accused her of stealing his money and/or being unfaithful to him. Grandfather would get offended if anyone mentioned he was not in his right mind, understandably so. These issues were not something that overshadowed other aspects of his character in his own mind, nor in the opinions of others. Most of the time when being filmed he would be as I had always seen him, even more playful, funny, and open than before. He would, however, sometimes behave differently, when he was tired or alone with grandmother in the evenings. Grandmother was disturbed by his disruptive behavioral symptoms and herself demonstrated symptoms of caregiver depression and compassion fatigue, as is common with family members of individuals with dementia (McLean 2006: 47). She was ashamed of the things he was saying and worried about what others might think.

30It has been recognized that those affected by dementia often have delusional jealousy and accusations of infidelity are common. These symptoms are more frequent in the evenings, during the early stages of the illness, but can become more constant later (Cipriani et al 2012: 469). One early morning when I had come to record my grandfather making porridge, he told me sadly he had not slept at all that night since he was certain that grandmother's “secret-lover” had been with her during the night. He was crying and complained that family members did not believe him. I had turned off the camera to be the friend he needed and listened to everything he had to say, before shifting focus onto other subjects. It was hard to see him in such a state and difficult to comprehend. As grandmother opened more, the clearer it became that grandfather’s accusations had only become worse, sometimes keeping her awake all night. She had resentments towards some behaviors of his and the more I and other family members played along, the more frustrated she had become. According to her, his ridiculous idea about changing his name to Elf, was nothing more than a symptom of his condition.

31Following such conversations, grandmother became more at ease with me and the camera, as if she was finally being heard. She would sit in the kitchen, recite some of the poetry she had learned in her youth, and become totally immersed in the words that came flowing out of her mouth. During one of my later visits, she actually started singing one of her favorite poems and told me that she had gotten totally used to the camera. She was surely ready to play along, as long as it would be on her own terms. Later on in the editing room, as I had begun to look deeper I discovered subtle things that were hidden from my initial consideration, such as the magnifying glass, that became an empirical lens allowing me to see this old book-gorger, portraying her thirst for the magic poetry which brought to life a deeper understanding of what motivated her in other areas of life.

Grandmother recites poetry

A film still from the film Half Elf


Grandmother recites poetry

Grandmother Hulda recites old poems in front of the camera.

Credits : Jon Bjarki Magnusson: Half Elf 2020

Video link:​830935495

33Grandfather’s condition got worse during his hospital stay and grandmother was not able to take him back home. He was disorientated, referring to the hospital and later nursing home as a house next to the Sauðanes lighthouse (385 km away), and referring to recent meetings with people who had passed away. As some family members tried to discuss his dementia openly, others did not want to admit that he had any such condition. This, among other difficulties I will not be discussing in this paper, caused a further silencing of grandmother’s experience and a fracture within a family of fifty descendants that would only come to grow more serious with time. Meanwhile, as I tried to negotiate my way through my research process, elves seemed to be getting a stronger foothold in my grandfather’s being, and sometimes it was not so clear whether he was referring to dreams or reality. He would talk about “a whole throng of elves” that filled up his hospital room, and later on at the nursing home, that he himself was indeed an elf, a “grand-elf”, and father of many elf children.

34Navigating my fieldwork through filmmaking techniques had been one challenge but selecting what material to use in an ethnographic story about my grandparents presented me with new problems. I was confronted with the question of how to balance familial sensitivities with a desire to make an effective film that spoke truth to what they were going through. Unwilling to violate my grandfather’s trust or push grandmother for further details about these personal issues in front of the camera, I remained confused about whether to incorporate these developments in my film or not. I felt that by implementing such biomedical discourse in the foreground of my work, I would not only be shutting the doors to his own perception of reality, but also diminishing other aspects of his rich character, reducing them to a mere analysis of his mental state (Cohen 1998). His search for meaning would be brought down to clinical labeling. His dementia become his identity.

35In this issue, Barbara Pieta describes how she turned off the camera during moments of tensions when doing fieldwork in a dementia respite center in North-east Italy. Similarly, she would edit out footage that showed irritation, confusion or disorientation by individuals at the center. Frustrated by these choices, which she initially felt were like swiping certain aspects of dementia under the carpet, she later concluded that this was indeed how she should and wanted to work with this material, especially given the hostile gaze towards dementia in the wider community. She goes on to argue how her camera and editing choices could be viewed as an act of care in itself, and for images to be interrogated through the lens of care, as what she coins as carescope (Pieta 2021, this issue). I have found that my own camera negotiations, editing choices and conclusions, fit very well into her definition. My “caring camera” was indeed one that hesitated, looked away, zoomed into the details of fragile hands or was turned off when things became too hard to take directly in. But I would like to add that it was also one that continuously searched for other ways of seeing, for symbols, images and/or metaphors, that could help in sculpting my grandparents’ later life story into a film that would not only speak truth about them, but also back to them, in an ethical yet meaningful way. And as I will discuss in the next section, this is also where editing came to play an important role.

The cat scene

The cat scene

Grandfather plays with a cat near their home in Reykjavík.

A film still from the film Half Elf

Visualizing Grandfathers Metaphor

36Having described how the camera helped me recognize some of the tensions between my grandparents, I would now like to elaborate on how I found a way to implement these uncertainties at the film’s imagistic core by merging the unspoken biomedical explanations of grandfather’s condition with what gradually became his more mystical representations. While the text has offered me an opportunity to contextualize these images within the category of dementia, the filmmaking offered a route where such contextualization was unnecessary and even harmful for the film in making and its protagonists. Here, dreams, the metaphorical and Icelandic folklore shared by my grandfather himself, came to play a major role in guiding my research and advancing the story into a territory of the imaginary and the fantastical.

37In the context of Icelandic folklore, and its many tales of encounters between elves and humans, grandfather's journey into the land of hidden people started to take a shape that was open to these other ways of seeing. In Norse mythology elves originally appeared as a part of the pagan godly race (Sturluson 2010), later associated with “god-like beings” believed to have originated from the gradual mixing of “ancestor spirits” and “nature spirits” from pre-Christian times (Gunnell 2018: 191). Nature spirits, such as the spirit dwarfs in Ghana (Krause 2018) or the little ahuake people of Mexico (Sokolovsky 2016), can be found in different forms in many cultures, but their looks and abilities vary. Folklorist Valdimar Tr. Hafstein has emphasized how Icelandic elves have been depicted as people, “different from human kind”, but resembling it in most respects (2000: 89). And according to most contemporary accounts of elves, they have not changed their way of life or modernized, as they appear as “Icelanders from two or three centuries back” (2000: 95). Hafstein argues that the “Otherworld” of the elves in Icelandic tradition may therefore be seen as the counterpart of our world, their “otherness” stemming from being unknown and unknowable, “[t]hey are distant strangers in the very vicinity of home, living across the field from the farmhouse and yet in another world” (2000: 89).

38Prior to the hospital stay grandfather had not spoken to me about elves as factual beings, much rather as something belonging to childhood fairy tales. Later he opened up and said that he had often seen elves during his lifetime. He described them as being “just like any normal people, only in different clothing” and explained how they would “appear as if in between”. Historically, belief in elves has always been especially strong in the region grandfather comes from, which is made evident in the number of places in the region that have been identified as elf dwellings (Bjorgvinsdottir 2018). Like other children of that time, he first heard about the existence of elves from his elders during early childhood. When lying sick at the hospital, he would refer to his grandmother, Vilborg á Felli, as “a great advocate for elves” (Half Elf 2020), before reminiscing about how she had taught him to behave around the elf rocks in the vicinity of her farm. One was “good” while another was “a dangerous rock, we were not allowed to get close to it,” (2020) and he would always take a big turn past it while gathering the cows. At one point, he and his friends would throw stones at the rock and hear how “stools were dragged around” (2020). For the child, this was a clear indicator of the existence of elves, one that sat with him for the rest of his life. Later on, he would share exciting tales about the elves with me and sing lively elf songs around festivities such as Christmas and New Year ’s Eve, a time where elves are believed to be very active indeed.

39Grandparents have long been acknowledged for their role of passing on the grand narratives of human culture on to their successors as the “storytellers who bind us” (Gopnik 2018). In this way, it could be argued that the elves were a thread tying the generations together, from his grandmother to my grandfather as a small boy and from there on to his descendants and beyond, then regaining traction nearing the end of his life. It has been noted that common grand stories rooted in our past histories, can be especially important for sustaining personhood in people going through memory loss, especially by acting as a framework around what they connect deeply with (Robbins 2020). I would argue that having such a communal narrative was also of great importance to myself as a filmmaker grandson witnessing my grandfather’s health deteriorating. In those moments where he became harder to understand we could always return to the “elvish roots” that bound us together. In the land of elves, we could play as we had always known how to do, first as grandfather and grandson, and later on as a filmmaker and an (half) elf. And as my framing and editing co-aligned more and more with what I had in some ways started to consider as grandfather’s metaphor about his own earthly decline, I started to sense the true healing power of the story we were making together.

40Anatole Broyard, writer and cancer patient, once argued that metaphors were as necessary to illness as they were to literature, offering a healing power and relief from medical terminology. “Perhaps only metaphor can express the bafflement, the panic combined with the beatitude, of the threatened person” (1992: 18). Dementia can be hard to spot in its beginning stages, and many understandably fear the effects it might have on themselves or their loved ones. While being associated with witchcraft in the past (George et al., 2011), it has an aura of a supernatural threat in today’s popular culture (Zeilig 2014). Those who are still in the early stages of the illness, tend to use metaphors such as “the journey of no return”, to assign meaning to what they are going through (Zimmermann 2017: 71-75), but it has been noted that metaphors enable people to “recreate a sense of continuity” by providing “a transforming bridge between the image of the old life and the new one” (Becker 1997: 60). Similarly, Jason Danely has shown how old Japanese myths have helped people of advanced age in the country to face loss, by knitting together “meaningful identities” and opening up “new imaginations” that help with their own transformation at the last stages of life (2012: 4). Furthermore, he asks what might be gained from viewing the loss of growing old “through the eyes of those who believe that it also contains the faces of the cherished ancestors, and the hope of continuity that ultimately transcends age, and even death?” (2012: 5)

Where mountains meet the sea

Where mountains meet the sea

Icy mountains meet the Atlantic Sea near the Sauðanes lighthouse in Northern Iceland.

A film still from the film Half Elf

41Through his notion of imaginative horizons — the blurry boundaries that separate the here and now from what lies beyond, in time and space — Vincent Crapanzano, emphasizes the importance of the role that creativity and imagination play in the way humans experience the world (2004). Similarly, Stuart McLean suggests that creative practices such as art and literature could help anthropologists reframe their field as the “open-ended, performative exploration of alternative possibilities of collective existence—of new ways of being human and other than human” (McLean 2017: x). Interestingly, he takes an example from another anthropologist, Kirsten Hastrup, who dared to include her encounter with such an “other than human” being, in her ethnographic account of her research in Iceland during the 1980s. When doing her postdoctoral fieldwork on an Icelandic farm, Hastrup encountered a strange being in the mist that pressed closed to her before disappearing. At first, she had a hard time understanding what had just happened but having heard countless stories about similar encounters from her informants, she soon realized that it had been a man of the “hidden people” who visited her “in the small space of vision left to me and my ewe by the fog.” (Hastrup 1987: 52).

42Who am I to say what is “real” and what is not when it comes to the experiences of other human beings? Should I not rather aim for trying to understand where such “visions” come from? What might they possibly mean? And try whatever I can to put them in the context that might be best suitable to portray this experience? Why were the elves reaching out to grandfather when he was at his hospital bed? Or rather; why was he himself and/or his own imagination reaching out to such beings now that death was near? And what did the various answers to such questions say about him and the culture he came from? As I have already stated, trying to answer this in mere biomedical categorizations regarding his condition, did not only feel like an inadequate point of view, but also an extremely narrow one. Instead of opening to the different possible interpretations of grandfather's experiences and imaginations, it seemed to close them all down. There was something more there. A meaning hidden from view. A metaphor maybe? Or all the above mixed in with the unexplainable that I had sensed but could not grasp by any conventional means.

43Lisa Stevenson, has called for an ethnographic enquiry that makes room for hesitation and acknowledges uncertainty, which would be “less about collecting facts than about paying attention to the moments when the facts falter.” Such attentiveness, to “moments of doubt, of hesitation, dissolves the professional distance between the ethnographer and her subjects,” (2014: 2), Stevenson writes in context to a story of a conversation she once had with a small boy in the Canadian Arctic. Reflecting on what happens after death, the boy quoted his sister as saying that their uncle had come back as a raven that was living behind their house. When asked if she still thought that, the boy answered that he did not know, before adding that the raven was still there (2014: 1). It does not really matter whether the raven is the dead uncle or not, it is still there, Stevenson argues before adding that images have the power to capture such uncertainty. By drawing the “attention back to imagistic rather than discursive modes of knowing” she believes that anthropologists can be faithful to some “contradictory experiences” of others in ways unthought before (2014: 10). The camera has the ability to show without telling, it can escape contextualizing what is being framed, and leave it up to the viewer to sense it. The raven is there, just as the elf is with grandfather. What does it mean? We don’t know, but we can sense the uncertainty, and there lies its strength.

44“This is the head Elf,“ grandfather would once say to me as he sat on his bed at the nursing home (Half Elf 2020). The camera was aimed at him, and I had been asking him about a stone that my father had collected on the road to Santiago and later given him at the hospital. The stone was in a small glass case and sitting on a paper where the name “Elf” was written in calligraphy. For some reason, grandfather had interpreted my question about the elf-stone, as a question about himself. “This is the head Elf,“ he would repeat before continuing: “You can tell them that. You are looking at the Grand Elf. This is the Grand Elf. Check that out.” At that moment, I was not sure if he was playing with me or if he truly believed he had entered the elves realm, finally becoming an elf himself. The comment was so straightforward and serious that it felt like he meant every word. But then again, he was a performer at heart, and had always known how to play his grandchild's strings. This doubt stuck with me. There was really no way to say one way or another. And the true meaning of it all was stuck there somewhere between.

Grandfather the grand elf

A film still from the film Half Elf


Grandfather the grand elf

Grandfather talks about himself as the “grand elf” at the nursery home.

Credits : Jon Bjarki Magnusson: Half Elf 2020

Video link:​830935885

46In the context of her research into possible co-operations between healers and psychiatric clinics in Ghana, where spirit dwarf beings made their presence known with the help of a healing prophet, Kristine Krause asks whether something might be gained from viewing dementia as a spirit? “With spirits, you never know exactly whom you are talking to, when and whether they are there, or whom it is you are interacting with“ (Krause 2018). While acknowledging that such practice can risk a pathologisation of rich ritual practices and exoticizing a painful condition, she points at intriguing resonances between the two: “the (trickster) moments of not being sure who is in front of you when time horizons switch within seconds; the significance of mundane ways of doing things that can become points of contact or blockages” (2018) Moreover, she adds that perhaps while a “dementia spirit” might challenge us in many ways, it is up to us to find ways to relate to or socialize with it in new and meaningful ways (2018). Similarly, in his film, Descending with Angels (2013), anthropologist filmmaker Christian Suhr, explores the divide between the seen and unseen worlds through Islamic healing and spirit possession on one hand, and Danish psychiatry on the other. By comparing these two different systems of treatment, Suhr raises fundamental questions about the meaning of believing, be it in magic or biomedicine (Suhr 2019).

47Grandfather’s belief/metaphor/hope or whatever we want to call it, revolved around his dreams and visions of elves and hidden people, beings from another realm reaching out to him at old age. It should be noted, that belief in the supernatural is nothing out of the ordinary in the Icelandic context, but rather something that speaks to our collective memory, which can possibly be explained by the gradual mixing of pagan and Christian beliefs within the culture throughout the centuries (Gunnell 2018). Hidden people and other paranormal phenomena still play a major role in our national consciousness, as is still evident in our modern-day vocabulary (Swatos and Gissurarson 1997). And interestingly, while a majority of Icelanders have long been hesitant to deny the existence of elves (Haraldsson 1978, Gunnell 2014), many still believe in prophetic dreams (Haraldsson 1978, Heijnen 2013, Gunnel 2014), and Icelanders are also much more likely than their Nordic neighbors to believe in life after death or reincarnation (Haraldsson 2006). This has been made evident through countless popular art works, novels, and films, such as the Oscar nominated Children of Nature (1991), which deals with isolation and aging in a modern society, as well as being a meditation on the supernatural believes that have remained so prevalent in Icelandic society to this day. And probably one of the best examples we have, of how death has been treated as a journey back to the old homestead at the heart of nature, in the Icelandic national consciousness.

48As I have demonstrated, it was challenging to render these developments into a film that allowed for mystical phenomena to co-align with a documented reality. This is where editing sounds and images creatively also became a tool to extend my knowledge and deepen my understanding. Like working through a puzzle and arriving at unexpected outcomes. To connect with these more mysterious aspects of this story, I felt it was important to bring their Sauðanes lighthouse and its mountainous surroundings to life on the screen, as a flashing light from a past now guiding into a future beyond. Here, Hlín Ólafsdóttir's accordion music came to play an important role, with its slow breathing lungs recreating foghorn sounds, reminiscing inner landscapes of old days gone. Constructing montage dream sequences, such as the one described in the beginning of this paper, where my grandmother's poetry, or grandfather's stories of lighthouses, dreams, and elves, are overlayed over images of the landscapes that made them, also became an important tool in my attempt to show the invisible (Suhr and Willerslev 2012). The implementation of old interviews with people of their own generation speaking about elf dwellings or enchanted rocks, through manufactured “elf radio” scenes, accompanied by images of grandfather's stone collection, was an attempt to put his connection with the elves in a greater context.

49According to the legends, people often dream of and/or encounter elves when they are at “crossroads” in their lives (Bjorgvinsdottir 2018) And are there any more important crossroads a human can find than the end of life? On such moments, these supernatural beings are said to enter from all directions and try to mislead humans with temptations, while those who fall for it are said to lose their mind (Bjorgvinsdottir 2018). Half Elf (2020) starts with a conversation I had with my grandfather by phone while he was at the hospital. He insisted on telling me about his dream from the night before. “I was dreaming elves all night long,” he would say, adding that they were making him sing for them, “and they would never stop” (Half Elf 2020). Iceland went through a complete a metamorphosis during my grandparents’ lifetime. The country where grandfather would first hear about elves and hidden people was a different world altogether to the one, we know today. One way of seeing his fascination with these other-worldly beings, was as an effort, not only to reach out to that long-forgotten world of his past childhood, but also to the other half of his own being; one which came to be in that Otherworld; the elf that was hidden within.


50Having made a point about the opacity of images (Stevenson 2014) and seeing as caring (Pieta 2021), I would like to come back to think about the limits of film as relational tool in the context of care, to show where the text steps in. While “dementia” as such is never mentioned in the film, partly due to my fear for overarching, monolithic or pathologizing categorizations that bite away the complexities of the lived experience, it has played an important role in this text by helping to unpack the many underlying reasons for the film’s exploration of dreams, metaphors and Icelandic folklore, situated somewhere near the borderlands of biomedical and mystical categorizations. One of the strengths of film is in its ability to show without telling. Returning to MacDougall, images hold within them something much richer and more complex than could be described in words (2006), which is why filmic language can in some instances be better suitable to communicate the more complex aspects of the human existence, such as the junction between life and death.

51Having said that, it is important to note how this text has offered me an opportunity to contextualize the ideas behind my visual research, in ways that the film did not allow for.

52As I have outlined, the filmmaking brought certain tensions to light, such as my grandfather’s longing to change his name to Elf or my grandmother’s frustration with grandfather’s behavior which she attributed to his early stages dementia. Having drawn from other anthropologists emphasizing the importance of exploring those in-between and open-ended spaces of the human condition, however uncertain, imaginary, fictional or supernatural they may seem (Crapanzano 2004, Danely 2012, Krause 2018, McLean 2016, Stevenson 2014), I argue for ethnographic filmmaking that engages with the inner worlds of collaborators in ways that leaves such experiences open to contemplation and various interpretations. In the context of Half Elf, imagination, its imagery and metaphors, opened up what I found to be an ethical way to engage with my grandparents’ experience. When stating that we were saved by the (Half) Elves, I am pointing to how grandfathers elf metaphor and its visions and images of the unseen offered conclusions to complicated negotiations between binary positions such as the biomedical and mystical, rational and emotional, closeness and distance fictional and the real. At the same time, I acknowledge what MacDougall suggested, namely that the metaphoric potential of images can be both a hindrance and an advantage, depending on how the visual representation is framed (MacDougall 2006, Rodineliussen 2017). For this reason, as Rodineliussen notes, most images within anthropology and other disciplines have been contextualized by means of words to explicate the message.

53It goes without saying that some of the things described in this paper, were not recorded in any way due to different reasons. Sometimes, this would revolve around trust and intimacy, and me not wanting to show certain aspects that I felt more comfortable writing about than showing on film. Sometimes, it would be about different audiences, as the film would have the potential to reach people from various backgrounds while a journal article such as this one is primarily aimed for colleagues in the field. And sometimes, it would be about the ability to capture evidence in the moment and not being able to film while caregiving. When telling me about all the elves that were filling up the hospital floor, for example, grandfather had recently woken from a near death experience. Not having a camera in hand as his carer I asked about the mystical adventures of the night, but he warned me not to be too loud, so that the staff would not realize the elves were there with him. At this point he had already admitted that he did not really need to change his name. The most important thing was for others to know that Elf was with him. Me being a journalist, he had come up with the idea that I should write an article in the paper where we would make this official. In that way he could honor his savior whilst keeping the peace at home. I have come to see the narrative arc developed through our negotiations, as well as the name of the film itself as one way of trying to fulfill my grandfather’s wish.

54As I have touched upon in this paper, the appearance of elves and hidden people in dreams and reality may be interpreted in many ways, depending on which viewpoint one takes. Are they some sort of ancestor spirits? Or godly creatures put on this earth to defend nature from man? Pranksters that one should be vary of? Might they possibly just be a mirror image of some hidden parts of ourselves? Something that we might want to be, i.e., more playful, funny, and open, but can for some reason not allow ourselves to be. Whatever the individual answer is, there is no denying that they exist in one form or the other, if only in the imagination. Icelandic singer and songwriter, Magnús Þór Sigmundsson, asks in one of his most famous songs, whether elves might possibly human. While leaving that as an open question, I can say that thanks to my attending to the metaphorical and imagistic, I came to view my grandfather as (at least a half of) an elf, as he stood strong between the world we know and the one that was waiting for him beyond. His playful and honest ode to life during those last visually recorded moments was a true inspiration which made me want to believe in everything he was seeing, dreaming, and experiencing.

55And what was it again that I thought I was doing? I was trying to make a film and in so doing helping my grandfather in his attempts to reach elfdom. And as he slowly became (at least a half of) an elf through the eyes of my camera, he taught me how to become (at least a half of) a filmmaker. And for that mutual becoming I will be forever grateful.

A film still from the film Half Elf


The lighthouse and the final goodbye

When thanking grandfather for his elf stories he responds by talking about his elf children.

Credits : Jon Bjarki Magnusson: Half Elf 2020

Video link:​830938818


57The coffin-maker leads the group. Along come the coffin-handlers followed by the cathedral priest. The sound of howling wind mixes with an image of people walking through the storm. Time passes slowly as we move from one shot to the next. As the coffin-handlers use ropes to release the coffin slowly down into the grave we move to a shot of a lighthouse keeper lying in his coffin. He is gone from this world, but he is still here with us, and sings a final song over his own dead body:

58♪ My great comfort is that my name is Elf

59In that I will find mercy. ♪

60♪ Though some bloke says: you’re only half

61I’ll still wear my jersey. ♪

62♪ I won’t reply. Only whisper this:

63In bullshit, life is bliss.

64(Half Elf 2020)

The funeral

The funeral

The descendants of grandfather Trausti carry his earthly remnants towards his grave near his homestead in the Strandir region.

A film still from the film Half Elf

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Books and articles

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Gunnell, Terry. 2018. The Álfar, the Clerics and the Enlightenment: Conceptions of the Supernatural in the Age of Reason in Iceland. In Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits. Michael Ostling, ed. Pp. 191-212. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Hafstein, Valdimar Tr. 2000. The Elves’ Point of View: Cultural Identity in Contemporary Icelandic Elf-Tradition. Fabula: Journal of Folktale Studies 41: 87-104.

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Hastrup, Kirsten. 1987. The Challenge of the Unreal, or How Anthropology Comes to Terms with Life. Culture and History 1: 50–62.

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Friðriksson, Friðrik Þór, dir. Children of Nature (Börn náttúrunnar). 1991. 86 min.

Magnusson, Jon Bjarki, dir. 2020. Half Elf (Hálfur Álfur). 64 min.

Rouch, Jean, dir. 1971. Tourou et Bitti. 12 min.

Suhr, Christian, dir. Descending with Angels. 2013. 74 min.

Minh-ha, Trinh T, dir. Reassamblage: From the Firelight to the Screen. 1982. 40 min.

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List of illustrations

Title Faces of nature
Caption A rock formation shaped like a face near grandfathers homestead in the Strandir area in the Westfjords region of Iceland.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 348k
Title My grandparents’ lighthouse
Caption The light from the Sauðanes lighthouse in Northern Iceland has guided many seafarers through the dark.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 147k
Title Ordering groceries
Caption Grandmother makes an order for groceries.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 310k
Title Grandfather’s coffin
Caption Grandfather visits the coffin maker to look at his coffin which he later referred to as “his house”.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 247k
Title Preparing for a shot
Caption Me trying out a gimbal while grandfather Trausti watches in the background.
Credits Photo by Hlín Ólafsdóttir
File image/jpeg, 325k
Title Together / Apart
Caption The first frame in Half Elf where grandfather Trausti and grandmother Hulda appear together.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 305k
Title The cat scene
Caption Grandfather plays with a cat near their home in Reykjavík.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 454k
Title Where mountains meet the sea
Caption Icy mountains meet the Atlantic Sea near the Sauðanes lighthouse in Northern Iceland.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 360k
Title The funeral
Caption The descendants of grandfather Trausti carry his earthly remnants towards his grave near his homestead in the Strandir region.
Credits A film still from the film Half Elf
File image/jpeg, 133k
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Electronic reference

Jón Bjarki Magnusson, Saved by the (Half) Elves:Anthrovision [Online], 9.2 | 2021, Online since 01 December 2023, connection on 21 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Jón Bjarki Magnusson

Maynooth University

Jón Bjarki Magnússon is a visual anthropologist and documentary filmmaker with a background in journalism. He studied creative writing at the University of Iceland and received his MA in Visual and Media Anthropology from Freie Universität, Berlin, in 2018. His award-winning projects include journalism on the conditions of refugees and asylum-seekers in Iceland, and ethnographic films exploring themes such as the later life course, death, technology, and friendship in cyberspace. A recipient of the German International Ethnographic Film Festival’s Manfred Krüger Awards for ‘Excellent Camera Work’ and the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Short Film Prize for ‘the most outstanding short film on social, cultural and biological anthropology or archaeology’, Magnússon is currently conducting an Advance CRT funded PhD degree in anthropology at Maynooth University, Ireland, where he is working on a research project about the sociotechnical lives of older men in Iceland.

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The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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