Grandma Lo-fi: The Basement Tapes of Sigrídur Níelsdóttir (Antenna Documentary Film Festival)
I spent a delightful 62 minutes with Sigrídur Níelsdóttir a woman dubbed Grandma Lo-Fi at the Sydney documentary film festival recently. This is a gorgeous documentary about an enormously charming woman, who also happens to be – as she describes herself – filled with music. At the age of 70, Sigrídur Níelsdóttir decided to start her recording career. Over the next 7 years she made over 59 albums and recorded close to 700 songs. Initially these works were intended for family and friends but the enigmatic charm of this woman soon had her music spreading beyond her basement walls, eventually becoming an influence on Islands music community and an adored cult figure. It is worth noting she also did all the graphic design work on her covers, painstakingly drawing every image by hand and colouring them in with brightly coloured pencil.
With dogs barking, pigeons cooing, miniature waterfalls flowing and kitchen utensils whirring, Níelsdóttir mixed the tinkering of her Casio keyboard into the soundscape of the world around her. Following the imaginative Níelsdóttir through her songwriting process, this uplifting documentary hums a gentle ode to her boundless creativity, and whispers a quiet reminder of our own.
“Good news travels fast,” says musician and first-time filmmaker Kristín Kristjánsdóttir of how she first learned of Sigrídur Níelsdóttir subsequently deciding to make a documentary about her life as a musician. Kristín Kristjánsdóttir and her fellow film makers spent years getting to know Sigrídur Níelsdóttir before they attempted the documentary and the results of this deep connection are there in the film. Sigrídur Níelsdóttir comes across as a shy woman, or at the very least too busy with her music for nonsense like documentaries. It would only be close friends that could exact the personality and deep beauty of this marvellous musician. Shot mostly on super-8 and 16mm film Grandma Lo-Fi took eight years to make the film, marvellously capturing the most creative period of the woman’s life. The blurb about her on the website describes her movements as pure poetry; she saves a pigeon with a broken wing then has it sing on one of her songs; she uses a cream whisk as the sound of a helicopter. There is a touch of the sound artists in this womans relationship to sound and the endless potential for it that she sees all over her very small apartment.