Elves and Trolls and Dwarves, Oh My!- THE SEER & THE UNSEEN

Review by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions

The Seer & the Unseen opens on a scene that’s a cross between a nature documentary and Galadriel’s voice-over from Lord of the Rings. In this opening we learn about Iceland’s history from the time of the Vikings in the ninth century, and its mythos of natural spirits such as elves, trolls, and dwarves. This is all reminiscent of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but there are no battles between the fantastical creatures of folklore and humankind. Instead there’s a battle between environmentalists trying to preserve nature and developers who want to destroy it. 

Our protagonist is Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, an environmentalist who believes in, speaks with, and speaks for the hidden peoples of Iceland: elves, trolls, and dwarves. These are the people she fights for in her efforts to stop the development of Iceland’s protected lands. She talks unironically about her communications with elves and how they have asked her to be their champion in the human world. Ragga (as she is known) says she has been seeing and communicating with elves telepathically since childhood and has been trying to prevent their lands, churches, and homes from being destroyed by humans. 

Much of the central conflict of the film stems from Iceland’s economic collapse in 2008 and its recovery. To rebound from the crisis, the Icelandic government built roads and structures and invited outside developers, which doesn’t seem like a bad idea until it’s explained how many of these roads and structures weren’t really necessary. The development seems to have been for its own sake rather than for the people of Iceland. 

Director Sara Dosa follows Ragga and her fellow protestors who go as far as lying down in front of bulldozers to prevent nature preserves from being destroyed: a brave but futile gesture that sadly symbolizes much of the environmental movement of the past 40+ years. One protestor asks, “Does greed have no limits?” A question we all know the unfortunate answer to in this day and age.  

Dosa showcases the natural beauty of Iceland from the aurora borealis in its night skies to the sparse landscapes of its countryside. It seems to be an otherworldly place, almost alien. In fact when Iceland appears in films, it’s often depicted as being another planet like in Thor: The Dark World, or as a post-apocalyptic earth in Oblivion. But in this documentary, we see the country and its people as they are. It’s a moving portrayal that is shot rather unromantically— but effectively—without swooping drone shots or tons of hyperlapse photography. 

Dosa uses the techniques of cinema verite to put us in the middle of the action, placing us firmly on the side of Ragga and the environmentalists. She uses the minimum amount of talking head interviews to tell the story. The handheld camera is alive, and we are compelled to follow the characters.  

The Seer & the Unseen is a provocative film that asks questions like: Who are we to say these beings don’t exist just because we can’t see them? Is it really that different from any other faith? If elves exist, can they be seen by certain special people? In the end, it’s not about elves or trolls or dwarves. It’s about the spirit of the people who wish to preserve their environment, but if such creatures do exist, they would probably live in Iceland where they could find a champion like Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir. 

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