EXCLUSIVE: On New Year’s day, RUV will premiere the Icelandic TV drama Prisoners /Fangar. We spoke to director/co-writer Ragnar Bragason and co-writer/actress Nina Dogg Filippusdóttir. 

Prisoners /Fangar is produced by Mystery Productions with support from Nordisk Film & TV Fond.

How did you get the idea for Fangar?
Nina Dogg Filippusdóttir: I read an article with actress/co-writer Unnur Ösp Stefansdóttir about mothers locked in prison. We called the prison in Kópavogur and asked if we could visit the women inmates. We met them several times. Their stories were amazing and we decided to tell them to the world.

How many inmates did you speak to?
we went there several times over a three-year period and spoke to 12 women. They were locked for various reasons, from murder to drugs. We then contacted Ragnar and asked if he wanted to join us on this ride.
Ragnar Bragason: …That was seven years ago. 

How did you share the writing duties and develop the storyline?
RB: Nina and Unnur had the original idea, and they wrote the script with me and Margrét Örnólfsdóttir, an experienced TV drama writer. We didn’t want to do a standard prison drama. We started to develop the story, doing research about how men use their power to silence and abuse women. There have been various scandals on the subject in Iceland. We decided to tell the story from the point of view of a family, three women of different generations within a family. 

30 year-old Linda [Thora Bjorg Helga], the main character is accused of a deadly assault and sent to prison. Linda’s older sister Valgerdur [Halldóra Geirhardsdóttir] is a politician and MP, with a 14 year-old daughter ([Katla Njálsdóttir], and their mother Herdis [Kristbjörg Kjeld] is a typical housewife, rather naïve. 

The series is not the classical ‘who dunnit’. We focus on why things happen and how it affects the family and society as a whole. 

How is the story arch constructed?
It’s very structured, not episodic at all. The 6x50‘ episodes feel like an expanded feature film. When Linda goes to prison, she gets to know women of a different social class than her, from a broken environment. Slowly, a bond develops between her and the other women inmates. 

Where was the series shot?
NDF: We were lucky because we were able to shoot in a real prison, Iceland’s only prison for women in Kópavogur that closed 10 months earlier. 
RB: Yes last year it was closed down and the government has now built a new mixed prison. It was perfect for us to have access to that women prison because it’s a unique location, more like a small boarding house as it wasn’t built on purpose as a prison. Only 12 inmate women could live there. Next to it is a kindergarten, so the inmates could see the parents with their kids.

Did you have other prison dramas in mind?
RB: Not really as the prison itself wasn’t the classic prison. The women could wear their own clothes, cook their own meals, they could sit together in a common room.

Did you use non-professional actors?
RB: No, most actors are professionals, with 70% women. 

What do you want people to come out with when watching the series?
We want to open the prison world to the general audience and bring to the forefront the law of silence, whereby women are pressured to shut up. 
RB: We wanted to give a voice to people who rarely have a voice and emphasise the influence of men of power, how they use it to silence their victims, and how society sometimes accepts this situation. We are quite critical about males dominating society. We hope that the show will trigger debates. 

Will you give the same realistic feel of yours films Parents/Children or Metalhead?
Absolutely. Social-realistic drama is what I’m interested in. Here the setting plays a particular role as we’ve filmed in a contained space and played on the feeling of claustrophobia. We also shot during summer, which will give a different feel to the usual Nordic noir shot during winter. 

Are you thrilled about the international market’s strong interest on Nordic-and Icelandic TV drama?
NDF: Yes. We want as many people as possible to watch the show. 

RB: We’re living interesting times. Storytelling is evolving. We grew up with TV drama that had a very episodic structure, but now it’s more like a long feature. Plus all genres are popular, not only crime. 

What’s next? RB: We hope that we will be able to develop season 2 of Fangar. 

See the official trailer - CLICK HERE.