Garn (the Norwegian word for “yarn”) is an aptly named documentary about – you guessed it! – yarn. But the Icelandic film from co-directors Pordur Jonsson and Heather Millard attempts to liven up its seemingly mundane subject matter by shifting the focus from yarn as a material to yarn as an industry, a hobby and an art form. (GEP: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky
Basically, there’s a lot of yarn.
But like any documentary with a seemingly obtuse subject, the film tries to go deeper by comparing the simplicity of yarn to the complexity of life.
Jonsson and Millard attempt to capture the viewers’ attention by first appealing to knitters’ familial and emotional attachment to yarn, an inanimate object most people probably don’t think twice about. Stories about grandmothers teaching granddaughters how to crochet and yellowing photos of women knitting through the centuries are sweet attempts at making yarn feel like a more important medium than one might initially think.
Icelandic knitting trends are extensively covered in some of the film’s more mundane sequences – “yarn graffiti” that covers pillars and streetlights and yarn-centric interpretive dance among them. Some artistic yarn pieces are warm and inviting, others so strange that they’re isolating – mostly the latter. These are the moments Garn will lose anyone with little interest in the abstract, and they go on for way too long. The best insights in Garn come from its featured artists – extraordinarily talented knitters who see themselves and their work as a form of expression. These admirable men and women have an incredible ability to turn spun thread into meaningful works of art.
As a knitter myself (albeit a rusty one) I might be a bit biased. But watching the speed, efficiency and effortlessness with which some of these more conventional knitters was not only visually interesting, but also provided a unique form of storytelling – not quite what you’d expect from a documentary that on the surface is strictly about yarn. Their creations go far beyond the defunct potholders and half-finished afghans I used to make. A diverse group of artists from across the world is featured, creating elaborate structures and massive murals out of the titular material. But their personal backgrounds and attachments to knitting are far more interesting than the material they use.
These artists and their stories are displayed in the usual way, with occasional animation sequences that provide breaks in the monotony. The 76-minute feature does hit redundant lulls, which is to be expected when one material is the sole focus. However, Jonsson and Millard make a decent effort to expand the viewers’ knowledge and deepen their understanding of why something that is seemingly so simple can also be so important – a great reminder of the many other simple things we too often take for granted. “Effort” is the key word – the metaphors and deeper meanings behind the uses of yarn don’t always stick the landing and are often too much of a stretch. It sometimes feels as though the filmmakers decided to cast off their stitches in the middle of a row. (That was a knitting joke. Garn could have used more of these.)
The documentary will most likely only appeal to very avid knitters and art lovers. But anyone who appreciates the power of metaphor will also see the value in it, despite its shortcomings. One featured artist says, ”Just like in life, every loop plays a role. One loop is one small step closer to your goal. You just keep going and in the end something great comes out of it.” Something seemingly fragile and simple can be turned into strong, beautiful work with the right hands and the right mindset – a comforting, motivating message. Small moments that provide inspiring ideas like this one are what made Garn slightly more enjoyable than expected – but aside from that, long montages of knitting and various bizarre uses of yarn are covered in painstaking detail.
© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (6/25/16)
Middle photo: Featured knitters created elaborate structures like trains and murals.
Bottom photo: Many yarn artists created art shows to display their unique takes on the medium.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Spier Films (Iceland)
Yes. A majority of knitters are female and are featured working together, discussing their journeys and their passion for yarn. Some artists even consider their work as feminine empowerment, no longer "something you associate with your grandmother."