Just when politics couldn’t get any noisier or more fractious, how refreshing to find a candidate whose major campaign platform is to get a polar bear for the zoo and to give gifts to single mothers on Mother’s Day -- but only if they’ve registered their status as “single” on Facebook.
That candidate, sorry to say, is in Iceland, not the U.S. And he’s no longer running. He won. Jón Gnarr, a 44-year old comedian and actor, was voted in last year as mayor of Reykjavik, the Nordic nation’s capital and largest city (pop. 120,000). “Gnarr,” a highly entertaining documentary about his unusual campaign, had its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival Friday night.
Gnarr, a burly strawberry blond, began his quixotic quest for the mayorship in 2009, both as a lark and a form of protest after Iceland’s economy imploded in 2008. He formed what he called the Best Party.
The Best Party’s slogan? “We’ll have more fun.”
Read also: Two British Comics Raise (Michael) Caine
It also had a campaign song, a rewritten, Iceland-specific version of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best.” And Gnarr required that anyone running on his ticket have watched all five seasons of HBO’s “The Wire.” (His favorite character on the series was Omar -- played by Michael K. Williams -- a scar-faced robber of drug dealers. “I’m his friend on Facebook,” the candidate boasts in the movie.)
As “Gnarr” chronicles, a funny thing happened on the way to the election booth. Gnarr and the Best Party caught fire with fed-up voters and Gnarr himself, while still a pitching machine of killer one-liners (half the fun of the movie is watching his opponents break up, despite themselves, during his speeches at candidate forums), became serious about the possibility that he could improve politics and run a city government that would be more in touch with the people.
The candidate and his party ended up winning 35 percent of the vote and taking six of the city’s 15 council seats. Raising his arms in the air in victory on election night, Gnarr is shown in the documentary jubilantly telling his supporters, “Hooray for lots of things!”
After the screening, Gnarr and director Gaukur Úlfarsson answered questions from an enthusiastic audience.
The new mayor said that, since taking office nine months ago, he has not yet gotten a polar bear for the city zoo, nor brought Disneyworld to town (another of his campaign proposals). But he did dress up in drag and ride a float during the city’s gay pride parade, thereby fulfilling his campaign promise to bring “more fun” to the city, and he declared “Good Day Day,” officially instructing city employees to wish everyone a “Good Day” on it.
More to the point, he has stuck with the job. “I’ve had to deal with very serious financial matters and I’ve had my ups and downs,” Gnarr said. “I considered having a doctor make up a disease so I’d have an excuse to get out, but other times the job is great fun and very challenging.”
Gnarr said Iceland’s financial collapse in 2008 had a catalytic effect on him. “I’d done what I’d never done before: I started following the news and trying to figure out what had happened. I wanted to try and change it and make it better,” he said of his decision to run for office. “And to get rid of the seriousness and the boredom in politics too.”
Asked why the film didn’t show Gnarr’s personal life -- he’s married and has several children -- Úlfarsson said that was a deliberate choice. “I wanted to keep the reality TV angle out,” the director said, “and he”–pointing to Gnarr–“didn’t let me in his house, as well.”
The 96-minute “Gnarr,” which is in Icelandic (with English subtitles) and some English, is seeking a U.S. distributor. Indie powerhouse lawyer-agent John Sloss, who was outside the theater doors to gauge reaction after Friday night’s screening, is representing the film through his company, Cinetic Media.