Born from molten lava bursting its way to the surface, the country of Iceland possesses two parallel worlds tied together by nature. One world is the one we live in as humans. First trampled upon by the Vikings, but today a one-time vibrant urban center struck hard by the economic collapse of 2008. The other world is of the elves, living in nature among the coastal lava rock fields. They are known as the “hidden people,” these elves live in harmony with nature but unseen to most people.
In her film, The Seer and the Unseen, director Sara Dosa tells the story of one woman, Ragnhildur “Ragga” Jónsdóttir, known as the “Seer” who serves as the liaison between the modern world and the elves. Ragga is not only able to see the hidden ones, but she communicates with them as well. She is their only voice in a changing world. As the only seer, Icelandic citizens come to her for consultation. For example, a gentleman approaches, who wants to add more space to his apartment building. He and Ragga inspect the site to ensure no damage comes to the nearby Elven homes and to seek their blessing. The elves agree to the gentleman’s expansion plan.
One morning, the city decides to build a seemingly unnecessary road straight through an Elven village. They are displacing hundreds, if not thousands, of elves from their homes. Joined by local environmental activists, Ragga stands defiantly in the path of the bulldozers in hopes that saner heads will prevail, but the local government has plans that will not be thwarted, and the village is razed to the ground as Ragga sits in a jail cell while it happens.
“…the city decides to build a seemingly unnecessary road straight through an Elven village.”
The next day, Ragga surveys the devastation only to see standing a large rock to us, but to the elves, it’s their sacred chapel. As the developers decide the best way to destroy the chapel, the elves plead for help from Ragga, and she takes the fight to city hall with a compelling letter to the mayor on behalf of the elves.
As I read back this review, I neglected to mention this is a documentary and these events are absolutely true and captured first-hand by Dosa. Ragga is a real person and renowned all over as a “Seer” of the hidden world. Over half of Iceland’s citizens believe in elves, and their belief is so deep that they influence local politics. The big question is, “does the mayor also believe in elves?”
Along with Sara Dosa’s story of Ragga, she takes on a beautiful tour of Iceland building a compelling case for the country to maintain its natural reserves. Ten years ago, Iceland was considered a gold mine of economic growth. Trillions of dollars were invested in the country, and its people experienced an unprecedented economic boom. But then it all came crashing down in 2008. Like many people all over the world, their wealth came in the form of unlimited credit, only to discover there is no such thing as unlimited credit and the country fell into virtual bankruptcy.
Dosa also does a masterful job maintaining the pace and excitement of the film at a level to keep its audiences interested in this not-so-ordinary story. The theme of the film is simple and accessible. The Seer and the Unseen is a David and Goliath story of one woman’s battle to save a people who have no voice. Left alone, this is an inspiring environmental tale. But at the same time, the cynical side of you (although probably just me) continually reminds you that there’s no such thing as elves, and everyone around Ragga either believes that she believes in elves, or don’t want to challenge her belief in fear of looking like the villain (which I am close to becoming right now).
“…a sweet woman with a passion for continuing Iceland’s elven traditions.”
I’ve grown up having faith healers, psychics, mediums and the like paraded in front of me and taking money from vulnerable seniors and gullible friends. There’s a lot of damage done by these charlatans profiting off the spiritual and supernatural.
There’s an earnestness with the lead subject Ragga that makes her different than the rest. She believes what she believes, and many people, including myself, are happy to leave it at that. It’s apparent from her modest lifestyle that she’s not making money off her relationship with elves. She has no website, no tv or radio show and offers tours only to those who ask. She’s not stopping the construction of the road because she hates capitalism or has a militant environmental agenda. She and the elves themselves appear more than willing to work out a reasonable compromise as problems present themselves.
Ragga herself is a sweet woman with a passion for continuing Iceland’s elven traditions. The Seer and the Unseen has more to offer by showing us the kind and gentle landscape and people of Iceland. It’s best to take the movie for what it is at face value. If you’re the type of person, who just wants to mock an old lady, then you best move on to a different film.
The Seer and the Unseen (2019) Directed by Sara Dosa. The Seer and the Unseen screened at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.
7 out of 10 stars