Icelandic artist in the spotlight at EHF EURO 2022

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One of Iceland’s most established and respected artists has been in Budapest watching from inside the arena as part of a special documentary film that is being made by an Oscar-nominated director.

Karl Guðmundsson, also known as Kalli, is not only a huge handball fan but is a renowned visual artist from northern Iceland who suffers from cerebral palsy. The condition restricts the use of his body and is only able to communicate with his eyes.

The 35-year-old’s story – and art – caught the attention of Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Iceland’s most revered director whose 1991 feature Children of Nature was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.

“I’m here because I’m making a documentary about a visual artist and painter. What makes it such a special story is that Kalli is paralysed, and I am very interested in the work of art that he does,” explains Fridriksson.

“His art is also inspired by handball and that’s why he follows the national team and why we are here. The Icelandic federation made it possible to travel on the same plane to be here.

“Kalli is from the biggest town in the north, Akureyri. I saw a small sketch of his on a television show about his art and I fell in love with it immediately. What I saw was beautiful.

“We decided to follow the team at the Men’s EHF EURO because his work is influenced by handball. He loves to watch handball. There’s much more to his story than handball but it will feature heavily in the documentary.”

Guðmundsson, who currently has an exhibition on at a gallery in his hometown, saw Iceland win all three preliminary round matches in Budapest – a city which has a special place in the hearts of his family.

“It just so happens that Budapest was the place where Kalli’s parents brought him many, many times when he was a child,” explains Vilborg Einarsdottir, one of the producers of the documentary who first met Guðmundsson in 2019.

“The Petö Institute – the institute for children with cerebral palsy – is based in Budapest. His parents took him seven times for two to three weeks each time between the ages of 12 months and seven years old. The methods of this institute have played a big role in how Kalli is today.”

The film is set to be finished in the next six months, says Fridriksson – who was an Icelandic handball champion in his teenage playing days.

“Everyone in Iceland plays and watches handball. Therefore it’s a common passion that Kalli and I share,” he added.

It remains to be seen if the documentary will have a fairy tale ending with Iceland being crowded champions, but that is not the point of the documentary. Instead it will be a celebration of a man who has overcome his disability to live a life of adventures.

“He could so easily be in an institution, but he is not – Kalli is an artist and watches handball,” says Einarsdottir. “If we can all take a step back at those who are severely disabled and give them a chance, a chance to bloom, then they are capable of great things. It just needs patience and dedication.”

It is an inspiring EHF EURO story and one which Iceland can look towards as they strive for glory in Hungary.

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