In 1980, Iceland made history when it voted overwhelmingly to put Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in office as the first democratically elected female head of state. Over the years, the island nation has become a sterling example of gender equality – ranking number one in the world according to the United Nations for nine years running.
As a professional snowboarder, Anne-Flore Marxer became a gender equality activist out of situations that unfolded in front of her. Ones that she believed were unfair. In 2011, she fought to put women back on the Freeride World Tour full time and introduce equal pay across the board. Years later, fatigued from devoting so much time and energy to not only riding but fighting for access and opportunity for herself and other women, Marxer was in search of inspiration. She turned to Iceland.
In her directorial debut, A Land Shaped by Women, Marxer and fellow traveler and accomplished snowboarder Aline Bock road trip through Iceland sampling its natural beauty and speaking directly to the many women currently shaping its trajectory.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we caught up with Marxer to get the scoop on her award-winning film and the inspiration behind it. You can watch the full flick here.
This film is really equal parts history lesson, action-packed shred segments, and inspiration to continue to push for greater equality. What was your inspiration for crafting the film this way, and what do you hope viewers will glean from it?
Bringing better opportunities to women in sport has been my greatest motivation through my snowboarding career and I became a passionate advocate for gender equality.
In 2017, the day after winning the last competition of the season [on the Freeride World Tour], I was in need of inspiration and strength. I decided to go to Iceland as I heard it was on the forefront of gender equality and wanted to see it for myself. There were mountains and waves, and more importantly, meeting the Icelandic women was such a great gift of empowerment to my life that making a film about them was a chance to share that empowerment with all women.
That’s when I started the idea of travel with a quest linking my interest and passion. I am a sports journalist in the summer for ISA surf events and Swatch Girls Pro for example, and that gave me a great interest in telling people’s stories. Linking these portraits in the idea of making it a film was a great exercise of creativity linking many of my past experiences. I hope the film will empower all women and girls to accomplish incredible things in life!
What about Iceland’s experience do you think the snowsports industry (and other action sports industries) can learn?
In the film, we met two women who have brought changes in outdoor sports. One was Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir, a polar explorer and the first Icelandic person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. She explained, “When I started, there were not many women in the mountaineering world. I wanted to have more and more women in that space and I also wanted to have more women working as guides and as professional adventurers. So we offer for them to come intern on our trips to learn, experience and gain comfort so that they can go out and do it on their own.” That’s a great reaction to a lack of diversity in our industry, by opening education and opportunities to women.
I realized what the situation was like for women, getting left with much worse riding conditions, no press and much less prize money. I then decided to spend the winter on the tour because I knew that if I won, I would get a mic in my hand and I would be able to express the situation in public. It’s funny to think that the battle for gender equality got me a world title in the end, especially as I have never been competitive.
We also met Heida Birgisdottir who founded Nikita Outerwear who explained why she started the brand: “We were importing a lot of brands to Iceland and I could soon see that there was not much for the girls, so we kept on asking all the brands why they didn’t make more for the girls. They just kind of felt like it wasn’t something that was gonna sell, so I just decided to make it myself.”
Nikita became one of the biggest things that happened for women in our industry. Is it just a coincidence that its founder was an Icelandic woman? Those examples are very simple – they show the state of mind of Icelandic women, participating in building the world they want to live in.
Tell me more about your personal fight for gender equality on the Freeride World Tour and how that work intersected with your desire to make this film.
When I landed in freeride competitions in 2011, that year they had put women on a qualifier tour with high travel costs and very little prize money, but kept the men in skiing and snowboarding on a world tour with better advantages and a much bigger prize purse. After participating and winning the first comp, I realized what the situation was like for women, getting left with much worse riding conditions, no press and much less prize money. I then decided to spend the winter on the tour because I knew that if I won, I would get a mic in my hand and I would be able to express the situation in public. It’s funny to think that the battle for gender equality got me a world title in the end, especially as I have never been competitive.
Bringing awareness to the press and public led to bringing women back on the tour and an increase in women’s prize money. But I grew tired of constantly having to fight. It was sucking the passion out of me, so I decided to stop competing and leave the fight behind me. I wanted to invest my energy in a positive project for women – I wanted to create a female narrative in my practice of the sport. I wanted to celebrate womanhood in a positive manner and bring light to a positive project, and it’s been so beautiful to see the emotion that the film brings every time I show it. It’s a magical moment where we all share hope and empowerment. It’s also been so beautiful to see the positive conversations on gender equality that have started in the public after watching the film.
President Vigdís said, “What you can see, you can be.” And that embodies what I tried to do with the film well.
Across board sports, there’s really a shortage of female filmmakers and films with an all-female cast. What about that caused you to want to make this film and star in it? And do you hope your example empowers young aspiring female filmmakers?
I grew tired of the male narrative in our sport whether in a shred video featuring guys only or mountain films talking about the extreme and dangerous and here is the one character making it to the summit overcoming extreme conditions and talking straight to the camera as the lone hero.
But that narrative is forgetting that the reason why we love the outdoors is for the sensation and the magical moments on the mountain or in the water, and by talking about extreme danger all the time, we push women to the sideline, which is a pity as there is so much magic in our sports. One does not need to be a man to get to enjoy those sensations. President Vigdis said, “What you can see, you can be.” And that embodies what I tried to do with the film well.
As it happens, women’s films can also have great success. Our film was selected in over 100 festivals all around the world and has won 13 awards, so I hope it will convince sponsors to bring better financial support to women’s films and to also invest into bringing their female athletes the opportunity to film.
On a side note, I’d also like to point out that we should bring the filming opportunities to female camera operators as well. The more diversity we will bring into our filmmaking, the more diversity we will see in the narrative we offer linked to our sport, and the larger the public we will bring our love for the outdoors too. Diversity will be better for everyone!
What to you are some of the parallels between big mountain and backcountry snowboarding and the battles you and others are fighting for gender equality? Are there moments where you’re figuratively on top of a line strapped in and ready to drop and the fear hits, but you go anyway?
I’m not someone who will be afraid of a challenge. I follow my heart, I like to add value to my projects and I like to find a bigger purpose than myself in the projects I invest my energy into. The greater the challenge, the greater the learning path and the greater the personal growth. So when I have something in mind, whether it is sport or if it is a project, I go all in and I put my whole heart in it.
A Land Shaped by Women is currently available on iTunes. Check out more amazing stories from fearless women in surf and outdoors on The Inertia Women.