Film Review: ‘Yarn’

This diverting but slender doc surveys four artists working in the titular medium.

Courtesy of SXSW Film Festival

“Yarn” provides a diverting survey of artists working in the titular medium, turning a handicraft traditionally considered to be mere women’s work into fodder for the gallery, for political statements and more. Yet this slender documentary’s surprising disinterest in exploring related larger topics — such as the historical roles of knitting, or its recent resurgence as something of a hipster fad — ultimately makes for a very superficial treatment of its subject. Nevertheless, that limited scope should serve the short, colorful feature well enough as a lightweight educational broadcast item.

Helmer Una Lorenzen (Heather Millard and Thordur Jonsson are created as co-directors) provides some beautiful bucolic views of grazing sheep in her native Iceland. But mostly “Yarn” strays far from the woolly source to the most rarefied possible uses of that material. The female artists we spend time with are all interested in applying it whimsically to public media.

Lorenzen’s countrywoman Tinna Thorudottir Thorvaldsdottir creates “yarn graffiti” in unexpected places, eventually including sites in Spain and Cuba. Flamboyant Polish expat Olek uses crochet to cover everything from vintage train compartments to mimes in vivid patterns. Japanese-born Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam graduated decades ago from exhibiting soft sculptures in museums to creating giant nylon versions that children can play on. Tilde Bjorfors, artistic director of Copenhagen’s Cirkus Cirkor, is seen working with acrobats and designers on “Knitting Peace,” a stage show that uses the motion and shapes of weaving as a metaphor for life.

All this is loosely pulled together (ahem) by Barbara Kingsolver’s soundtrack recitation of her prose piece “Where to Begin” from the collection “Knitting Yarns.” “Yarn” itself is appealingly packaged, with Lorenzen’s cutout-style animations, a pleasant score and many colorful sights making for an easy sit as the doc globe-trots from from Italy to Canada to an ocean expedition. But it’s less than the sum of its attractive parts, with scant overall insight or weight. Like an old handmade sweater, this is a movie that might unravel too easily if you gave any single element a hard tug.

Film Review: ‘Yarn’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 8, 2016. (In SXSW Film Festival — SX Global; Goteborg Film Festival.) Running time: <strong>76 MIN.</strong> (Original title: "Garn")

  • Production: (Documentary — Iceland) A Compass Films production. Produced by Heather Millard, Thordur Jonsson. Executive producer, Krishan Arora. Co-producer, Marcin Marczyk.
  • Crew: Directed by Una Lorenzen. Co-directors, Thordur Jonsson, Heather Millard. Written by Krishan Aorora. Camera (color, HD), Iga Mikler; editor, Thorunn Hafstad; music, Orn Eldjarn; sound, Josh Denaro; re-recording mixer, Hallur Ingolfsson; animation, Una Lorenzen.
  • With: Pole Olek, Tilde Bjorfors, Tinna Thorudottir Thorvaldsdottir, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam. Narrator: Barbara Kingsolver. (English, Icelandic, Swedish dialogue)