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The Juniper Tree

Nietzchka Keene
Iceland, USA 1990 / 78’
Sophia Antipolis The Yellow Night

A feminist version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name. As the Brothers Grimm are wont to do in their macabre way, the story involves a toxic family, witchcraft, cannibalism, hallucinations and delirium. The tale of the hardships of two sisters, whose mother—thought to be a witch—is burned by their neighbors, takes place in the volcanic landscape of Iceland. Björk, who was only 21 at the time of production, makes her acting debut. Because of financial problems, The Juniper Tree was shelved and eventually premiered in 1990 when Björk was already the star of the Sugarcubes. This raw, black-and-white film with a mystical soundtrack by Pat O’Neill is a powerful treatise on medieval magic, misogyny and feudal exploitation. The famous Malleus Maleficarum was driven in equal measure by anxiety and hunger. In terms of ideology, Nietzchka Keene’s story is reminiscent of Silvana Federici’s thesis from Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, which discusses what the witch hunt had in common with early capitalism, the modern world and current forms of discrimination against women. Following Keene’s untimely death, The Juniper Tree became a forgotten masterpiece. We will be screening a restored version. 

Ewa Szabłowska

Nietzchka Keene

(1952–2004) was an American writer and director. After receiving the Fulbright Grant, she made her feature debut The Juniper Tree (1990), starring the Icelandic singer Björk in her first film role. A graduate of UCLA Film School, she taught filmmaking and editing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison until her death in 2004. Keene was diagnosed with cancer earlier that year. At the time of her death, she had nearly completed her third feature film Barefoot to Jerusalem. It was completed and released in 2008.


1990 Krzew jałowca / The Juniper Tree

1996 Heroine of Hell

2008 Barefoot to Jerusalem

Cast & Crew

director Nietzchka Keene
screenplay Nietzchka Keene
cinematography Randolph Sellars
editing Nietzchka Keene
music Larry Lipkis
cast Björk, Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir, Valdimar Örn Flygenring, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Geirlaug Sunna Þormar
producer Nietzchka Keene, Allison Powell, Patrick Moyroud
production Arbelos
language English
colouration b&w