Saving Iceland

Published May 8, 2009

Most of the major disputes of the past ten years have now been settled. The War in Iraq was a terrible idea. Neo-liberalism was a terrible idea. Privatizing the banks was a terrible idea. However, the jury is still out on Kárahjúkavirkjun, the colossal dam in the highlands. From a conservationist point of view, the dam is an unmitigated environmental disaster. That much is clear. The question now is, what did we get in return?
    The movie Dreamland criticizes the project from both of these viewpoints. The book of the same name is one of the most important Icelandic books of the last decade or so. Its attention to detail, and the research involved, put most local journalists to shame. It also, incidentally, proved that a non-fiction work released in the spring could sell a lot of copies.
    The movie is more blunt. The scenes of the area from the air are breathtaking, the scenes of a mother duck trying to save her babies from drowning, heartbreaking. No one was expecting this film to be politically neutral; in fact, neutrality can be callous when the future of your country is at stake. But it starts to grate a little. A ditty about a bogeyman is heard when we see the head of Alcoa; the film goes all Michael Moore by showing the Minister of Business bang her head in a bus; and a piano teacher talks about the spirit of the mountain just after we have seen one of the staunchest opponents of the dam talk, doing him few favours. The film is at its most effective when it leaves narration aside and concentrates on real news segments. It is only when we step back and look at what was actually said that we begin to understand the magnitude of what has happened.
In the end, though, none of this really matters. The future of the country is at stake, and this documentary should not be judged on aesthetic merits, but on what it contributes to the debate.
    The highlands are gone. The two main questions remaining are:
a)    Did the building of the dam contribute to, or even cause, the economic collapse?
b)    Was Iceland to some extent bankrupted by economic hit men and/or aluminium companies?
    The film answers neither of these questions, but just by asking them it may offer a glimpse of the larger picture. The evidence that John Perkins submits regarding the hit men theory is circumstantial. Still, he says that if hit men were at work, we should expect to see former politicians become consultants for the company. This is precisely what happened with the mayor of Egilsstaðir.
    But did the dam bankrupt the country? One of the economists consulted thinks so. Sadly, the film, though released in April, was made too early to adequately deal with the connection between the collapse and the dam. Perhaps it should have come out later. And yet, it didn’t come soon enough. The movie predicts that if the dam will lead to an economic collapse, the only remedy seems to be to build yet more dams in an ongoing vicious circle. This is exactly what seems to be happening right now. It seems more likely than not that the true cost of the dam was not just environmental, but will have indebted the country financially for decades to come.
    One leaves the cinema feeling both sad and angry towards our former leaders who will probably go down in history as the most incompetent rulers of this, and perhaps any, country. In this sense, the film achieves its goal and should be seen by everyone. But a little more restraint might have made it even more effective.



Culture
Movies & Theatre
‘ANNA’ Sets A Contemporary ‘Anna Karenina’ In Iceland

‘ANNA’ Sets A Contemporary ‘Anna Karenina’ In Iceland

by

In new Icelandic short film ‘ANNA’, artist and filmmaker Helga Björg Gylfadóttir masterfully merges love, lust, bisexuality, politics and majestic landscapes. The film is a bold and intriguing take on one of the most celebrated novels of all time, Leo Tolstoy’s canonical ‘Anna Karenina’. And it works! The fact that Tolstoy’s masterpiece is a tome of some 900 pages, makes director Helga’s feat of extracting its essence into a fifteen-minute short (with very sparse dialogue) seem all the more impressive. Helga moves the setting from late 19th century Russia to modern-day Iceland—November of 2013, to be precise. Anna (played by

Culture
Movies & Theatre
The Attack Of Comic Realism

The Attack Of Comic Realism

by

Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s second feature film, ‘París Norðursins’, or ‘Paris of the North’, revolves around a 37-year-old man, disoriented, as it seems, after a breakup, and his relations to various people, not least of all his chaos-factory of a father. While the son fled his hardships into a small town on the countryside, the father seems to have fled all over the place—last stop: Thailand. The father comes for a visit just at the start of the son’s summer vacation, boozes, and flirts with a woman the son had intermittently been involved with. The male animal The film touches on

Culture
Movies & Theatre
Brotherly Love

Brotherly Love

by

My brother is a fourteen-carat, stone cold wanker. At age twelve he spoke fluent French, at fourteen he was the fastest 100-metre runner in Ireland for his age, at eighteen, he captained our school choir and won a scholarship to university for academic excellence, by nineteen he spoke fluent mandarin. My name’s Tom and I’m his older brother. Yesterday I started putting raisins into my porridge. Raisins contain polyphenolic phytonutrients that can improve your ability to see in the dark, and in Iceland around this time of year I reckon that it’s a shrewd bit of thinking. But society wouldn’t notice.

Culture
Movies & Theatre
Across the Isle With A Smile

Across the Isle With A Smile

by

In true Icelandic fashion, the night’s festivities got off to a late start. Not that anyone minded. As such, there was an air of casualness and joviality that permeated the night—making it the perfect vibe to launch the Reykjavík Comedy Festival. English comedian Sean McLoughlin  MC’d the night, and performed his routine in between acts. His shtick was your typical dark-humoured, down ‘n’ out twentysomething, which proved a hit with the audience. Especially funny were his gags about his 36-year-old girlfriend, who he said was “a constant reminder that the good times end.” Seasoned performer Joel Dommett (y’all may remember

Culture
Movies & Theatre
On Thick Ice With Kitty Von-Sometime

On Thick Ice With Kitty Von-Sometime

by

Artist Kitty Von-Sometime and a crew, including a friend brought along to monitor Kitty’s temperature in the cold, watched uncomfortably as their trailer full of film equipment, an ice sculpture, soda, and other potentially hazardous refreshments bounced in and out of sight in the rearview window as they approached Langjökull glacier. They were on their way to shoot ‘Opus,’ more than a year after Kitty produced her last installment of the Weird Girls Project. Originally conceived to encourage her female friends to push their boundaries, The Weird Girls Project began as a one-time event: the participants showed up with costumes

Culture
Movies & Theatre
RIFF 2014: Critic’s Picks

RIFF 2014: Critic’s Picks

by

‘Art and Craft’ dirs. Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker Mark Landis, one of the more prolific art forgers in American history, shopped for arts and crafts supplies at Hobby Lobby; painted, stained and varnished over photocopies from auction catalogues; and donated copies of the same works to multiple museums. While observing the ease with which the suggestion of largesse will open art-world doors, the film is less a meditation on creativity and originality than a sympathetic character portrait. Landis, a diagnosed schizophrenic often seen hunching over TV dinners in front of reruns, with few anchors in the world

Show Me More!