The new generation of rising filmmakers learning the trade in Reykjavík
Global icons like Dario Argento and Marjane Satrapi may be leading the billing at RIFF 2012, but a cohort of up-and-coming filmmakers is on its way to Reykjavík this year to join them. RIFF has long had a reputation as a breeding ground for new talent, in no small part thanks to its Talent Lab scheme, organised every year alongside the main festival programme.
Programme Director Marteinn Þórsson knows a thing or two about how to make a movie himself. He is now working on his next feature ‘XL,’ a dark comedy about an alcoholic heavy-living MP sent into rehab by the Prime Minister. So it’s with some authority that he insists: “Ninety percent of filmmaking is about getting to know the right person.”
RIFF’S Talent Lab helps young apprentices do just that. “Most filmmakers have to get seen on the festival circuit. It’s a world you have to know,” Marteinn says. Indeed, Reykjavík’s talent scheme is modelled on similar programmes in Toronto, Berlin and beyond. “The festival world is not that big: you can end up meeting someone in Reykjavík who you’ve already met at Sundance.”
The programme offers the opportunity for filmmakers of any age, but specifically those at the start of their movie careers, to come together and learn, network, attend lectures and masterclasses with renowned industry leaders. Talent Lab participants may submit their own short films for the festival’s Golden Egg award. Such career-making chances don’t come cheap: last year’s visitors had to cough up the princely sum of 45,000 ISK for the privilege. Nonetheless, Marteinn maintains, “All you need to have is passion.”
This is his second year running the Talent Lab. Last year, 54 people from across the world participated. Originally called the Transatlantic Talent Lab, the name was shortened as the scheme grew. “Last year we had five filmmakers from Iceland, others from the States, Canada, Germany, Poland, Sweden, France, Russia, even Benin.”
“Our oldest was a 54-year-old man from India,” Marteinn continues. “It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. You have to submit a CV when applying and we try to take everyone with the desire to come and learn.”
Each year, participants build connections with people that may well last until long after their flight out of Iceland at the end of the festival. Lou McLoughlin had already been singled out as one of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ ‘Brits To Watch’ and had received accolades for her short film ‘Caring For Calum,’ which she produced whilst studying for a film degree at the Edinburgh College of Art and then screened and discussed with last year’s Talent Lab-goers.
“I instantly bought into the Icelandic creative output and the mythology,” she recollects. “Before I arrived I made contact with Icelandic production companies, and met up with Hlín Jóhannesdóttir at ZIK ZAK.” Since then they have worked together on transforming Lou’s half-hour short into a feature-length film, ‘16 Years Til Summer,’ about a man who returns home to a small village in the Scottish highlands and confronts his past after sixteen years in exile.
Lou is returning to Reykjavík next month to work on the edit for the film, having put together a Scottish-Icelandic co-production partnership. She is in consultation with musician Jóhann Jóhannsson, and is working with Icelandic writers to complete the project.
“They’re big risk-takers,” Lou concludes. “They were keen to help me and work with me immediately, and when I went back to Creative Scotland (the organisation which promotes arts projects back home in Scotland) they were keen to work with Iceland.”
It is perhaps that oft-spoken risk-taking attitude that has built the entire festival to such international prominence in just eight years, attracting now the kind of crowds and the stars that appear. The 2011 contingent had the chance to meet and hear from Hungarian director Béla Tarr, who came to Reykjavík to receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “It was probably my most memorable moment,” Lou reflects.
One young filmmaker who agrees with her is Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo, who did his undergraduate film degree in Santiago and then went on to do his graduate studies at NYU. “I was particularly struck by Béla,” he remembers. “He was very humble and very emphatic. He had recently announced his retirement, and they were showing his last film, so it was very special to hear him at that moment.” A cult favourite for his signature long-take filmmaking technique, Béla retired from making movies to found his own film school in Croatia. “I remember he made a fierce defence of film and pushed us to believe in our project, talking about choosing something to concentrate on, to have a voice as a filmmaker and to say something.”
Like Lou, Omar continues to pursue his work, busy today with his production company Cinestación—at the same time as completing his degree. He keeps in touch with many of the participants from last year, and with the friends he made from the Icelandic Film School.
Kick up the arse
“Lots of the people who are coming here now have heard about the Talent Lab from others who have been here before, so word of mouth is always spreading,” Marteinn says, before he heads off to prepare for the largest programme yet. As well as a masterclass from Italian horror director Dario Argento, Talent Lab filmmakers this year will hear from the people behind ‘Either Way’, Iceland’s entry for this year’s Nordic Council Film Prize: “That was produced on zero budget,” Marteinn says. “That will be a good kick up the arse for anyone who thinks they have to wait for Hollywood to come knocking on the door.”
Successful filmmakers are rarely reluctant to offer their time and teach the next generation, Marteinn says. “They’re very generous because they know the industry. They remember how they started out too, and the people who shared their knowledge and insight with them.”
For the bright lights who will be sharing their work and competing to take home the Golden Egg this autumn, it may not be so long until they’re back to tell a future class about how their journey started back at RIFF 2012.