Twelve years ago, Hrönn Marinósdóttir started RIFF as a school project. For her master’s thesis at Reykjavík University she decided to research what it would take for Reykjavík to host a major international film festival. Three weeks after her graduation, work began to bring the thesis to fruition. Seventeen films were screened at the inaugural Reykjavík International Film Festival in 2004.
This year’s program boasts nearly 140 films, many of them travelling to Reykjavík straight from other major film festivals on the global circuit. Hrönn has seen her thesis through to an extent that she never imagined when she began it; and she continues to do so, year in and year out.
The new news
Before going back to school for her MBA, Hrönn worked for many years as a journalist at a major Reykjavík publication. Her senses are fine-tuned to what is topical: what people want to hear about and what people should hear about. The festival’s programmers work hard to make sure the lineup reflects this.
“People are curious,” Hrönn says, “but the news is getting shorter and shorter. You turn on the news and you get an overview of what is happening in Syria in one and a half minutes.” To give the public a chance to really digest the world we are seeing, Hrönn slows the clock down. Or, rather, she turns it back. “We are giving people the opportunity to go to the cinema to get the news, like in the past,” she says.
This year, films hinging on refugee situations and human rights feature heavily in the lineup. This undercurrent of important global issues pushes RIFF into interesting territory. It is informative and rooted in the human experience, while remaining (as the name suggests) a festival.
Link in the chain
It’s not only about the documentaries. Another focus of RIFF is to bring films to Iceland that would otherwise not make it to screens here, and to put and keep Iceland on the map for its film opportunities. “Iceland has rich grounds for cinema,” Hrönn says. “We have a lot of very skilled craftspeople. People that are used to working with big Hollywood productions, so it is very easy for new filmmakers to come here and create very high quality films. Hosting RIFF is just another link in the chain for establishing Iceland as a real film destination.”
Hrönn believes in her work. She speaks with as much passion as I picture her pitching the original idea with to her friends twelve years ago. “We have a really genuine group here,” she says, gesturing to the humming, clicking, buzzing RIFF office on the other side of the wall, “the people that work here are really motivated by film. You have to be. It’s not about the salary, we are a non-profit. What motivates everyone is feeling that what we are doing is important. That bringing these films to Iceland is important.”
For more behind-the-scenes, check out our article with the interns of RIFF.
RIFF opens on September 29 and runs until October 9. The program and schedule are available on their website.