As many Icelandic and Icelandophilic film-nerds know, finding copies of obscure films made here is a hassle. Despite streaming sites like www.icelandiccinema.com and the occasional remastered DVD, a lot of the time you’ll have to settle for a library VHS copy, or a murky online bootleg.
The reasons for this are several. Firstly, many of the films are simply out of print. The National Film Archive of Iceland has been on a mission to restore old films; in 2016 they premiered a beautiful remastering of the 1977 thriller “Morðsaga” (“Murder Story”) around the film’s anniversary.
The second reason could be a lack of interest from the filmmakers in letting their old experiments see the light of day again. In some cases, this might be because the film is somehow seen as embarrassing, such as Júlíus Kemp’s Gregg Araki-esque classic “Blossi/810551.” There’s a Facebook group demanding a digital restoration, but besides cult items, there’s not usually enough demand to make reissues viable.
The most important (and boring) reason is copyright. Erlendur Sveinsson, head of The National Film Archive of Iceland says: “In accordance with the Museum’s policy, we’re restoring the films that need it so they can be made available. Until now, the museum hasn’t had the resources to restore films properly for future release.”
Erlendur says many important silent films from the first part of the 20th century are missing. Internationally, some say only 25% of silent films survived. In Iceland, another casualty is art-house and experimental cinema.
We’ve compiled three essential “lost” Icelandic films for your viewing or non-viewing pleasure:
Oxsmá-plánetan (“The Oxsmá Planet,” 1983)
Oxsmá was a legendary psychobilly band in the 80s, known for their hijinks around town and their infamous 1985 song and video “Kittý.” One of the country’s favourite filmmakers, Óskar Jónasson, started his career blowing a mean sax for the band. They made two films in the 80s, “Sjúgðu mig Nína” (“Suck Me, Nína”) and the sci-fi horror short “The Oxsmá Planet.” The latter sounds like a low-budget, psychedelic romp through space—beginning in Iceland, post-apocalypse.
Síðasti bærinn í dalnum (“The Last Farm in the Valley,” 1950)
This one was a game-changer in the Icelandic film scene, especially with regards to film music. Jórunn Viðar’s score was the first soundtrack composed to a full-length film in Iceland. The film is based on the horrifying folk tale of a small farm harassed by a scary-ass troll before elves come to the rescue. The film’s creature effects no doubt traumatized many a young viewer when it came out in the 50s. The Icelandic Film Museum is restoring the film, and it will be screened in Harpa this December. The original acetates will be spinning, accompanied by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.
Sóley was the only feature film by the amazing and criminally underrated artist Róska. She was a controversial and groundbreaking figure in Iceland who forged her own anarchic path through the male-dominated art scene of the 60s. She studied art and film in bohemian Rome in the late 60s with her husband, Manrico Pavolettoni. In 1982 they collaborated on this art-house film, which is almost impossible to find today. Róska said the film was about “dream and reality meeting up and going on a journey together”. The original print of the film is sadly lost, but there are some bootlegs floating around the cloud.