The Reykjavík International Film Festival—or RIFF—offers film enthusiasts the chance to see the kind of independent films not often found in regular cinema programming. Seeking to put a spotlight on films that have not yet been in focus within Iceland, the festival has served as an instigator, supporting innovation in filmmaking from across the world since 2004. Now approaching its 15th edition—taking place from September 27th to October 7th, primarily in Bíó Paradís—RIFF proffers a unique multi-cultural event with critically acclaimed directors, fresh international talent and an emphasis on the hidden treasures of cinema.
“If we didn’t have this festival, Iceland would really be missing out,” says Börkur Gunnarsson, RIFF’s head of media relations. “I always love seeing the films at this festival and each year, I say to myself, ‘wow, how come I’ve never heard of this film before?’ We show the films of directors who are making their first steps into the industry. These are the kinds of films you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.”
Guest of honour
The festival puts focuses purposefully on independent cinema as found in different cultures around the world. This year, the focus is on Baltic films. As part of this theme, the Lithuanian filmmaker Jonas Mekas is the guest of honour in 2018. Jonas will host a master class that emphasises the importance of avant-garde filmmaking.
“He was the god-father of avant-garde filmmaking in the U.S.,” Börkur explains. “He moved there early in his career and many people don’t realise he’s from the Baltics. His films have had a great impact all over the world, and he worked with great artists, such as Andy Warhol and John Lennon.”
The selection process
Each year, topics and films are selected by the founder of the festival, Hrönn Marinósdóttir. She works alongside the heads of other prestigious film festivals, including the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals, in making selections for the films that will be screened and showcased each year. Over the years, the festival’s guests of honour are, noticeably, predominantly male.
In fact, the festival does not have any official standard in place to ensure that women are represented at the festival. “We have strong feminists working in the office who remind us to include female voices in the festival,” says Börkur, of the festival’s selection process.
The Airwaves of film
RIFF could be called the “cinematic Iceland Airwaves”—a film-based twin of the music festival that takes over Reykjavík each autumn and which has recently received praise from the New York Times for boasting a gender balanced lineup in 2018. While RIFF’s ambition to bring attention to underrepresented movies is laudable, the progress of Airwaves makes RIFF’s lack of ambition regarding diverse gender representation seem behind the times.
Perhaps a future edition with an emphasis on movies made by female directors would be perfectly aligned with RIFF’s aim to showcase films you cannot easily find in regular cinema. But for this year, we look forward to the feast of Baltic films on offer.
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