From Iceland — Everybody In The Pool!

Everybody In The Pool!

Published August 25, 2023

Everybody In The Pool!

RIFF turns 20 with the world’s biggest* swim-in cinema

Anyone familiar with the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) knows that the cinematic programming changes from one year to the next, but one happening remains constant and that’s the swim-in cinema.

It’s exactly as it sounds. Every year during the festival, film buffs strip down to their Speedos to float together in one of Reykjavík’s public swimming pools while watching a movie. The novelty factor is definitely high, but those who can’t imagine stewing in warm water with strangers for two hours will likely find this year’s iteration of the event a tad more appealing.

Agust Bent, RIFF Swim-In Cinema 2023

Photo by Art Bicnick

“With the swim-in cinema, everybody is getting wrinkled for two hours and probably a little bit cold,” RIFF special events manager Ágúst Bent chuckles. “So I thought why not use the marvellous outside swimming area at Laugardalslaug and the stadium – that stadium seating that’s never used – and have it more like a festival atmosphere.”

That festival atmosphere will be centred around a screening of Ang Lee’s 2012 award-winner Life of Pi. An adaptation of Yann Martel’s philosophical novel of the same name, the film tells the tale of a young man from India stranded in a lifeboat adrift on the Pacific for 227 days following a shipwreck.

To transport filmgoers into Lee’s cinematic world, the RIFF team is erecting a 100 square metre screen poolside. There will be rowboats floating in Laugardalslaug from which people can watch the film, while others can luxuriate on the bleachers or beach chairs, wander around to sample the offerings of food trucks, or – if they’re dead set against clothing – soak in the hot pots. Don’t expect to find Ágúst there, though. As he tells us, “I like to wear pants while watching films.”

Make it a party

Adding to the party atmosphere will be a pre-screening musical spectacle from Teitur Magnússon and Dísa Jakobs, and sitar playing from Icelandic legend Björgvin Gíslason. “It’s all going to look and feel like an adventure,” says Ágúst. “A magical adventure on the high seas.”

Oh, and it’s all happening August 25 – a month ahead of RIFF’s kickoff – to capitalise on the weather.

“The sun will be setting while we’re watching the movie, so that should be nice,” Ágúst continues. “It’s just more of a festival feeling having it at the end of summer. We’re also celebrating the 20th anniversary.”

Bigger and better

With the move to Laugardalslaug and the combination of in-water and pool-side seating options, this year’s swim-in cinema event is bigger than ever. Ágúst is anticipating 500 people showing up for the screening.

But that grandeur won’t stop with Life of Pi. The recent closure of Háskólabíó as a public movie theatre has turned out to be a coup for RIFF. When the official festival programming gets underway – it’s all happening Sept 28 to Oct. 8 – it will have a dedicated home at the underutilised theatre.

“Since Háskólabíó isn’t a working cinema anymore, it means we can have it and make it our own,” Ágúst says. “So we can make this a beautiful lounge with the restaurant and everything for people to actually come enjoy. They can see a movie and then hang out for a couple of hours with the filmmakers and other festival goers, and then see another movie or have a glass of red wine or some food.”

RIFF’s 20th anniversary swim-in extravaganza gets underway August 25 at Laugardalslaug. Tickets for the one-time swim-in event and festival passes are available at Riff.is.

*At least according to Google.

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