From Iceland — Stockfish Is Back, Bringing Movies On The House

Stockfish Is Back, Bringing Movies On The House

Published April 6, 2024

Stockfish Is Back, Bringing Movies On The House
Photo by
Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine
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Stockfish Film & Industry Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary with a diverse program open to everyone

“It’s been harder and harder to get the young people to come to the cinema,” says Carolina Salas as we sit in the kitchen of her office. “Everybody has a show that they’re watching at home and they pay less and less for a night at the cinema. We really want to make them experience what a film festival is like, so that next year, they might consider coming again.” 

As the Stockfish Film & Industry Festival prepares for its tenth edition, led by a team spanning 14 nationalities, its managing director reflects on this year’s lineup and personal highlights, and speaks to the importance of Stockfish in today’s ever-changing film industry. 

Everyone’s invited

Stockfish was founded in 2015 by the Association of Filmmakers in Iceland as a reincarnation of Kvikmyndahátíð í Reykjavík (Reykjavík Film Festival) that aimed to fill the gap in the industry regarding film policies and marketplaces. To avoid confusion with RIFF (Reykjavík International Film Festival), the creators chose the name Stockfish. “It’s a bit strange, but it really relates to the value of the economy in Iceland, which, at one point, was the ‘stock fish,’” explains Carolina.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

A decade later, Stockfish remains a non-profit festival supported by the Icelandic Film Centre, Film in Iceland, the Nordic Film and TV Fund, and a number of other sponsors, all collaborating to bring a selection of the best European and world cinema to Iceland. 

As the rate at which Icelanders go to the cinema continues to decline, reaching out to younger audiences is at the forefront of Stockfish’s strategy. “The main innovation of the tenth anniversary is that Stockfish is inviting the whole community to take part,” Carolina says of the decision to open all screenings to the public. “There will be no charge to access any film screening. We want to make the whole city a celebration and provide for those who don’t have means or their means are limited.”

A kaleidoscope of stories

With Denmark being the festival’s Industry in Focus, Stockfish will screen an extensive portfolio of Danish films. The opening film, Eternal directed by Ulaa Salim, is a sci-fi romance flick. The Danish-Icelandic co-production follows an ambitious climate change scientist on a dangerous mission, who is forced to make a choice between their career and love, exploring the repercussions of his decision that follow. 

A still from KALAK

Another Danish highlight, according to Carolina, is Kalak by Isabella Eklöf. The film, which won the Best Cinematography award and the Special Jury Prize at the 2023 San Sebastián Film Festival, explores Denmark’s traumatic relationship with Greenland through a story of sexual abuse, relived trauma and longing for connection.

It’s been harder and harder to get the young people to come to the cinema. Everybody has a show that they’re watching at home.

Beyond the Industry in Focus, the festival is divided into three Stockfish corners dedicated to specific topics: the European Film Awards corner, showcasing films that were nominated or awarded by the European Film Academy; the World Cinema corner curated by Chicago International Film Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauché; and the Heritage Corner curated by the National Film Archive of Iceland in collaboration with the Icelandic Film Centre to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Icelandic independence taking place on June 17. To mark the occasion, two influential Icelandic films, Á köldum klaka (Cold Fever) by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson and Á hjara veraldar (Rainbow’s End) by Kristín Jóhannesdóttir will be screened, along with a collection of works from the archive.

“The programme has 25 international titles that have not yet been screened in Iceland,” shares Carolina. “One of my highlights is The Human Hibernation Project by a Spanish artist and director, Anna Cornudella. It’s a mockumentary about a utopian world where humanity goes into hibernation for three months.”

The festival director also highlights two Palestinian films — Bye Bye Tiberias by Lina Soualem, a documentary that follows Hiam Abbass leaving Palestine to pursue her acting career, and Farah Nabulsi’s The Teacher about a school teacher stuck between his commitment to political resistance and being a father figure.

A still from Four Sisters

Another film addressing contemporary issues is In the Rearview by Maciek Hamela, co-produced by Poland, France and Ukraine. The documentary follows a van evacuating people from Ukraine amidst the Russian invasion. “It’s a documentary about a driver continuously crossing the border from Ukraine into Poland, recording the people he has in the car. It’s a multi-story road trip during wartime,” says Carolina.

Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay is the festival’s guest of honour this year. Stockfish will screen a retrospective of Ramsay’s works, including her BAFTA-nominated film We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Shortfish: spotlight on new talent

Over the years, the festival’s short film competition, Shortfish, has become its trademark, attracting crowds, along with filmmakers’ friends and families to the largest screening room at Bío Paradís. “Our competition programme is exclusively for Icelandic talent and is related to shorts,” says Carolina. “One of the rules is that these have to be premiered within Stockfish. You can only submit work that you have never shown in any other festival or on any other platform in Iceland.” 

Out of 75 submissions, the reviewing committee, comprised of programmers, festival staff and board associates, selected five films for each category: Narrative, Documentary, Experimental and Creative Music. Carolina highlights that the quality of competing films is growing every year. “Many of them have really professional setups and the outcome is high,” she says, noting that even in more amateur films, plot, characters and overall relevance are considered.  

The competition is supported by the national broadcaster RÚV and equipment rental company KUKL. The winning film in the Narrative category receives 1,000,000 ISK in cash from RÚV and the equivalent amount in equipment rental from KUKL. Prize money varies for other categories.

Beyond the screen

Year after year, Stockfish aims to provide a platform for networking and collaboration opportunities for industry professionals. “Our focus is to be an industry festival apart from having a curated programme of films for any audience,” says Carolina. The festival’s industry-focused events include masterclasses on documentary filmmaking, festival strategy and casting, as well as panel discussions on new policies in filmmaking, sustainability in the industry and a networking reception for women in film and television, to name a few. 

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

Traditionally, Stockfish invites industry professionals for the Work-in-Progress screening that allows filmmakers to get feedback on projects that are yet to be finished. “Everybody talks about the glamorous part of filmmaking, but nobody really talks about how important behind the camera people are,” says Carolina, adding that Stockfish will host a panel in collaboration with the Association of Technicians and Filmmakers of Iceland about working with technicians to receive the desired results.  

“We want to make the whole city a celebration.”

For the first time since its inception, the festival is also organising a Writers Lab led by BAFTA and Sundance-nominated writer and director Tina Gharavi. “The Lab is not about how you write a script, but how you take your script to a different level,” explains Carolina. Through a three-day workshop, participants will learn how to navigate the script timeline, build characters, collaborate with other writers, receive expert feedback and pitch their script. With the Writer’s Lab, Carolina is confident Stockfish is addressing the need for professional training. “We believe that there is a need for more writing training and opportunities within the country,” she says.

All roads lead to the cinema

While a number of festivals around the country throw in the towel, Stockfish remains a breath of fresh air. According to Carolina, it still has a long way to go to compete with big industry festivals like Torino, Berlinale or Cannes. But whether you’re an industry professional, a cinephile, or just passing by, Stockfish offers a carefully curated film program you won’t want to miss. 

“It’s a financial loss, but we aim to have an impact,” says Carolina. “We need to get the community to know we are Stockfish. We’re here for the industry, but we also have an amazing programme of films where everybody could find something they like.”

Stockfish Film & Industry Festival takes place on April 4-14 at Bíó Paradís. The festival is free of charge but requires prior registration to attend screenings. Find the full festival schedule here: 

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