From Iceland — Reykjavík International Film Festival Preview

Reykjavík International Film Festival Preview

Published September 21, 2007

Reykjavík International Film Festival Preview

Dimitri Eipides, programmer for the Toronto and Montreal Film Festivals as well as the Thessaloniki Festival in Greece, was brought on board to supervise the film selection in 2005, and has worked with the festival since. This year’s festival selection features nearly 100 titles from over 30 countries, with a focus on new cinema. The festival’s comepetive category is only open for first or second features from directors who compete for the Golden Puffin. Every year, the RIFF program has included films on human rights issues. This year, the category will be dedicated to films on the situation in Iraq and panel discussions will be hosted in relation to the screenings. The festival’s program includes an extensive array of documentaries and special attention will be directed to cinema in Spain. 25 years ago, German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder took his own life at the age of 37 and a special Fassbinder retrospective is scheduled to celebrate his work, in cooperation with the Goethe Institut in Copenhagen.

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki will accept RIFF’s 2007 Creatice Excellency award. In his celebration, RIFF will screen his “Finland-trilogy” consisting of Drifting Clouds (1996), the Oscar nominated The Man Without a Past (2002), and Lights in the Dusk (2006). Another guest at the festival this year will be Czech director David Ondricek but his films have never been screened in Iceland before. This year, three of Ondricek’s latest features will be screened. Ondricek will attend a Q&A session after the premiere of his most recent film Grandhotel. Leading actress Klára Issová will also attend the screening.

Grapevine staffers put their heads together to select a few interesting titles from the festival’s extensive program. It turned to be even more challenging than getting five people to agree on pizza topping, but this is what we came up with. Obviously, it would be wise to consult the more extensive program available on the festival’s web page,

Sigur Rós – Heima
In July 2006, musical group Sigur Rós began an unexpected two week tour around Iceland. The tour marked the end of a 13 month world tour in support of their fourth album Takk… Once details of the tour were available it was decided to film all of the tour’s concerts, the journey itself, the Icelandic people and Iceland’s nature in order to make a documentary. The footage has now become Sigur Rós – Heima, a 94 minute documentary directed by Denni Karlsson. The world premiere of Heima will open this year’s on September 27.

The Helvetica typeface should be familiar to anyone who has ever typed on a computer. In fact, it should be familiar to anyone who has ever lived in a city, watched TV, read the papers. Helvetica is the most popular typeface in the world and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. For this occasion, director Gary Hustwit decided to make an independent documentary about the origin, rise and world domination of Helvetica. The film, which is both visually beautiful, thought-provoking and entertaining, was an immediate hit and has been screening at events and festivals the world over. The film is full of lively interviews with designers and revolutionaries who analyse and elaborate on how Helvetica has become synonymous with modern life and surrounds us on all sides.

Control (Above, left)
Ian Curtis, lead singer of the legendary rock group Joy Division, committed suicide at the age of 23. By then, he had recorded two albums with his band, gotten married, had a mistress and fathered a child. Control is Curtis’ story of struggle with depression and alcoholism from his teenage years until his death one fateful Sunday night in 1980. But this is also the story of Deborah Curtis, the woman he loved and betrayed, and what she had to go through. The screenplay is based on her memoir. Samantha Morton is stunning in the role of Deborah. Directed by renowned photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn, who approaches the subject with rare subtlety. Corbijn worked as a photographer and photographed Joy Division while the group was active. His experience makes for a realistic recreation of the late seventies and the aura surrounding the group at that time. Control is his first full length feature film.

This latest of Ondricek’s films keeps up the tradition of mixing together excessive humour, strong characters, realistic material and a unique style. The setting is an old hotel high in the mountains where Vlasta Fleischman works as a guard. He is an amateur meteorologist and fantasises about flying away from the hotel and thus escaping from his own life. Obsessed with the weather, he is constructing his own hot air balloon in order to follow his dreams. The film revolves around different characters living in or working at the hotel, connecting in one way or another through the protagonist. Grandhotel is a film that must be seen on a large screen, as the hotel itself, the surroundings and last but not least the magnificent shots of the weather are among the film’s strongest factors.

Iraq in Fragments
A triptych of life in a war-ridden country. In the first part we follow an 11-year-old orphaned garage worker in Baghdad who fears the world he lives in. In the second part we are presented with the political uproar that followed the U.S. Army invasion as extremist Shiites see that the moment has come to take action against the Sunnis, who have ruled the country for hundreds of years. The film’s final part revolves around a family of farmers in Kurdistan, which is perhaps the only region of Iraq where “peace” still reigns. The film is poetic, religious and brimming with subtle allusions to Dickens and Shakespeare. Iraq in Fragments received an Academy Award nomination as best documentary of 2007, won several awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Shotgun Stories (Above, right)
The backdrop of this modern minimalist Western are the cotton fields and back roads of Southeast Arkansas, but brothers Son, Boy and Kid could just as well be born out of the old Icelandic sagas. Their father was a violent drunk who left his family without even bothering to give the boys proper names. They grew up in a bad relationship with their mother and had no relationship with the father, who forgot his former life, sobered up, became a devout Christian, started another family and had four new sons who all got fine names. The film begins just after the father dies. When the lost boys show up for the funeral to the latent hostility of their half-brothers, past hatred boils anew and an old-fashioned tale of revenge, obligation and honour is unleashed.

According to medical statistics from the year 2003, an average of one in 4,600 people in China wants to have a sex change, which is about 280,000 people. With state owned hospitals in big cities offering private sex change operations since 1986, about 400 people in China have made this dream come true. Although they can officially change the sex on their ID cards, they still face immense pressures from society and tradition. Their greatest desire is to be understood. This documentary is about three transsexuals, whose lives and desires reflect those of others in their community in China, a community that deserves not only acceptance but also respect.

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