From Iceland — Lights, Streaming, Action!

Lights, Streaming, Action!

Published September 30, 2011

A new website allows one to watch Icelandic films online... Cool!

Lights, Streaming, Action!
Photo by
Natsha Nandabhiwat

A new website allows one to watch Icelandic films online... Cool!

Our current digital environment has permanently altered the way most people purchase, rent and view movies, and also how they’re distributed (see: Netflix, Pirate Bay). However, this ‘digital revolution’ has mostly left the Icelandic film industry untouched, with nary a legal option on offer for streaming and downloading enthusiasts. Two visionary women have started up a new venture, Icelandic Cinema Online, to bring the idea of watching Icelandic films on-line to reality. We sat down with founders Sunna Guðnadóttir and Steffí Thors to talk about it.

Do both of you come from a film background?
Sunna Guðnadóttir: I don’t have a background in film. I finished school with a Master’s in Culture Management, and this project was the subject of my final thesis. Before that, I mostly worked in the field of fashion, along with some project management.

Steffí Thors: I studied acting and performance in the Czech Republic, where I lived for thirteen years. Then, a few years ago I began working in film editing, which is where I work now.

How did the idea for Icelandic Cinema Online come about?
SG: I wanted to write about the current changes in film distribution for my final thesis. Steffí and I were sitting together in Prague when we came up with the idea, after learning that it was very hard to access Icelandic films online. We decided improve this by making our website, and then I wrote my thesis about the project itself.

So you saw a gap in the market, so to speak.
ST: Yeah, we thought why don’t we try and do this ourselves?


Why do you think this sort of thing hasn’t happened before? Why has the film industry in Iceland has been slow picking up on this?
SG: I think that film producers in general are a little bit afraid of the internet, but Icelandic producers are also very lacking in resources. Often, production companies are small concerns, with only a few employees. They simply don’t have the capacity to investigate the newest developments in distribution.

How much work was involved in setting up Icelandic Cinema Online? How long did it take
SG: We had the idea back in December 2009. Then we took it to competition for young start-ups called Gulleggið (“The Golden Egg”) last February, where we got to the final ten. That was a kind of a kick for us to take it more seriously, in making business plans and other things.

Has there been any resistance to your idea?
SG: Actually we’ve had an amazing reaction from people we’ve approached. Our main stumbling block, though, was getting proper funding from the state. This is a project that’s very national in the way it introduces and promotes Icelandic films abroad, so you’d think that this sort of venture would get support from the department of culture, especially with the importance of culture industries in Iceland. 

ST: It all comes down to a lack of understanding that Icelandic films can sell on the internet, and that there’s a market for it.


How do I operate your website then?
SG: You simply go to the site and register for free. Once logged in, you can buy credit for your account, such as five, ten, fifteen Euros or more. Then you just choose a film and it’s deducted from your credit. You get access to the film for 24 hours and can watch it as many times as you like. 

Who do you think will be your market with this? Will this be for Icelanders, or for people who live outside the country?
SG: Well the site is in English, because we feel the market for this is bigger outside of Iceland. It’s been online now for some weeks and we’ve received about 23,000 hits. But what’s surprised us is that two thirds of the traffic has been from abroad. We expected it to be fifty-fifty, but I think that this does show that there is a real interest abroad in Icelandic films. 


How are you faring with increasing your catalogue?
SG: We’re working on it. It’s all about getting permission to show the film and ensuring that the owners get a share from streaming and contracts. With some films, the filmmaker owns the film outright, sometimes it’s owned between the backers/producers. 

ST: It’s very time-consuming contacting the people behind the films. They’re often very busy, and then they have to track down who has the rights, and then find the original film, and it’s not easy. Some older classic films have been lost altogether. 

Lost? I find that really surprising. Aren’t there institutions in Iceland that archive old Icelandic films, like they do with music?
ST: Well there is Kvikmyndasafn Íslands, which has this role in terms of archiving, but some originals of films have been lost.

Wow, that’s…  shocking! You’d have thought, for the size of the industry, that archiving and cataloguing its films wouldn’t be so difficult.
SG: Yeah. Right now we’ve tried to find three old Icelandic films and the originals have been lost. There’s also the issue that they’re on actual film and haven’t been digitised. And to take the film and digitise it takes time and money. That’s the biggest obstacle with regards to enlarging the catalogue right now. 

So what are the other plans on taking the site further?
SG: What we want to do next is make the site more interactive, to make a community and discourse site for Icelandic film, such as building forums, for example.  

As a non-profit organisation, you’re always looking for people to help. What do people need to do to get in touch with you?
ST: We always need people to help with things, such as translating for example. If people want to volunteer their time in any way, they can contact us at 


‘Nói Albínói’ (“Noi The Albino”, 2003): This is my favourite. It catches really well the core of the Icelandic mentality and describes what it’s like to live in a remote place in Iceland.

‘Stella í orlofi’ (“The Icelandic Shock Station”, 1986): It’s a really funny film. It has lots of jokes about the typically funny aspects of Icelandic people

‘Okkar eigin Osló’ (“We Have Oslo”, 2011): This is a really funny new film.

‘Veðramót’ (“The Bitter Storm”, 2007): It was the first movie I worked on, so it has a special place for me.

‘Englar alheimsins’ (“Angels Of The Universe”, 2000): This is such a brilliantly directed film. Ingvar E. Sigurðsson’s acting is superb.

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