The annual Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) is approaching, and along with it a series of seminars, symposia, celebrities and special events – not to mention a veritable bevy of cinema. The Festival will kick off its third year with a “blackout” event Thursday, 28 September 2006, to highlight “the largest silver screen there is: the sky itself,” according to a RIFF press release. Following the celestial cinema celebration, the motion-picture portion, which will run for 11 days, will begin. This year RIFF will feature over 80 films from over 30 different countries.
During the planned blackout, all the lights in Reykjavík, from streetlamps to the lighting in homes and businesses, will be turned off for half an hour, from 22:00 to 22:30. This is the first widespread intentional blackout event of its kind in the world, at least, as far as festival organisers claim to be aware of. In an interview with the Grapevine, author Andri Snær Magnason, the man behind the blackout concept, stated, “It’s something I’ve dreamed of for quite a long time. We live in a city and we make electricity and lights and, if we want to, we can also turn them off. The system is for us… The constellations in the dark, winter sky are something that has been the root of philosophy and navigation and religion and science… As the sky is now people don’t really have access to it.”
Magnason hopes that by turning off the lights in Reykjavík, Iceland’s urban youth will have a chance to see something that, otherwise, they might never be able to experience within the city. “They are the first children of mankind, really, who don’t have access to a sky like this. So, I was wondering if that could affect their imagination and their ideas of the world and thought it would be cool to let them see the sky for half an hour… Let them have something else to think about, rather than Britney Spears or something,” Magnason said.
During the blackout, RIFF would urge Reykjavík residents to take part by turning off the lights in their homes and businesses. “This is probably the biggest event of the festival. It’s on a grand scheme. It’s for the whole city…. People need to know about it. We want everybody to be at home and looking up at stars. So that’s the concept: turn off time for half an hour; unwrap the sky,” Magnason told Grapevine. “We’re hoping this will get global attention and we can sometime turn off all the lights in the Western Hemisphere and take a picture from a satellite, or something.” In addition to stars, it is hoped that the Northern Lights will make a more perceptible appearance than usual in the darker night sky. An astronomer will be describing the visible constellations on RÚV (National Public Radio) during the half-hour event.
Grapevine also tracked down festival planner Atli Bollason, who stated that the festival’s emphasis “is really on very, very new cinema, very fresh cinema, very up-and-coming stuff. Our competitive section is called New Visions and it’s exclusive to directors making their first or second films.” As the festival attempts to broaden its scope and international impact each year, this year will feature not only more movies, but also cinema from a broader range of national origins than in previous years. “Mostly [the films are] from Europe, but also from Asia, South America and North America… There are almost 200 guests coming over – to cover the festival as journalists, as well as directors coming to present their films, and just real film enthusiasts,” from all over the globe, Bollason said. Films will be coming to the Reykjavík International Film Festival from as far away as Thailand, Iran, Mexico, Australia, and over a dozen other countries.
In addition to New Visions, this year’s festival features categories for Danish and Icelandic films, a category featuring the best international films of the year, a human rights section, and Shorts – short films which will be shown throughout the city in unlikely venues. There will also be a series of Midnight Movies shown, accordingly, at midnight with a complimentary snack, as well as a Sunday selection of films for children. “This is the third year we’re having this festival and it’s a very logical continuation of last year’s. It has similar categories, but on a much bigger scale. Also, our unique position is that it’s more than just screening films. We have loads of seminars and symposia… The list of events goes on and on,” Bollason said.
Some of the events audiences can anticipate at RIFF include the presentation by Thomas Bangalter, one of the members of the French pop-music duo Daft Punk, of the twosome’s film Electroma. “[The film] chronicles two robots’ quest to become human,” a RIFF press release states, “Furthermore, Bangalter will spin some of his favourite records at NASA on [7 October 2006]. He has not performed as a DJ for almost a decade.” The three ex-Guantánamo Bay detainees – Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed – featured in Michael Winterbottom’s film, The Road to Guantanamo, will be present at the festival and will be attending the film’s premiere, 2 October, where they will partake in a question and answer session. They will also be members of a panel discussion “about Guantanamo-prison, torture, and the vision presented in The Road to Guantanamo” on 3 October. Local Icelandic 17-piece band Benni Hemm Hemm will be composing the score to the Swedish silent film, Berg-Ejvind Och Hans Hustru, starring Victor Sjöstrom (showing 4 & 5 October). A programme entitled View of WIFT will also be presented in cooperation with Women in Film and Television (WIFT) and will feature screenings of films by women from around the globe and a conference. This year’s Spotlight section will screen three films by this year’s featured director, Goran Paskaljevic of Serbia and Montenegro.
Hrönn Marinósdóttir, this year’s RIFF Director, reports that festival presenters, “went to Cannes last spring and introduced the festival and it was amazing, the response we got.” As RIFF 2006 promises to be bigger and more ‘international’ than any previous Icelandic film festival, I asked Marinósdóttir if there were any plans to continue expanding the festival in coming years. “I don’t think we are looking to grow to be like Berlin or like Cannes, but I think it could really be an inspiring festival for a normal audiences and ordinary people who are interested in film [as well as] for professionals,” she told Grapevine. Marinósdóttir believes that part of Reykjavik’s allure is that, being so small for a cosmopolitan city, the accessibility of people in Iceland is very different than in other places. “Everything is so close here. You can walk everywhere and we don’t [have to] have bodyguards all over,” she said. RIFF hopes to capitalize on the inevitable interaction that Reykjavik’s small community feel will allow to occur between audiences and film industry professionals. On the point of why RIFF has been able to expand so quickly, this being only its third year, she stated, “I think it’s for two reasons: Reykjavik is between two continents, so it’s a great place for a film festival. It’s hip and cool in many peoples’ minds… The second reason is we have a very good programme. We are screening films that are not in many festivals around the world.”
For further information, including schedules and a list of films shown at the festival, visit www.filmfest.is
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