‘Dreamland’ is a documentary about the building of the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant in the eastern part of Iceland in the early 2000s. The film is based on the best-selling, Icelandic Literary Award-winning book ‘Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation’ (2008) by Andri Snær Magnason, now a presidential candidate. The book offers a critical view of the building of the plant, which was subject to much criticism at the time. It suggests that Iceland should opt to strengthen its international image as an environmentally friendly country, and, moreover, utilise that image as a source of income.
The building of the plant took place in the years leading up to the financial crisis and was met with much resistance from environmentalists. This was not only because of the serious implications the reservoir would have on the highlands north of Vatnajökull, but also because the main reason for the building of the plant was to transmit energy to Alcoa Fjarðarál’s aluminium smelter, built at the time in the nearby town of Reyðarfjörður.
Environmentalism as Capitalism?
The film is an interesting study in Icelandic culture, because it explores the ongoing conflict between neoliberalism and environmentalism in the country. In the early minutes of the film, while the viewer is being introduced to the challenges of this predicament, a scene, or rather a montage, shows the Kringlan shopping mall. The scene serves to depict the intense pattern of consumption that is driving society to what the film portrays as unethical use of natural sources. The combination of voiceover, music, and imagery is almost frightening, because of its allusions to fear-mongering in mass culture, and suggestion that a culture of fear ultimately results in excessive emphasis on cash flow and consumption.
Ironically, it can be argued that the message of the film is still one of the importance of financial growth. Rather than opposing, criticising or even undermining the capitalist ideology that lies at the foundation of the power plant and aluminum smelter, the film suggests we should simply be better at capitalism, more ethical and in touch with nature—that we should monetise environmentalism. Whether this reflects the mentality of a nation, or not, is yet to be discovered.
Bíó Paradís is screening a selection of contemporary Icelandic films in the next few weeks. They are ‘101 Reykjavík’, ‘Heima’ (‘Home’), ‘Draumalandið’ (‘Dreamland’) and the more recent ‘Hross í oss’ (‘Of Horses and Men’), ‘Fúsi’ (‘Virgin Mountain’), ‘Þrestir’ (‘Sparrows’) and the 2015 Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes, ‘Hrútar’ (‘Rams’).