Despite having a surprisingly long and productive relationship with filmmaking for such a small country, there are those who would question whether Iceland needs another film festival. But for the founders of Ice Docs, Iceland’s first international documentary film festival, the space and requirement for their event is clear.
Finding a space
“We’re very aware of the other festivals,” co-founder Ingibjörg Halldórsdóttir tells me. “People think we’re the same as Skjaldborg because of ‘documentary’ in the title. But Skjaldborg usually just does Icelandic documentaries and then focuses perhaps on one particular filmmaker.” In contrast, Ice Docs seeks to have a distinctly international focus, with an emphasis on creative uses of the genre.
The idea for the festival came about, fittingly, in a cinema. Ingibjörg and co-founder, Hallur Örn Árnason, himself a documentary filmmaker, were at a premiere, bemoaning the fact that there were less than 20 people there. The pair had previously worked together at the Reykjavík International Film Festival, so the solution they landed on to increase interest in documentary films was maybe not so surprising, considering their backgrounds and skills. But deciding to create a new annual, multi-day arts event from scratch is no easy task, and both knew it would be a labour of love.
That conversation in the cinema took place less than two years ago. “It’s been a long process, very organic. It just happened,” muses Hallur. Ingibjörg adds, “We were thinking, okay, it’s seven months till summertime, we really don’t want to do it that fast, so we did it the very un-Icelandic way and decided just to be patient.” She smiles, “to be honest I could have used six more months.”
Variety of form
The pair quickly teamed up with another Akranes-based filmmaker, Heiðar Mar Björnsson. The three share the same passion for documentaries and hope that the festival offers people the opportunity to experience the great range and versatility of the medium. At a promotional event for the festival last year, where they screened Irish film ‘School Life,’ even Hallur’s father, despite having a documentary filmmaker for a son, was blown away by the scope of the genre. “He came out shaking his head saying “‘I didn’t know documentaries could do this,’” Hallur grins.
It’s this sensation that Ice Docs aims to instill. Both Hallur and Ingibjörg are quick to highlight the broad mix of films that will be screened over the five-day festival, believing there’s something for everyone in their programme. There’s ‘Aquarela’, a film about water with no protagonist, opening film ‘In Touch’, which recently won the Skjaldborg Film Festival, and the light-hearted ‘Hail Satan?’, which Ingibjörg describes as “A humorous approach to satanism.”
Putting Akranes on the map
In total there will be over 40 films screened as part of the festival in the town’s charming theatre, which is one of the oldest operating cinemas in Iceland. In addition to opening up the world of documentaries for people, Ingibjörg in particular is keen to build Akranes’ reputation as an arts venue. Despite being only 40 minutes away from Reykjavík, Akranes has largely missed out on the tourist boom that has fuelled the Icelandic economy for the last 10 years. The founders of Ice Docs hope that holding the festival here will help raise the town’s profile.
“We hope that people will see documentaries in a different light afterwards, but also that people see how cool Akranes is, and what a great location it is,” Ingibjörg summarises. “I think that would be excellent to see as many people there as possible. Join our village!”
Ice Docs is held in Akranes July 17th-21st. Get more info at icedocs.is
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