From Iceland — Riff It Up And Start Again: Reykjavík International Film Festival Welcomes Arthouse Cinema To Iceland

Riff It Up And Start Again: Reykjavík International Film Festival Welcomes Arthouse Cinema To Iceland

Published September 6, 2022

Riff It Up And Start Again: Reykjavík International Film Festival Welcomes Arthouse Cinema To Iceland
Josie Gaitens
Photo by
Emma Ledbetter

Cannes, Berlin, Venice… Reykjavík? Our petite, northern city might not be the first to spring to mind when it comes to cinema, but for 19 years now the people behind the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) have been doing their darndest to alter that perception.

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“The idea was to change cinema culture in Iceland,” RIFF founder and Festival Director,
Hrönn Marinósdóttir says of the festival’s origin. “We start thinking about what kind of city Reykjavík is. It’s not like Berlin, Cannes and Venice, which are old cities. Reykjavík is a young, vibrant city. So we also wanted to have that focus, sort of in the spirit of the city itself.”

Blood on the mirror

Over the last two decades, RIFF has more than met those goals, consistently presenting a programme that is fresh and engaging, with a smattering of more unusual events to entice non-cinema goers. Like their annual ‘Swim In Cinema’ screenings that sees public pool Sundhöllin transformed into a unique screening room.

“The whole swimming pool is staged,” RIFF’s Press Officer, Erna Kaaber explains, gleefully. “If it’s a horror film then when you go to the bathroom there will be blood leaking down the mirrors.”

In addition, RIFF has continued to champion young talent with its ‘New Visions’ competition, where first and second-time directors compete to be awarded the coveted golden puffin—it is Iceland after all.

Despite its success as an organisation, the team at RIFF are not content to rest on their laurels and bask in the glory of their accomplishments. Instead, as the festival moves towards its 20th anniversary, they are focussing on the development of their Industry Days programme, inviting filmmakers from across the world to come together in Reykjavík.

Reykjavík the film city

“Another big goal of the festival is to introduce Iceland as a film country, and Reykjavík as a film city,” Hrönn says.

“Industry Days, at their core, are about supporting the Icelandic film industry,” Industry Days Manager, Emma Romeijn says. “One of the main ways it does that is by facilitating connections, the fact that we bring people together both from here and abroad.”

“Film is just such a powerful medium,” Hrönn concludes. “It’s how news was told in the old days. It’s how we see the world. It’s visceral.”

“It involves all your senses,” Erna agrees. “Vision, sound—with a good director you can almost smell what’s on screen.”

“The idea was to change cinema culture in Iceland.”

Big screens, not laptops

“And it’s a collective experience,” Emma adds. “I think there’s a reason why we’re still going to see films on the big screen and haven’t fully replaced it with our laptops, because it is about what you experience on the screen, but it’s also about the conversations you have with other people afterwards. When you leave the cinema, go into the lobby, get a drink and start discussing what you just watched, that’s part of it. You don’t get that sitting at home.”


With a programme of over 70 films across 11 days, we won’t blame you if reading the RIFF brochure leaves you feeling daunted. In order to help you navigate the extensive list of cinema and events on offer, here are the Reykjavík Grapevine and RIFF’s top three not-to-be missed moments of this year’s festival.

Into The Ice
October 4th at 08:00

Do you love going to the cinema, but just wish the experience was a tad colder? Well boy howdy, has RIFF has got the perfect movie-going experience for you! Depart from Reykjavík by bus at 8am, and after a bit of sightseeing en route, you’ll be taken into the heart of Langjökull, Iceland’s second largest glacier to watch “‘Into the Ice,”’ directed by Lars Ostenfeld. The documentary is about Greenland’s melting ice sheet and includes draw-dropping footage of the director descending 200 metres into the glacier. Pretty cool.

Eternal Spring
October 5th at 17:30

Half documentary with present-day footage, half animated fictionalised account, “‘Eternal Spring”’ tells the story of spiritual group Falun Gong and their hacking of Chinese state TV in 2002. The combined result is an engaging examination of freedom of expression. Director Jason Loftus will join Reykjavík Grapevine and other guests to discuss press freedoms in Iceland and beyond, and how the idea of freedom of speech is considered in the 21st century.

Girl Gang
October 7th at 17.30

Part of RIFF’s ‘A Different Tomorrow’ selection, “Girl Gang” follows the life of 14 year old influencer, Leonie, as she navigates the trials and tribulations of life in the social media spotlight. Following on from the film, Reykjavík Grapevine will host a panel discussion with guests including the film’s director Susana Meures, about how social media is impacting us all today.

Find RIFF’s full schedule, tickets and more on their website.

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