Ísland, bezt í heimi! The biggest film of 2015—nay, the biggest film of ALL TIME (*projected)—was Icelandic, or anyway a few scenes of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ were shot here. Tour companies are no doubt designing itineraries for their Ice Planet Hoth Winter Adventures—invest in glacier trucks.
Indeed, from an international perspective, 2015 was a big year for Icelandic cinema. Dagur Kári’s ‘Virgin Mountain’ won the top prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, Grímur Hákonarson’s ‘Rams’ won the top prize at the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes, and Baltasar Kormákur’s ‘Everest’ grossed a quiet $200 million USD worldwide for Universal.
The international perspective is the one that presents the Icelandic film scene in the most flattering light, and it’s the perspective that local influencers seem to prefer. The Reykjavík International Film Festival brought in David Cronenberg to give a talk that made a few ripples on the vast oceans of The Movie Internet (he turned down an episode of ‘True Detective’ because “the script was bad”; the Weinsteins are “assholes”); and the festival opened with Matteo Garrone’s ‘Tale of Tales’, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Iceland, but did receive mixed reviews and lots of buzz at bigger international festivals. RIFF fills a valuable role for the tuned-in but 101-based cinephile, giving a few screenings each to the kind of critically lauded and/or socially provocative mid-tier festival movies with no prospects of a proper release in a market with a severely limited number of screens and prospective audience. This is especially the case as programming at Bíó Paradís seems to be moving towards a perpetual rotation of English-subtitled Icelandic dramas from the last couple years—a canny move to court tourists who want to see something local, and who are maybe more eager to do so than Icelandic audiences, who mostly want to see ‘Jurassic World’ and ‘Spectre’, like everyone on Earth/Twitter. (But hey, BP’s just started playing Woody Allen’s 2014 offering, ‘Magic in the Moonlight’, so there’s that.)
Dudes moping about
As for those Icelandic films—right, them. As long as a conservative governing coalition remains in power, the Icelandic Film Centre is unlikely to boost the domestic scene any more than it already does. But crowdfunding emerged as an alternate model this past year with the independently financed ‘Albatross’—expect more Karolina Fund campaigns in 2016, hopefully to fund more diverse perspectives and genres. (Perhaps including the indie horror film ‘Mare’, now in postproduction? And certainly more documentaries: 2015 saw limited runs for Icelandic docs about the fishing quota system, the Eistnaflug music festival, and much more. ‘The Arctic Fox’—a film about the animal known as the arctic fox—was also in the English-friendly rotation at Bíó Paradís for a while.) But also, realistically, expect more wry, reflective dramas about dudes moping about in photogenic, existentially symbolic, relatively inexpensive locations, like the Ring Road (2015’s ‘Reverse’), small towns in the Westfjords (2015’s ‘Albatross’ and ‘Sparrows’ (note Mark: fairly sure Fúsi was set in RVK, although you’re certainly forgiven for confusing all those movies. fix if I’m wrong), and farms (2015’s ‘Rams’). It’s sort of the main thing we do here.
All in all, looked at from a more domestic perspective, there’s a real power vacuum within the Icelandic film scene. Which made Baltasar Kormákur’s major intervention into local production politics all the more meaningful. In a July interview, Iceland’s most successful cinematic export proposed gender quotas as a way of addressing the Icelandic Film Centre’s imbalanced allocation of funds. That imbalance was also criticized this spring by international art activists the Guerilla Girls via a prominently displayed billboard downtown. Commissioned by the Reykjavík Arts Festival, the sign whoever happened to gaze upon it: “Why has 87% of Icelandic Film Centre funding gone to men?”
Here’s hoping that in 2016, a wider variety of stories find a path, however unconventional, onto local screens, and into local hearts and minds.