Bíó Paradís proved that an art-house cinema can work in Iceland. But, in Reykjavík’s cut-throat rental market, only the wildly profitable businesses survive. Moderate success goes bankrupt.
Bíó Paradís was founded a decade ago in the footprint of Regnboginn (Rainbow), one of the oldest cinema houses in Iceland and a place that all Icelanders have some fond memories of. I saw ‘Dances with Wolves’ there when I was a kid, in a full auditorium. I also saw ‘Pulp Fiction’ there when I was a teenager, and later Baz Lurhman’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’. It closed in the early ’00s until Bíó Paradís came along to bring the silver screen back to 101 Reykjavík.
Bíó Paradís receives 20% of its funding (roughly 70 million ISK) from Reykjavík City, and they serviced some 60 thousand guests last year. By comparison, 120 thousand people caught a show at the National Theatre in 2019 and it receives a whopping 700 million ISK annually from the state.
Funding aside, it’s the owners of the building housing Bíó Paradís, property investors Karl Mikli ehf., are raising the rent some 300% to 400% over the moderate rental price the cinema has been paying in accordance with an old lease agreement. The house is also in bad shape and it’s time for an extensive renovation.
This is the technicality of things. This is why Reyjavík is losing it’s only art-house cinema. For us, who love cinema, this is a tragic moment for downtown culture. There are bigger cinemas in the suburbs, of course, and some of them are wildly successful, but they focus on mainstream blockbusters. But Bíó Paradís, Icelanders didn’t have much selection of movies outside Hollywood. Bíó Paradís changed the scenery and proved that not only do Icelanders want more diversity when it comes to cinema, they deeply appreciate it.
Everything stands or falls with political will when it comes to Bíó Paradís. The cinema needs more money from taxpayers, though that, of course, is debatable.
But the city already funds a lot of cultural activities, like the great Tjarnarbíó, Borgarleikhúsið, and much more. And they deserve praise for their goodwill. We at Reykjavík Grapevine consider Bíó Paradís as one of the city’s true gems. For us, it has a special place, because there you can find movies with English text, something you will not find anywhere else in Iceland. There you can also watch new Icelandic movies with English subtitles, and that’s how they can touch even greater numbers of audience. This is important for the artists themselves.
This matters. It’s important to us. Let’s save this cultural gem.
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