From Iceland — Changing Nature into a Movie Set... Permanently, with Lots of Explosives

Changing Nature into a Movie Set… Permanently, with Lots of Explosives

Changing Nature into a Movie Set… Permanently, with Lots of Explosives

Published August 19, 2005

The two locations of shooting are the Sandvík beach on the west coast of the peninsula and an area around Krýsuvík south of the lake Kleifarvatn. Both areas have been affected by soil erosion for a long time: 60 years ago, seeds had to be planted at the beach of Sandvík to prevent a fast-moving sand dune from disappearing. According to Andrés Arnalds from the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland (Landgræðsla ríkisins), “This area is already in an unstable, disturbed condition.” For the shooting at the beach, tons of extra sand will be heaped up to make the coastline look as steep as the original one at the island of Iwo Jima, Japan. After the shooting, sand-stabilizers such as lime-grass will be planted to keep the dune from emigrating to some far-off coast.

Originally, the second location for the shooting was supposed to be on the west side of the mountain Arnarfell close to Krýsuvík. As this area features some archaeological artefacts – typical old Icelandic huts, walls and fences – that might have been harmed, the filming crew had to settle on the eastside of the mountain.

“The area at Krýsuvík is actually quite small and there has been extended erosion for the past two centuries due to overgrazing. The Soil Conservation Service has been working on recovering that area, and we are of the opinion that the little vegetation which is there now can be restored after the shooting,” Arnalds says. What he does not mention, though, is that the vegetation will be burnt down to make the area look like it has been bombed for weeks. “The use of explosives is no big deal, as the top layer, for example patches of grass, can easily be taken off and returned afterwards,” Arnalds says.

Along the road towards Arnarfell, “a fairly large area” is being used for parking spaces, tents, containers and the main base camp, says Stefán Benediktsson of the Environment and Food Agency (Umhverfisstofnun). “Nothing was harmed there, because there is no vegetation just beside the road.” Rumour has it that local authorities suggested using the space to build proper parking lots for tourists after the filming is finished. It is estimated that about 700 parking spaces could be built – in an area that is barely settled and has no major tourist attraction.

The production company Truenorth has signed a contract with the Soil Conservation Service “out of their own accord, after they already had the permission to shoot in these areas,” Benediktsson points out, promising to leave the areas in the original or even an improved condition since before the shooting took place. Everyone from technicians on the set to supporters of the project agrees that this promise is impossible to keep.

Arni Finnsson, of the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association, has to play the party pooper. Whereas those working with the film ask the Grapevine to keep their statements about the destructive force bombs might have on natural habitat off the record, Finnsson goes on record. “That’s simply impossible,” he says when we tell him that the production company agreed to return the land to its original state. “They hardly had a look at the area before decisions were made.”

However, the production company Truenorth has already agreed to pay 10,850,000 ISK for restoring the vegetation and landscape at both Sandvík and Krýsuvík. This sum could later be adjusted when the actual filming is over and costs can be estimated more reliably.

The Soil Conservation Service and the Agency for Environment and Food both insist that the damage that will be caused during a few weeks of shooting will just as easily be undone. “We have had good experiences with filming crews,” says Benediktsson. “Recently, three major motion pictures have partly been shot in Iceland – James Bond, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins – and we never had any complaints whatsoever. And I’m not even talking quality productions, but box office hits.”

Asked whether this also holds true for Icelandic productions, Benediktsson laughs and adds: “No comment!” He cleverly changes the subject to the shooting of Beowulf, when pressed about a celebrated local director of Viking films who is said to have recently left a whole set in the wilderness. “In the case of Beowulf, the set was left at the location at the request of the owner of the land who wanted to use it for some other purpose later on.”

The production company had to apply for the permission to shoot at the Archaeological Heritance Agency of Iceland (Fornleifavernd ríksins), the Environment and Food Agency, the Soil Conservation Service and a land-structuring company (Landmótun) – which all gave green light eventually.
“We looked carefully over the programme and considered the different impacts the filming would have on the landscape. The company carefully selected areas that have been affected by soil erosion already. These areas can easily be restored to their original condition. Of course there will be damage, but it is nothing that could not be repaired afterwards,” says Arnalds. Benediktsson agrees, pointing out that the production company agreed to compensate for the damages – so why worry?

One group of usually environmentally-conscious locals is siding with the production company—the surfers of Iceland, who claim Sandvík is the best surfing beach in the country, welcome the explosives.

“Right now, the beach is completely wild, and that means the sandbar shifts, and it can be quite dangerous,” Stephen Taylor-Matthews told the Grapevine. “But after what they do to it, they’re going to want real steady waves like at Iwo Jima. We’re thinking this should work out well.”

The members of Ferlir, the Police Walking Group of Reykjavík, are devastated that public access to the beach at Sandvík, their favourite place for hiking, is prohibited. But Ferlir is only a minor opponent of this Hollywood war scenery. The major one is the committee in charge of the protected area at Krýsuvík. Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, chair of the committee, says there was no way of stopping the shooting: “The committee does not have much power – we were asked for our opinion, but they would not listen to our objections. They issued the permission anyway.” The area around Krýsuvík belongs to the town of Hafnarfjörður, which has the final say in the matter, making the committee look like a farce.

Sigurjónsdóttir disagrees with Andrés Arnalds and Stefan Benediktsson, stating that the land at Krýsuvík closest to the mountain Arnarfell is actually in very good condition and although it won’t be affected directly, the immense amount of traffic and passers-by will harm the land. “After the shooting and burning of the vegetation, the land will be in a bad shape and it will take a long time to recover. It will probably look different in the future, because they will plant other species and although they hope that it will gradually look like it does today, they can not guarantee it. The first rule should be to protect the ecosystem in a protected area – not to destroy it.”

The recovery will take years and both areas at Sandvík and Krýsuvík will have to share the 10,850,000 ISK. This amount will not suffice, Sigurjónsdóttir says, “especially if you consider that this includes the taxes which means that eventually, about eight or nine million ISK will be left to recover both locations.”

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