Four leading bodies in the Icelandic film industry have called on Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir to step in to save Bíó Paradís, Fréttablaðiðreports. Faced with an estimated 300% rent rise, the cinema’s managing director Hrönn Sveinsdóttir announced that Iceland’s only art-house cinema would be forced to close its doors on May 1st.
Konur Films and Television, the Association of Film-makers, the Association of Film Directors and the Association of Playwrights and Script-writers have penned an open letter to Lilja. They assert that the Icelandic government should do everything in its power to protect Bíó Paradís as a Reykjavik cultural institution.
“We believe the agency plays a very important cultural role as it is the only non-profit cinema in Iceland,” reads the statement. The organisations warn that if the minister “disregards” Bíó Paradís’ financial struggles, the cinema’s closure will leave “a major hole in cultural life.”
Bíó Paradís’ efforts to highlight the work of female film-makers is highlighted in the letter. The cinema has long placed great importance on films passing the Bechdel test and hosts the Reykjavik Feminist Film Festival. The four film bodies “consider the possible closure of Bíó Paradís as a step backward in the fight for equal rights in the film industry.”
“It is the duty of the Minister to understand the importance of cultural cinema, especially given that digital media and films are the biggest influence in the lives of younger future generations,” the statement concludes.
Lilja is yet to respond.
A Cultural Hub
Bíó Paradís has transformed life for Reykjavik’s cinephiles since its opening in 2010 as Hrönn explained when she spoke to the Grapevine in March. “Even though Iceland at the time had a vital music scene and interesting visual arts, cinema-wise it was just a complete wasteland.” For the first time Icelandic film-lovers were offered an alternative to the same blockbusters that every out-of-town cinema was showing.
Bíó Paradís has hosted countless events, from Polish and French movie nights to the Stockfish Film Festival and the Reykjavik International Film Festival. It has even become a hub for locals to enjoy an after work drink. “This is not just about rooms to screen films in. It’s much more than that. It’s this social space, this community.” Hrönn told us.
Bíó Paradís’ troubles started in 2013 when Karl Mikli ehf. acquired the Hverfisgötu property. Hrönn was locked into a 7-year lease at a reasonable rate, but the new owners soon made it clear that they intended to dramatically increase the rent. When the lease reached its end in 2020, Bíó Paradís was faced with a rent rise of around 300%.
Covering operational costs had been difficult even before Karl Mikli ehf. entered the scene, as Hrönn explained. “It’s never smooth sailing. The balance of money and what we do has been really hard. As soon as one thing breaks down, we have to cut costs somewhere else to fix it.” Bíó Paradís receives state subsidies and grants from the City of Reykjavik, but they only cover 17% of running costs.
In response to public outcry, the new owners appear to be reconsidering. “They’ve realised they’re dealing with a level of public outrage that they didn’t expect, and they really don’t want to be the bad guy here. We’ve had friendly talks. They want to solve this.” However, May 1st has come and gone and Bíó Paradís’ future still hangs in the balance.
Continued pressure from groups like the four bodies that wrote to Lilja may well determine Bíó Paradís’ fate. We will keep you informed on the government’s response.
Read our full interview with Hrönn Sveinsdóttir here.
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