From Iceland — Reykjavík’s Disappearing Theatres

Reykjavík’s Disappearing Theatres

Published June 15, 2023

Photo by
Art Bicnick

And other things making headlines in recent weeks

Farewell to theatres

It was reported June 8 that Reykjavík cinema Háskólabíó will screen its last films this month after the company operating the facility decided to call it quits. Sena has managed the movie theatre at Háskólabíó for the past 15 years and has terminated its contract with the University of Iceland, citing low attendance at screenings. The cinema will close July 1.

Háskólabíó has been screening films for more than 60 years. It also served as the home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra until construction was completed on Harpa in 2011. It is the prime spot for city dwellers to catch a Hollywood movie without having to haul their asses out to Kringlan or (gasp) the suburbs. We have it on good authority that it’s just the right walking distance from 101 to allow moviegoers to finish a smoke or toss back a beverage before grabbing their popcorn and settling in for a couple hours of high-budget entertainment on the big screen. It will be missed.

Hot on the heels of the announced loss of Háskólabíó came news on June 13 that beloved downtown theatre space Tjarnarbíó could close down this fall if the city doesn’t step in. 

Theatre director Sara Martí Guðmundsdóttir told the national broadcaster that the theatre needs funding to hire three more full-time staff members and more space to provide the level of programming the city centre deserves. And she has an idea for where that “more space” could come from: the three-storey building next to Tjarnarbíó currently occupied by city government offices.

“Tjarnarbío will close this fall if nothing happens, that’s just the way it is,” she told RÚV. “There are quite a few people in the city who are trying to talk to the ministry, it just happens way too slowly and nothing. Somehow no one wants to take responsibility for this.”

The Grapevine reported on Tjarnarbíó in February, when the theatre was on the receiving end of noise complaints from neighbours and concerns were swirling that it was the NIMBYs that would bring the theatre down.

A whale of a petition

A petition calling for the end of whaling in Iceland was signed by 360.000 individuals and presented to Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir on June 8, which happens to be World Oceans Day. The petition references “the horrific treatment of animals” and demands an immediate revocation of Hvalur hf.’s whaling licence. As a reminder, Hvalur hf. is the one and only company in Iceland engaging in commercial whaling and it does so at a loss.

The petition was coordinated by the groups Last Whaling Station and Hvalavinir in response to a damning report on the activities of Hvalur’s 2022 commercial whaling season. In the report, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) stated, among other findings, that, of the 148 whales killed in the 2022 season, 73% were female, 11 were pregnant and one was lactating. 

Though Hvalur hf. has long maintained that the whales die immediately, the report found that some struggled for life for more than two hours, dozens needed to be shot more than once, and one whale was chased for more than five hours with a harpoon in its back.

Svandís said in May 2023 that there is no legal basis for revoking Hvalur’s fishing licence.

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