As the Reykjavik International Film Festival wrapped up this past Sunday, the Icelandic fest celebrated artistic achievement by honoring Costa-Gavras and Shirin Neshat earlier in the week. Iranian artist Shirin Neshat was honored with the Creative Excellency Award and also had an exhibit of her video and photography work on display at The National Gallery of Iceland. Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his body of politically charged films.
A reception was held at the Icelandic President’s official residence with the award presented by the island nation’s head of state, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. Grimsson spoke eloquently about the filmmaker, calling Gavras the “creator of some of the most influential, democratic, political movies of our times. Movies that have taught us more about democracy and dictatorship, the rule of law, and the worthiness of every life than perhaps the great assembly of most of the political leaders of the Western world.” Grimsson added, “It’s a strong manifestation of the influence and the power of the movies and the documentaries and the profession in which you are all gathered here today.”
“I believe every country has to have his own images,” said Costa-Gavras after accepting his award. He went on to talk about how every house has to have mirrors so the inhabitants can see themselves and how a nation’s cinema allows them to see themselves as well. Costa-Gavras also shared his award with his wife, Michele Ray-Gavras, who has served as producer on many of his projects. “She is so important in my life. I don’t believe I would have done what I did without her presence,” said Gavras.
The festival offered screenings of some of Costa-Gavras’s work, including his English language debut, “Missing,” which earned the filmmaker an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as Oscar nominations for lead actors Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek in 1982. In “Missing,” a politically conservative American businessman (played by the fantastic Jack Lemmon) visits Chile right after the coup d’etat to search for his missing son, a journalist who goes missing and is apparently taken prisoner by the government. Lemmon’s realization that his own country is lying to him is portrayed in an almost Kafkaesque series of encounters with government officials as Lemmon tries to find out the truth. (A fully restored version of the film was recently released on DVD by The Criterion Collection.)
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Another politically charged film showing at the festival is Simon Brook‘s documentary, “Generation ’68,” which in a tight 53 minutes covers the dramatic events of 1968 and the rise of the counterculture in America along with the social upheaval in France. Featuring interviews with Vaclav Havel, Dennis Hopper, Milos Forman, and Annie Nightingale, “Generation ’68” is a great primer for this very important, complex series of events.
Offering a revolution of a different scale is Zach Shaffer and Steve Saporito‘s Tribeca ’08 premiere “Squeezebox,” which documents the notorious ’90s New York City mostly gay nightclub that was a raunchy reaction to disco and showcased rock and roll performed by drag queens while also being an eclectic scene for all types, whether scenesters, corporate types or headbangers. The film offers interviews with many of the Squeezebox regulars, including John Cameron Mitchell, Debbie Harry, and John Waters, who all speak glowingly of the all-inclusive party with a strong straight contingent and an all embracing attitude. Walking around the downtown streets of New York City today one can see how the type of edgy fun that Squeezebox once offered has been drowned out by luxury condos and cocktail lounges, with dirty rock and roll now replaced with a very different “Sex and the City” type vibe, making 90’s New York seem further away than ever.
This year’s roster of Reykjavik International Film Festival winners:
Discovery of the Year – from New Visions, “Tulpan,” Sergey Dvortsevoy, Kazakhstan/Russia
Special mention: “Blind Loves” (Slepe lasky), Juraj Lehotsky, Slovakia
The FIPRESCI Award – from the New Vision category, “Home,” Ursula Meier, Switzerland, France, Belgium
The Church of Iceland award – from the New Vision category, “Snow” (Snijeg), Aida Begic, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Queer Cinema Awards – “A Country Teacher” (Venkovsk ucitel), Bohdan Slama, Czech Republic
Special mention: “She’s a Boy I Knew,” Gwen Haworth, Canada
The Audience Award – “Electronica Reykjavik,” Arnar Jonasson (Iceland)