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11 Icelandic Films To Watch Out For (And Björk is in None of Them)

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 8, 2012 at 11:10AM

It's sincerely mind blowing that a country of just over 300,000 people can have the creative output that Iceland does. That's about half the amount of people that reside in Wyoming, the least populated state in America. But despite its size, Iceland has an incredible amount of internationally renowned visual artists, architects, musicians and, yes, filmmakers.
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Icelandic filmmakers Agnes Johansen, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Guðrún Ragnarsdóttir and Ágúst Guðmundsson celebrate together at an event for the Reykjavik International Film Festival.
Peter Knegt Icelandic filmmakers Agnes Johansen, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Guðrún Ragnarsdóttir and Ágúst Guðmundsson celebrate together at an event for the Reykjavik International Film Festival.

It's sincerely mind blowing that a country of just over 300,000 people can have the creative output that Iceland does. That's about half the amount of people that reside in Wyoming, the least populated state in America. But despite its size, Iceland has an incredible amount of internationally renowned visual artists, architects, musicians and, yes, filmmakers.

From Fridrik Thor Fridriksson (whose "Children of Nature" was nominated for a foreign language film Oscar in 1992) to Dagur Kári Petursson (who recently made his English language debut with the Brian Cox-Paul Dano starrer "The Good Heart") to Baltasar Kormákur (who made "Jar City" and is Iceland's Oscar hope this year with "The Deep"), Iceland has no shortage of cinematic minds. 

All three of those noted filmmakers were among those with upcoming work being presented at a special event thrown by the Icelandic Film Centre in Reykjavik last Friday. In the midst of the Reykjavik International Film Festival -- the country's essential film event -- Icelandic Film Centre director Laufey Gudjónsdóttir and a dozen or so of the country's top filmmakers gave a preview of what to expect from Iceland's film community in the next year or two. And it was quite impressive, despite the effect Iceland's economic troubles has had on film funding.

"There's been huge cuts to our film funding as a result of the financial crisis here," Gudjónsdóttir said at the event. "We are unfortunately suffering from a cutdown in cost in a number of productions. This year there's been a record low in terms of the number of films produced."

For a record low, the presentation was still quite impressive. And perhaps this is indicative of what can come from a tight-knit filmmaking community who clearly support and influence each other (that was definitely evident from the way they interacted with each other at the presentation). So from blue whales to ghosts to a handful of alcoholics, here's 11 Icelandic films to watch out for in the next year or two:

Blue Whale
Director: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson
Genre: Documentary
When To Expect It: 2014 or 2015, or maybe even later. It all depends on its titular subject.
What's The Deal: An incredibly ambitious documentary from arguably the country's most well-known filmmaker, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's tentatively titled "Blue Whale" will take on the world's biggest animal and perhaps the one we know the least about. Fridriksson plans on turning a member of the species -- which frequent Northern Iceland waters in May and June -- into "the film's DP" by attaching a camera to the whale and letting it film its own life before getting it back via satellite a few month's later.

Cold Spring
Director: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson
Genre: Comedy
When To Expect It: Early 2014
What's The Deal: Following up his comedy "Either Way" (which was nominated for 11 "Edda Awards" -- Iceland's equivalent to the Oscar -- last year, and was recently sold for US remake rights), up-and-coming Icelandic filmmaker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson will shoot "Cold Spring" next, well, spring. The film follows a recovering alcoholic who finds refuge teaching elementary school in a small Icelandic village. 

Horizon
Director: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson and Bergur Berndburg
Genre: Documentary
When To Expect It: Early 2013
What's The Deal: Another offering from Fridriksson teams him up with Bergur Berndburg for a documentary about Icelandic painter Georg Gudni Hauksson, who passed away last year. Fridriksson said he wanted to pay homage to the painter in a film that would serve "as a kind of headstone for him."

Horsemen - Saga of Riders
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Genre: Drama
When To Expect It: Spring 2013
What's The Deal: Benedikt Erlingsson described his new film as a "love story that comes out of his fascination with horse culture in Iceland."  A romantic comedy with horses as the main characters (his words), the film will weave together six related stories revolving around horses.

Metal Head
Director: Ragnar Bragason
Genre: Drama
When To Expect It: 2013
What's The Deal: Iceland indeed has metal heads, and filmmaker Ragnar Bragason is living proof. His new film will pay tribute to the refuge he found in metal culture as a child growing up in remote Iceland. Filming starts next month,  so look for what Bragason descibes as a "a story of a girl, heavy metal and cows" on the film festival circuit next year.

Rocket Man
Director: Dagur Kari Petursson
Genre: Drama
When To Expect It: 2013
What's The Deal: Dagur Kari Petursson follows up his English language debut "The Good Heart" with "Rocket Man," the story of a 43 year old introvert who still live with his mother until a young girl and a "bubbly woman about his age" unexpectedly enter his world and shake things up.

Silence of the Grave
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Genre: Drama
When To Expect It: 2013
What's The Deal: Before directing Mark Wahlberg in "Contraband," Baltasar Kormakur made "Jar City," one of the most well known Icelandic films of the past decade. He's returning to the same characters of that film with "Silence of the Grave," an adaptation of "Jar City" novelist Arnaldur Indridason's sort-of-sequel. With a considerably higher budget than "Jar City," the film is set during World War II in Iceland, and should be ready for early 2014.

Spooks and Spirits
Director: Agust Gudmundsson
Genre: Black comedy
When To Expect It: 2013
What's The Deal: It turns out 70% of Icelanders believe in ghosts, and director Agust Gudmundsson suggested that's reflected in the country's cinema. "The only thing that unites Icelandic film is superstition and unexplained things," it was said at the presentation. His new film "Spooks and Spirits" is certainly an example of this, with the tagline "living with your parents can be trying... especially when they're dead."

Staying Alive
Director: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson
Genre: Drama/Comedy
When To Expect It: Early 2014
What's The Deal: The third and final film on this list from Icelandic workhorse Fridriksson is a narrative film. When he introduced the film, a lesbian love story that follows a deeply closeted and unemployed woman who frequents the funeral of strangers, Fridriksson noted that every single film he's made has involved funerals in some capacity.

The Winner
Director: Gudrun Ragnarsdottir
Genre: Drama
When To Expect It: Late 2013
What's The Deal: A first feature from Icelandic artist Gudrun Ragnarsdottir, "The Winner" follows six year old twins (a boy and a girl) who are sent to a countryside childrens home when their parents marriage falls apart. A graduate of CalArts, Ragnarsdottir said her debut film will start production next year.

XL
Director: Marteinn Thorsson
Genre: Drama
When To Expect It: 2013
What's The Deal: "All films in Iceland are low budget, but this film is very low budget," laughed "XL" lead actor Olafur Darri Olafsson as he presented scenes from the nearly complete film. Following a member of Icelandic parliament who is ordered to enter rehab by the Prime Minister (but then instead goes on a massive bender where everything goes wrong), the clips suggested a black comedy that only Icelanders could make.