Fans of Icelandic music were given a special treat at the Reykjavik International Film Festival launch last week as local band Sigur Ros' doc on their tour through the North Atlantic country last summer, "Heima" opened the fest to much fanfare Thursday night, attracting well over 1,000 people to the kick-off. Though internationally still up against stalwarts like San Sebastian and the New York Film Festival, Reykjavik has mustered a fantastic presence at home in addition to luring a very respectable crowd from overseas. "15,000 people will come out for this festival," one organizer boasted to indieWIRE Sunday afternoon, following a ceremony in which Iceland's President awarded the festival's top honor to Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. "...that is over 5% of the entire country's population!"
Aki Kaurismaki ("Lights in the Dusk") stole some laughs Sunday evening in Iceland at Besastadir outside Reykjavik, the official residence of the country's Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, who presented the maverick director RIFF's 2007 Creative Excellency Award in an informal ceremony with under 100 invited guests. President Grimsson reiterated some moments from last year's speech, which honored director Aleksandr Sokurov exalting his country's "open door" policy to visiting foreigners. "As you noticed when you entered this country, we assume you're a friend and not a threat... This is something rare in the world today..."
After heading through the crowd to accept his award, the usually shy Kaurismaki drew chuckles after addressing the Icelandic President, who has served since the mid-'90s. "You were once a 'Commie'..." said the director, "I appreciate this award from a President in a place where the doors are open and [getting it] from a 'Commie'." (President Grimsson, a longtime politician in Iceland has belonged to a left-wing party in the country, and now holds the largely ceremonial role of President).
Back in the cinema, Kaurismaki's entire "Finland Trilogy" will screen in its entirety during the fest, which continues through October 7th. Making its world debut is Andres Rubio's gay marriage doc "Campillo, Si Quiero," and Czech comedy "Roming," by Jiri Vejdelek. Joining the competition line up are Anton Corbijn's feature on Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, "Control," as well as "The Band's Visit" by Israeli director Eran Kolirin. Cannes Palme d'Or winner "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" by Cristian Mungiu, Sundance '07 doc "My Kid Could Paint That" by Amir Bar-Lev, and Tom Kalin's drama, "Savage Grace." Also on tap are films on the war in Iraq, including James Longley's Oscar-nominated "Iraq in Fragments," as well as a retrospective of late German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's work.
"This is how a festival should be," RIFF programmer Dimitri Eipides told indieWIRE Sunday night at a fest organized dinner. Eipides is a veteran of other fests as well, as a programmer in Toronto and at events back home in Greece. He continued, "Great movies and being able to enjoy a comfortable [non-stress] environment...I'm really impressed with how this festival has [matured]."
[Brian Brooks' coverage of the Reykjavik International Film Festival continues this week in indieWIRE.]