"This place is absolutely magical,” Jim Jarmusch said Friday afternoon as the final days of the Reykjavik International Film Festival brought a good hundred filmmakers, journalists, and other film industry folk to the home of Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the president of Iceland. Grímsson welcomed everyone with a speech about his country and how proud he was of its only film festival, before bestowing the festival's honorary prize to Jarmusch.
"You may have noticed that there are no gates surrounding my home," the President said. "Well, there is a gate. But you can simply walk around it to get inside. And that speaks to this country, and to this film festival. We pride ourselves on being one place in this world that is open to everyone."
Jamusch - and seemingly everyone else in attendance - were clearly moved by Grímsson's words. Perhaps because they had all been witness to what his country - and its film festival - had to offer in the week or so of activity that had preceded the event. It's clear more than ever that, in its seventh year, the Reykjavik International Film Festival has gained a strong reputation for being a film festival unlike any other.
It's clear because of the audience. The festival, despite a crippling financial crisis that affected its community, saw a ten percent increase in admissions in 2010, with its total just over 25,000. That's essentially twenty percent of Reykjavik's population, and over eight percent of Iceland's total population.
"It's really great," Festival Director Hronn Marinosdottir told indieWIRE. "We're really happy because the situation in Iceland now is difficult, so we were really not sure if we would break the numbers again. But we did it, and we are proud of it."
Marinosdottir also noted that the record breaking was in large part due to do a particularly youthful audience.
"If you went to the theaters, you see that it's mostly people in their twenties attending the screenings," she said.
It's also clear because of the way its guests are so evidently touched by the hospitality and intimacy the festival and its staff facilitated. Everyone - from the journalists to the jury to the filmmakers, to guest of honor Jim Jarmusch himself - were given opportunities to share nightly dinners featuring Icelandic cuisine, later-that-nightly pub crawls amidst the charmingly rowdy Reykjavik scene, and organized tours of the Icelandic countryside. One after another, the winners of the festival's awards came up on stage during the festival's awards ceremony - which saw Michelangelo Frammartino's "The Four Times" ("Le Quattro Volte") take the top prize - to express their gratitude for the experience.
"I'm really impressed by how the festival is organized," Marcin Wrona, director of "The Christening" (which won a special jury prize) said on stage. "I've met so many interesting people, from Jim Jarmusch to people at other festivals to famous journalists. Today I took a trip to see the Icelandic countryside and its volcanoes and geysers... It was just amazing."
"I have to say that I need to thank this festival because the hospitality of this festival is incredible," “Earth Keepers” director Sylvie Van Brabant, winner of the festival's Environmental Award, added on stage. "It's really, really amazing to be able to meet all the people, and to be catered to in such a unique way. Today I went on this beautiful tour and got to see this amazing waterfall. And I found out that a woman some thirty or forty years ago fought for this waterfall. And today we are able to see it because of her..."
And perhaps more than anything it's clear because of the programming, including events like a conference with Noam Chomsky - which had over 500 attendees come to the University of Iceland (and many unfortunately turned away). Extending beyond a focus on film, the conference, moderated by doc producer Peter Wintonick, saw Chomsky taking on a wide range of political and economic issues, including the Icelandic financial crisis. Watch the entire conference here.
Jim Jarmusch also packed a house on the University of Iceland campus with a rousing master class that strayed in a variety of directions, giving some Icelanders a few Jarmuschian philosophies to chew on.
"Politics to me are not very interesting," Jarmusch mused. "I don't trust politicians. Anyone who could be elected President in the United States is always suspicious to me. Because who paid them? Who financed it, you know? William Burroughs was prophetic to me in his writing that we are heading toward a total corporate world, and we are just cheap pawns. My characters in my films are almost always outsiders in some way. So those are the people throughout history that speak to me. I'm not a mainstream guy. I like things in the margins. So as far as politics go, I'm very distrustful of the whole system but at the same time I feel that the imagination and things expressed through them are far, far more powerful historically then any politics or guns or armies."
Things weren't always quite as serious. There was a screening of Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" in one of Iceland's famous indoor pools (eerily days before Tony Curtis' death), and a drive-in event featuring John Waters' "Cry Baby."
The overall film programming was also quite inspired. Films in the festival's main "New Visions" section (which focuses on the work of first or second time directors) brought a wide array of challenging and innovative work from the international festival circuit to Reykjavik audiences. Films included the aforementioned Golden Puffin winner "The Four Times," an intensely moving film which features essentially no dialogue; Mike Ott's Audience Award winner "Littlerock," a tight, clever little film about the Japanese experience in contemporary California; Athina Rachel Tsangari's stylish and original Venice Film Festival favorite "Attenberg"; and "Aardvark," a strong neo-noir film from newcomer Kitao Sakurai.
The festival also got a chance to celebrate its own with more Icelandic titles than any of the other editions of the fest, and on closing night, when Arni Olafur Asgerisson's "Brim" - profiled late last week by indieWIRE in a story on upcoming Icelandic film projects - had its world premiere. Focusing on the crew of an Icelandic fishing vessel in the wake of one of them committing suicide, the dark, effective film made it clear the Icelandic film industry still has much to offer.
"It's a great honor to premiere here tonight," Asgerisson said upon presenting the film. "It's also a very good thing to be able to give back after seeing all these wonderful films in the past week from filmmakers all over the world."
It's likely filmmakers all over the world heading back from Reykjavik feel the pleasure was all theirs.
For a full list of the festival's awards, continue to the next page.
Complete list of winners at the 2010 Reykjavik International Film Festival:
The Golden Puffin Discovery Award
"The Four Times"(Le Quattro Volte), directed by Michelangelo Frammartino
Jury Statement "An ambitious and meditative second feature, Michelangelo Frammartino's Four Times explores Pythagoras' views on transmigration through four tales of rural life involving an old shepherd, a goat, a tree and charcoal, all connected by the soul that travels through them. Beautifully conceived and shot, the film provokes thought without a single line of dialogue, and with unexpected humor."
The jury was led by Cameron Bailey, Co-Director of Toronto International Film Festival, and included noted Icelandic Director/ Editor Valdis Oskarsdottir and Film Comment's Managing Editor, Laura Kern.
RIFF Audience Award
"Little Rock", directed by Mike Ott
"The Four Times"(Le Quattro Volte), directed by Michelangelo Frammartino
Jury Statement: "For a brave and fresh approach to the film medium which conveys both spiritually and poetically the inexorable forces of nature. Furthermore, it underlines that narrative cinema does not need to rely on dialogue to fully involve the audience in its means of expression"
The jury members are Polish film journalist/critic Mariola Wiktor, Danish film journalist/critic Louise Kidde Sauntved and British film journalist, Steven Yates.
The Church of Iceland Award
"Tomorrow", directed by Marian Crisan
Jury Statement "Tomorrow is a low-key film with a powerful undercurrent. It recounts the friendship of two men, who don't even share a language, but nevertheless understand each other. The film deals with demanding questions regarding the borders between nations and people, the status of immigrants and refugees and respect for those who are alien to us. This film also takes a clear stand against laws who serve themselves and not the human being. Thus, Tomorrow gives a clear and positive answer to the eternal question: "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Special Mention : "The Christening" (Chrzest), directed by Marcin Wrona
Jury Statement: "An splendidly made film which tells a haunting story of sacrifice and confrontation, despair and hope. The Christening paints a believable picture of the senselessness of violence. It reflects the guilt of grown-ups in the innocense of the child."
Leading the jury is Father Arni Svanur Danielsson and members are Deacon Armann H. Gunnarsson and Theologist Johanna Magnusdottir.
RIFF Environmental Award
"Earth Keepers", directed by Sylvie Von Brabant
Jury Statement: "An empowering film, designed to foster the hope we so desperately need. Earth Keepers tells the story of an eco-activist learning from an older activist about other fighters, all over the world. The message is: Local action makes global change possible. Global cooperation between eco-actors and various environmental projects is a vital step to save us from ourselves, if not for us, then for our kids!"
Films from the World Changes program are eligible. Gudrun Tryggvadottir (CEO Nature.is), Larus Vilhjalmsson (CEO Icelandic Environment Assoc.) and Irma Erlingsdottir (Director of Centre for Women & Gender Studies, University of Iceland).
RIFF Golden Egg Award To Encourage Young Talent
Faroe Islands director Sakaris Fridi Stora's "The Passenger"
The jury consists of director Borkur Gunnarsson, actress Nanna Kristin Magnusdottir and director Isold Uggadottir.