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Dispatch From Iceland: Country’s Filmmakers Wager On In Wake of Financial Meltdown

Dispatch From Iceland: Country's Filmmakers Wager On In Wake of Financial Meltdown

It hasn’t been easy for Icelandic filmmakers in the past year or two. Crippled by a severe financial meltdown, the little-country-that-often-could has been faced with an uphill battle when it comes to almost everything economic – filmmaking included. But in the midst of Iceland’s most important annual cinematic event – the Reykjavik International Film Festival – the country’s film industry is making clear they are already pushing their way up that hill.

“There’s still quite a few projects produced, and there’s definitely lots of energy and many heads full of ideas,” Laufrey Guojonsdottir, director of the Icelandic Film Centre, told indieWIRE in Reykjavik earlier today. “But of course, the financial side is a battle. But I think people are very used to co-producing here in Iceland… they are good finding different ways of doing things. And also, they are very good at supporting each other now, even more than before. There’s a way out.”

On the day after news broke that the country’s parliament had narrowly voted to refer former Prime Minister Geir Haarde to a special court over his role in the country’s financial crisis, Guojonsdottir gathered dozen or so Icelandic filmmakers to present upcoming work. The event was held at Reykjavik’s new Bio Paradis, a long awaited film center in the city’s downtown core that has excited out of town guests and those in the local filmmaking industry.

“It was just this month that the theater was taken over to be run as an art house for quality cinema,” Guojonsdottir said. “To balance out, the, uh, we all know what. Of course, given the financial circumstances that can be a bit tricky. But we have a secret weapon that tends to be useful in times like these, and that’s optimism.”

Exemplifying that optimism were ten filmmakers that took the stage at Bio Paradis to present clips of their upcoming work.

“There are brave people in this industry,” Guojonsdottir said upon introducing them. “A couple of the projects here are actually in production without any grants from the Icelandic Film Company.”

Here’s a brief rundown of what those brave people are up to:

Adequate Beings, directed by Olaf de Fleur
One of three projects de Fleur (known best for Teddy Award winner “The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela”) presented, this documentary follows the residents of farming town Budardalur, who are trying to scrape by in the wake of the financial crisis and a system that has left them behind. The film depicts how the Budardalur community stick together as they threatened by bankruptcy and market middlemen pushing for lower prices of their produce.

Brim, directed by Arni Olafur Asgerisson
The closing night film of the Reykjavik International Film Festival, “Brim” follows the crew on board a fishing boat who have become uncomfortably numb with its never-ending routine. But why a crew member commits suicide on the boat, everything changes. The film is adapted from an Icelandic play, and uses the same actors as the play itself.

City State, directed by Olaf de Fleur
Olaf de Fleur’s second film of the presenation follows a young woman who takes charger hen a foreign mafia decides to take over the drug market in Iceland.

The Deep, directed by Baltasar Kormakur
Based on Jon Atli Jonasson’s play, “The Deep” depicts the real-life events of an infamous fishing boat accident in 1985, when the sole survivor, Gudlauger Fridthorsson swam 5 kilometers in the ice-cold Atlantic to save his own life (a feat that stumped scientists as it seemed humanly impossible). The film just finished shooting and will have a 2011 release.

Either Way, directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson
One of the films with no government funding, “Either Way” is a subtle comedy that follows two employees of the Icelandic Road Administration who spend a summer together on a remote mountain road. Shot on a RED camera, the film is expected to be released next year.

Gnarr, directed by Gaukur Ulfarsson
Iceland’s most controversial and cynical comedian has decided to take on Icelandic’s chaotic political scene by becoming elected Reykjavik’s mayor, and filmmaker Ulfarsson decided it needed to be documented. He shot the entire film without any interviews. “I wanted it to be a purely fly on the wall experiment,” he said. The clip he screened suggested it worked, with the entire theatre clearly finding his experiment hilarious.

Jitters, directed by Baldwin Z.
A narrative film that details two Icelandic boys that have a love affair while studying in England, and have to come home to face their families regarding their homosexuality. Check out the trailer (in Icelandic) here.

Legends of Valhalla: Thor, directed by Oskar Jonasson
A long gestating CGI animation film, “Thor” follows a teenager with a magical weapon who joins forces with a handful of imperfect gods against an evil queen and her army of giants. The film comes from Jonasson, who’s last film, “Reykjavík-Rotterdam,” was Iceland’s 2009 submission to the Academy Awards.

Our Own Oslo, directed by Reynir Lyngdal
Lyngdal said that he had just finished shooting 24 hours ago, so “he hadn’t really formed a opinion on the film yet.” But he did say that it’s “definitely a comedy… about relationships, love, and being co-dependent.” The film stars Thorsteinn Gudmundsson, who also wrote the script.

Polite People, directed by Olaf de Fleur
Olaf deFleur’s final project of the presentation is a comedy set in the same countryside as “Adequate Beings,” and follows a man who is trying to finance a slaughterhouse.

Rock Bottom, directed by Bokur Gunnarsson
Gunnarsson’s film is about a alcoholic journalist attempting to save both his job and his relationship (“if there’s any journalists in the house, you all know what I’m talking about,” Gunnarsson joke on stage). “Rock Bottom” is currently in post-production.

Stormland, directed by Marteinn St. Thorsson
Thorsson’s follow-up to 2004 Sundance Film Festival entry “”One Point O,” “Stormland” – like many other films presented – explores the events surrounding Iceland’s financial crisis. “It looks at the period of extreme greed in Iceland before we realized what we were doing to ourselves,” Thorrson described his film, which details a man who loses his job and decides to start a blog “criticizing modern materialism in its entirety.”

Summerland, directed by Grimur Hakonarson
This Icelandic comedy that plays on the financial crisis, as well the country’s supernatural beliefs, is already out in theaters. It follows an ordinary family running the unusual business of elf tourism and spiritual sessions. Producer Agnes Johansen (who also produced “The Deep”) was on hand to present the trailer.

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