Icelandic Helmers Make Mark on World Cinema

Rams Cannes Film Festival
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

As a lucky group of Reykjavik fest attendees earlier this month consumed a special eight-course tasting menu at the city’s upscale Hotel Borg courtesy of head chef Anita Ingolfsdottir, while watching globe-trotting docu “Foodies,” word broke that Icelandic helmer Runar Runarsson’s “Sparrows” had nabbed top prize at Spain’s San Sebastian fest. The news provided further confirmation, if any was needed, that Icelandic helmers are enjoying a banner year.

In September, Icelandic helmer Baltasar Kormakur’s Hollywood pic “Everest” debuted to strong reviews and box office while his Icelandic TV skein “Trapped,” an atmospheric policier, sold stateside to the Weinstein Co. Meanwhile, after a well-received premiere in Berlin, Dagur Kari’s appealing dramedy “Virgin Mountain” took best feature, screenplay and actor kudos at the Tribeca fest. Perhaps most promising of all, Grimur Hakonarson’s touching humanist drama “Rams,” above, captured Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award as well as prizes in the Hamptons, Cluj, Palic and Zurich, making it Iceland’s strongest shot at a foreign-language Oscar nomination since Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s 1991 “Children of Nature.”

Can Icelandic helmers continue going from strength to strength? The Icelandic Film Center, which supports the production, distribution and promotion of Icelandic films as well as gathering and publishing information relevant to the film industry, presented a look at films and TV series in production and development as one of RIFF’s industry components. Upcoming feature releases will include the comedy “The Aquatic Effect” from the late Solveig Anspach (“Lulu in the Nude”), coming-of-age drama “Heartstone” from Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson, the romantic comedy “In Front of Others” from Oskar Jonasson (“Reykjavik Rotterdam”) and animation “Ploey — You Never Fly Alone” from Arni Olafur Asgeirsson and Gunnar Karlsson.

Femme helmers Kristin Johannesdottir and Isold Uggadottir are each developing feature dramas, with “Alma” from the former and “And Breathe Normally” from the latter. Meanwhile, Ragnar Bragason (“Metalhead”) will direct the long-in-development TV drama skein “Prisoners,” centered on Iceland’s only women’s prison.

Promising documentaries include Benedikt Erlingsson’s archival compilation “The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses and Carnivals,” which is due for a U.S. fest premiere after bowing at Sheffield Doc/Fest this summer. And in post are creative docus “Yarn” from Una Lorenzen about four international crafts artists, and “Innsaei: The Sea Within” from Hrund Gunnsteinsdottir and Kristin Olafsdottir, about the art of connecting in today’s world of distractions and stress.

RIFF’s industry offerings also included master classes with the lifetime achievement honorees, Canadian helmer David Cronenberg and German director Margarethe von Trotta, a panel about financing with Icelandic producers, including Kormakur and Grimar Jonsson (“Rams”), a field trip to the production company Saga Film, and a Showreel panel presentation introducing the best work of some of Iceland’s many excellent composers.

For RIFF’s 12th edition, founder and director Hronn Marinosdottir expanded some popular events such as the swim-in cinema, adding two swim-ins for kids and families, featuring screenings of “Moomins and the Comet Chase.” The shows sold out within minutes. For those who prefer to experience their cinema-going dry, RIFF uses a variety of comfortable venues, including the beautiful Alvar Aalto-designed Nordic House near the campus of the University of Iceland, and the Bio Paradis, an independent, year-round arthouse operated by the Association of Icelandic Filmmakers and the only venue in the country to continually program documentaries and shorts.

Other special events this year included a live cinema performance of “Sufferrosa,” an interactive neo noir thriller created by the Kissinger Twins (Dawid Marcinkowski and Kasia Kifert) from Poland, a jazz quintet performing tunes from Woody Allen’s best-loved films, and a stand-up comedy show featuring female stand-ups riffing on films and gender issues.

While one central strand of RIFF programming revolves around the lifetime achievement award honorees, the other is the Golden Puffin competition for discovery of the year, encompassing a dozen first and second features selected by Marinosdottir and her chief programmer Giorgio Gossetti, the head of Venice Days. Drama “Wednesday, May 9” from Iranian helmer Vahid Jalilvand took top honors, while Fipresci jurors selected “Krisha” from US director Trey Edward Shults for their kudo. Canada-U.K. docu “How to Change the World” from Jerry Rothwell nabbed the Environmental Award while Mexico-US docu “Cartel Land” took the audience award. The Best Icelandic Short was shared by “Docyoumentory” from Jon Asgeir Karlsson and “Rainbow Party” from Eva Sigurdardottir.

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