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World Watching Iceland’s Plan to Ban Online Porn

International Profile: Tiny pioneering country a land of hot springs, erupting volcanoes and bubbling creativity

When the global economy collapsed in 2008, Iceland was the first casualty: Its credit-driven banks went bust, and inflation rose 18%. Now the economy is bouncing back, with unemployment levels cut in half, thanks partly to its status as one of the world’s most connected countries. For a small nation, it’s also surprisingly influential, known for trailblazing economic and social policies. For example, Iceland has the world’s first openly gay prime minister, Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir. Iceland also has one of the planet’s highest levels of Internet use, and the government’s next act could be groundbreaking: There is legislation to ban all forms of digital porn, not out of prudishness, but to protect children from violent sexual imagery. On the biz side, potential for satellite or B.O. growth is limited. There are only 315,000 people, two-thirds of them in Reykjavik. But the nation is a breeding ground for talent, including helmer Baltasar Kormakur (“Contraband,” “Two Guns”). And Bjork, of course. “Game of Thrones” is among recent shoots in this land of greenery and more glaciers than you can shake an icicle at.

(From the pages of the April 16 issue of Variety.)

(Pictured Above: Reykjavik.)

LIFESTYLE

With daylight sometimes only four to five hours, Icelanders have learned to be creative in the dark; the joke is that everyone in the country is writing a book. In fact, there is a 99% literacy rate, and the country is said to have the highest number of books read per person per year. And if they’re not writing or reading books, they’re forming a band. The homeless problem is virtually nonexistent. And so is homophobia. Iceland is a world leader in gay rights. Prime minister Sigurdardottir married her partner Jonina Leosdottir on June 27, 2010, the day that same-sex marriage became legal.

TRAVEL

Only about five hours from New York, Iceland is a summer playground with its lunar landscape, bubbling mud pools, spurting geysers, glaciers and waterfalls. The otherworldly Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions. Iceland’s summers are surprisingly warm, lush and green. Winters are glacial and dark. Reykjavik has a hip nightlife scene, and most people speak English. Food is often imported and expensive.

(Pictured Above: “Game of Thrones” shot in Iceland.)

FILM-TV

Iceland has a thriving film scene, both for local talent and as a target destination for filming. The local box office is recovering, with grosses up 2.7% to 1.5 billion krona ($8.1 million) in 2012. However this is due to an increase in ticket prices, since admissions were down to a still-impressive 1.4 million tickets sold last year, a 4.3% drop from 2011, according to the Icelandic Film Center. The average price for a movie ticket is $10. While “Skyfall” was the top grosser, two local pics, Kormakur’s “The Deep” and Oskar Thor Axelsson’s “Black’s Game” helped secure a sizable 10.5% share of the B.O. “The Deep” swept Iceland’s national film awards, the Eddas, taking 11 trophies. Other notable Icelandic helmers include Solveig Anspach, whose quirky dramedy “Queen of Montreuil” screened at Venice last year; Dagur Kari, whose Danish-language “Dark Horse” screened at Cannes in 2005; Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, who also heads top production outfit the Icelandic Film Corp.; and editor-turned-helmer Valdis Oskarsdottir whose 2008 debut “Country Wedding” traveled widely. As for location filming, Iceland is a popular spot, with “Game of Thrones,” “Oblivion,” this summer’s “Thor: The Dark World” and next year’s Darren Aronofsky-directed “Noah” joining such pics as Clint Eastwood’s duo of “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” as projects that shot or will shoot there. The Iceland Film Commission offers a tax rebate of up to 20%. Public broadcaster RUV operates one channel; otherwise, there are a dozen privately owned TV stations. Cable or satellite services are used in about half the country’s households.

(Pictured Above: Harpa reflected in the pond on the Harpa square.)

A CULTURE OF MUSIC

The music scene is surprisingly vital and diverse for such a small country. Aside from Bjork and the Sugarcubes, Iceland has produced ambient band Sigur Ros and folk-pop group Of Monsters and Men. Reykjavik is filled with clubs that feature music, drinking and dancing into the wee hours. And since its opening in May 2011, Harpa Concert Hall has hosted performers ranging from Tony Bennett to Gustavo Dudamel, as well as its own symphony and opera company. Pretty impressive for what is essentially a small town. But Icelanders are serious about their arts.

(Pictured Above: This horse finds the climate just right.)

INTERNET

There are 369,900 Internet hosts, a larger number than the population, and 99.5% of businesses use the Web. Besides being among the world’s top countries for Internet use, Iceland is becoming a global center of media and technology freedom. Critics say this status could be threatened by the prospective anti-porn legislation, which would affect content on computers, videogames, smartphones and other devices. There is already a ban in place on the sale of pornographic videos, as well as on strip clubs. Icelandic lawmakers who supporting the ban speak of pornography as being connected to violence. Supporters around the world see Iceland’s possible legislation as paving the way for a global ban on violent porn and its purported negative effects on the sex lives of adolescents.

OVERVIEW

Size: 103,000 sq. km
Terrain: Mountains, Meadows, Volcanoes, Lava Fields, Beaches, Bays and Fiords
Currency: Icelandic Krona
Languages: Icelandic, but nearly everyone’s fluent in English.

DEMOS

Population: 315,280
Population aged 24 and under: 34.4%
Population aged 25-54: 40.9%
Average age: 35.9

GLOBAL PERCEPTIONS

Bjork, volcanic eruptions that disrupt air traffic, and crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason.

COMMUNICATIONS

Internet hosts: 369,900
Landlines: 191,100
Mobile Phones: 344,100

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