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Iceland’s Zik Zak, France’s Arizona Prep ‘The Tree’ (EXCLUSIVE)

‘Paris of the North’s’ Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson sets his third film

Iceland’s Zik Zak Fireworks and France’s Arizona Productions are teaming to produce “The Tree,” a partial change of direction for Iceland’s Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson whose first two features –  “Either Way” and “Paris of the North” – have carved out his reputation for appealing off-beat dramedy.

“A drama with some elements of an unusual thriller and some very darkly funny moments,” said Gunnar Sigurdsson, “The Tree” has a screenplay by “Paris” co-writer Huldar Breidfjord, the scribe of Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s “Niceland (Population 1,000,002).”

“The Tree” revolves around a dispute between neighbors over a tree that stands in a garden and casts a shadow on the neighboring patio, fuelling years of neighborly resentment. As car tires are slashed, pets disappear and Atli – the family son, separated, returned home – is forced to sleep in a tent in the garden to guard the precious family tree, lawyers get vicious, chainsaws appear, tempers run high and something has to give…

“In ‘The Tree,’ we follow so-called ordinary people so driven by anger and fear that they lose all dignity and sense, as they display the most abnormal and aggressive behavior,” said Gunnar Sigurdsson, calling “The Tree” “a very precisely composed film – a sharp blend of keenly observed human behavior and of suspense.”

He added: “Although set in Iceland, this is a very universal story. It’s about the moment when your home stops being a safe place, when your neighbors become your worst enemies and your closest environment becomes a war zone. But it’s also a film about grief, love, relationships, parenthood, childhood and trees of course.”

Gunnar Sigurdsson and Zik Zak producer Thorir Sigurjonsson will attend this week’s Berlin European Film Market to follow up on meetings taken at France’s Les Arcs Festival in December, with an aim to tying down potential co-producers and a sales agent. Gunnar Sigurdsson hopes to begin shooting within the next 12 months.

Announced to Variety just before July’s Karlovy Vary Fest, another Gunnar Sigurdsson project, “Kanari” – turning on an Icelander with a deep fear of flying on a flight from hell to Dusseldorf, and more of a comedy than “Paris of the North”- has not been shelved but will shoot after “The Tree,” said Gunnar Sigurdsson.

David Gordon Green remade the director’s debut, “Either Way,” as “Prince Avalanche,” which won Gordon Green a best director Silver Bear at the 2013 Berlin Festival.

In “Paris of the North,” Sigurdsson returns to a dramedic rural Iceland setting his sophomore outing in a moldering one-horse fishing village, total population 150, in Iceland’s North-West, in the middle of nowhere and on a promontory, dwarfed by a towering volcanic bluff, the imposing Thornfinnur.

That provides asylum from city life for Hugi (Bjorn Thors, seen in Baltasar Kormakur’s “Deep”) an ex-alcoholic who teaches at the village school, until his balance is shattered when his estranged father (Icelandic rock singer-actor Heigi Bjornsson) washes up in the village, back from running a bar in Thailand.

“’Paris of the North’ is a dramatic comedy about possible and impossible family ties. It is also an exploration of distances in human relationships – especially the ones that should feel very close – and about the crisis of masculinity,” Sigurdsson told Variety about the film, which was a warmly-received Competition entry at this week’s Goteborg Festival.

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