Berlinale: Iceland’s Mystery, Truenorth Productions Add Author Stefan Mani’s Works to Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

Davíð Ólafsson of Mystery Productions and Kristinn Thordarson and Leifur Dagfinnsson of Truenorth talk about their upcoming projects coming out of Iceland.

The Hidden Test
Courtesy of Ironbox Films

Mystery Productions have been garnering attention for more than a year for their Icelandic production, series “Prisoners.” Determined to ride this wave of momentum, they have teamed up with Truenorth to fill a jam-packed slate of new projects going forward.

Continuing their work on the small screen, the companies’ new series, “The Valhalla Murders,” is an international detective drama with a poignant local twist. The series will tell the story of a displaced detective who, against his will, is ordered to leave his life in Denmark to investigate a series of murders in Iceland. Dark parts of his past will be brought back to the fore as he is forced to battle his own demons as well as the island nation’s first serial killer.

Meanwhile, for theatrical distribution, the production companies are working with writer Ottar Nordfjord and director Thor Saevarsson on their horror thriller “The Hidden.” The remote Icelandic mountains beckon to a group of geologists as the ideal local to pursue their research on a dam that looks poised to flood the valley below and, as fortune would have it, they’ve found the perfect cabin in which to execute said research in spite of a less enthusiastic welcome from the locals. Not unpredictably, things start going wrong for the scientists and Iceland’s folklore history of a hidden people, cast out of the Garden of Eden by God as a result of Eve’s actions, offers a possible, if entirely fantastic, explanation. The students are forced to fight for their survival, deciding where the real threat lies.

The companies have also recently acquired a number of stories from Iceland’s enormously popular author Stefan Mani. Know for his dark detective novels, Mani has created a string of bestsellers and had one of his works adapted to the big screen with 2012’s “Black’s Game.” Mystery and Truenorth will be looking to do the same with these properties for TV, starting with Mani’s most recent work, “Black Magic.”

As local productions across Europe become more and more in demand both Mystery and Truenorth stand poised to raise their game in the Nordic market. In the run-up to Berlin’s Drama Series Days, Kristinn Thordarson and Leifur Dagfinnsson from Truenorth and Davíð Ólafsson from Mystery answered questions about the three projects for Variety.

Your new series “The Valhalla Murders” is going to be a detective drama, but you have added another dimension by including a history of abuse both in the past of some characters, as well as the victims for whom they are advocating. What was the impetus behind attaching the subject of abuse to your story lines?

Our director Thordur had been looking into the story of Breidavik, a home for troubled boys in Iceland, and he was appalled at the mishandling and abuse when it was uncovered a few years ago. He couldn’t help but feel sorrow and anger towards the system that was put in place to protect them and failed them so tragically. We felt that this was an interesting starting point to build on where we take a look at these tragic stories.

What other ways will you look to separate this program from the deluge of detective dramas being imported onto Icelandic screens?

Our story will take on a serial killer set in Iceland which will be the first time that such a story will be told and with the background that we mentioned before: It will become a story that will touch people emotions as well as thrilling them.

You have recently acquired the rights to adapt a number of stories from one of Iceland’s most popular authors, Stefan Mani. Can you tell us which books you are looking to adapt and in what formats you are looking to adapt them?

We are thrilled that we obtained the options to his books. They have been bestsellers each year and we aim to turn them into an eight’to’ten part TV-series. We will start by looking at the newest book, “Black Magic,” which was released last Christmas in Iceland.

What was it about Mani’s work that initially attracted you to choosing it for adaptation? Will you step outside of the traditional drama types and integrate some of the fantasy aspects of his writings. or will you be sticking to his more grounded-in-reality stories?

We have been following Stefan Mani ever since his book “Blacks Game” was turned into a movie. His stories are mainstream and approachable and his main character Hrafn Grímsson is a very interesting person. We will most likely keep to reality rather then fantasy but we will integrate the clairvoyance ability of the main character in the story.

“The Hidden” will take horror audiences back into a remote cabin in a harsh and unforgiving environment. With the film you will be melding a classic movie trope with Icelandic folklore. Can you talk a bit about how these two themes will work together?

Icelandic folklore is a topic that hasn’t been fully utilized in cinema in Iceland even though it is a huge part of our upbringing. With our story, we are able to integrate horror with lore which makes for a very interesting story. Also taking the specific lore about the Hidden People, we are able to make a deeper connection to nature which plays a very big role in this story and we hope to be able to give a new twist to the classic horror genre.

What can you tell us about the cast and crew of “The Hidden”?

Our director Thor Saevarsson is a well-established commercial director with over 10 years under his belt. He has a great understanding of the cinematic language which in our opinion will help us to deliver something which is amazing. Ottar Nordfjord, our writer, is a best selling author turned scriptwriter. We are working on several projects with him such as “Valhalla.” He has such an understanding and finesse when it comes to storytelling that his scripts become very visual. The producing team is strong. We are three companies that are teaming up on “Valhalla”: Iceland’s Mystery Productions and Truenorth and the U.K’s Ironbox Films. The movie is being cast at the moment out of London and we hope to be able to announce actors around Cannes.

The majority of your resume as a production company resides in the world of cinema, but you have recently made the movie into TV. What influenced you to cross over?

TV is a very interesting platform. It gives you time to dwell with stories and characters and build up something special. Also, in the last couple of years, the demand for good quality TV coming from Iceland has become overwhelming. We are just adjusting to new interesting ways to tell interesting stories that have the potential to reach a very broad audience