Iceland punches above its weight in the film world, considering the number of film-makers and film-goers per capita in this small, isolated nation. The country's reputation is on the up thanks to increasingly high-profile work from the likes of Baltasar Kormakur, whose acclaimed thriller Jar City was launched in the US by IFC on February 29, and Ragnar Bragason, whose companion films Parents and Children have taken awards including Copenhagen's Golden Swan. Rising talent Olaf de Fleur won Berlin's Teddy for best feature for his documentary/fiction hybrid The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, which is also one of Sxsw's Emerging Visions selections.
"Some of our films have been doing very well at international festivals for the past few years, and that has inspired local film-makers, so there's a spiral effect," says Laufey Gudjonsdottir, director of the Icelandic Film Centre.
The infrastructure has improved since government support for film was changed in 2003. The Icelandic Film Centre, independent from the ministry of culture, has three separate funds: features, shorts and documentaries, and TV fiction. Government funding was boosted in late 2006 with slight increases planned through to 2010. In 2007, the feature-film fund offered about $4.8m (ikr298m), which will grow to $6.5m (ikr403m) in 2010. Also, in 2007 the government began to earmark funds - about $468,000 (ikr29m) - for minority co-productions for the first time.
There is more good news on the horizon. Ingvar Thordarson and Julius Kemp at the Icelandic Film Company and Kisi, which produced last year's biggest box-office hit Astropia are taking over 37 acres of a former US army base near Iceland's main airport, Keflavik, for Atlantic Studios, with three sound stages, post-production facilities and an underwater stage with geothermal water. Thordarson says the studio will open this spring. "This is the weapon Iceland needed," he adds of the world-class facilities. "Now we can offer the whole package."
Financially, Iceland has private wealth (and a big banking industry) but the country also has the shortest history of professional film-making in Europe. Gudjonsdottir says growth in the local TV sector will be beneficial to the film industry, and the government fund for TV drama will rise from $780,000 (ikr48m) in 2007 to nearly $2m (ikr124m) in 2010. Also, billionaire businessman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has started a private equity fund for TV projects that will also back some individual films.
Encouraging studio films to shoot in Iceland on a regular basis would also help sustain the local crews. International productions attracted to Iceland have increased since Lara Croft: Tomb Raider kicked off the trend in 2000, and recent visitors have included Hostel: Part II and New Line's forthcoming Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3D. But local producer Leifur B Dagfinnsson says that an even better tax rebate could entice more productions - the government upped the rebate from 12% to 14% in late 2006. "Hollywood's not looking at countries with less than 20% tax rebate," he says, adding that local producers are submitting a 20% proposal to the government in early 2008. Producer and Atlantic Studios backer Thordarson is calling for a minimum 18% rebate for productions as well as government tax assistance for companies working in film and other cultural areas.
An audience boom
One aspect of the film industry that is already booming in Iceland is exhibition. Local audiences are keen cinema-goers: according to Dodona Research, the average Icelander goes to the cinema 5.16 times per year, one of the world's highest averages. More than a quarter of the population went to see Jar City, for instance. Recent locally produced hits - aside from overall 2007 box-office champion Astropia - include The Quiet Storm (sold by MDN) which was in the top 20. And to kick-start 2008, Kormakur's White Night Wedding has sold more than 48,000 tickets so far and grossed more than $786,000 (ikr52m) in its seventh week of release for Sena.
The only downside is that cinema-going levels are expected to just hold steady over the next few years, as the market is saturated. Still, Arni Samuelsson of the leading distributor/exhibitor Samfilm, notes his company is expanding from 17 to 21 screens later this year with the launch of a new location in central Reykjavik.
"There's room for growth, but not much," he says. "When I started in the business 30 years ago, Iceland had the highest per capita film-going in the world and I expect it to continue much the same. That's Hollywood films but also local films - and I think in the next 10 years we'll see a growth in local productions."
|ICELAND TOP-10 FILMS OF 2007|
|Title (origin) Dist||gross|
|1 Astropia (Iceland) Samfilm||$720,343|
|2 Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (US) Samfilm||$672,908|
|3 The Simpsons Movie (US) Sena||$657,500|
|4 Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (UK-US) Sena||$606,311|
|5 Shrek The Third (US) Samfilm||$515,212|
|6 Die Hard 4.0 (US) Sena||$428,233|
|7 Spider-Man 3 (US) Sena||$383,208|
|8 300 (US) Samfilm||$352,800|
|9 Mr Bean's Holiday (UK-US-Fr) Samfilm||$329,689|
|10 Transformers (US) Samfilm||$318,691|
|Source: Smais - Association of film rights holders in Iceland. $1 = ikr64.87|
Olaf De Fleur, director
De Fleur's The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, a hybrid of fiction and documentary, was an oft-mentioned Panorama selection at the Berlinale, where it won the Teddy award for best feature. The film is also at Sxsw. He has previously directed documentaries including Africa United, and with Raquela, De Fleur turns his attention to ladyboys from the Philippines who look for love abroad. His next film, Reykjavik-set crime comedy The Higher Force starring The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli, will have its Icelandic premiere on March 28. De Fleur's production company is Poppoli Pictures.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.poppoli.com
Gunnar B Gudmundsson, director
Gudmundsson's debut feature Astropia, about a socialite who finds herself working in a geeky fantasy store, beat Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End to top Iceland's box office in 2007. He is now adapting the script for Olafur Haukur Simonarson's novel Hullabaloo. Zik Zak will produce.
Contact: (354) 511 2019, zikzak.is
Grimur Hakonarson, director
His short, Wrestling, a love story about gay male wrestlers, was selected for Sundance 2008 after playing at Locarno and Rotterdam (it was also given a jury mention at Clermont-Ferrand). Hakonarson's graduation film from Famu in Prague, Slavek The Shit, was selected for Cannes Cinefondation. He now has a feature idea that may be produced by Baltasar Kormakur.
Arni Thor Jonsson, director
A commercials and music-video director who made his first short, Unholy Night, with Zik Zak. He is developing a horror feature.
Contact: (354) 511 2019, www.zikzak.is
Isold Uggadottir, writer-director
Uggadottir's short, Family Reunion, played at Sundance, London and 50 other festivals in 2006. The award winner followed a New York sculptor who returns to Iceland for her grandfather's birthday. He is in post-production on a 25-minute short, Committed, and is developing a feature script.
Contact: (354) 693 1375, email@example.com
White Night Wedding
Baltasar Kormakur follows Jar City with a theatre/feature project based on Chekhov's Ivanov, updated to modern-day Flatey Island in Iceland. The theatre production was launched in December at Reykjavik's National Theatre, and the film launched in January to great box-office results in Iceland (see main story). Kormakur's own Blueeyes Productions produced, and the director says it is a mixture of drama and comedy. "It's probably my best film," he adds.
Int'l sales: Celluloid Dreams, (33) 1 4970 0370
The Good Heart
Dagur Kari, whose credits include festival hits Noi The Albino and Dark Horse, is still waiting to begin shooting his next project, which is currently recasting. Local producers Zik Zak will shoot the English-language project in Iceland, Hungary and New York starting in late April.
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch, (33) 1 5301 5020
Oskar Jonasson's third feature stars Baltasar Kormakur, returning to his acting roots, as a sailor who takes on one last smuggling job. The project shot in Reykjavik during autumn 2007, and in Rotterdam in early 2008. It is now in post-production. Kormakur also produces, with Fridrik Thor Fridriksson and Rotterdam Films as co-producers.
Contact: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Valdis Oskarsdottir, editor of The Celebration (Festen) and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, makes her directorial debut with this family road trip/wedding comedy. Fortissimo will handle international sales, and a Cannes 2008 launch is possible. The film is currently in the editing process.
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales, (31) 20 627 3215
At The Edge Of The World
This documentary about child abuse at a remote government home is from Screaming Masterpiece veterans Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson and Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson. At The Edge Of The World premiered locally in October 2007, and the film-makers are now taking it to this month's Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.
Solveig Anspach wrote and directed this quirky road movie about a Reykjavik woman trying to give up her lucrative business as a marijuana dealer to build a better life for her family. Zik Zak produces with France's Ex Nihilo and Agat Films, and a Cannes 2008 launch is planned.
Int'l sales: Bac Films, (33) 1 5353 5252
Baltasar Kormakur, actor, director and producer
Kormakur's Blueeyes production company has several of his own films in the works, including a further project about Jar City's protagonist Detective Erlendur, Lady In Green; a spaghetti western Viking story based on Icelandic sagas; and some English-language projects. In addition, Kormakur produces individually and in partnership with Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. He is also a theatre director, and chairman of the Association of Icelandic Film Producers.
Contact: email@example.com, (354) 511 7060
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, writer, director and producer
Nominated for an Oscar in 1992 for Children Of Nature, Fridriksson is chairman of the Association of Icelandic Film Directors. His company, Icelandic Film Corporation, ran into financial difficulty a few years ago, but he recently began producing again with Baltasar Kormakur. His latest film as a director is a documentary about families affected by autism. Tentatively titled Sunman, it is in production with Frontier Filmworks.
Ingvar Thordarson and Julius Kemp, producers and empire builders
Thordarson and Kemp's production outfit, Icelandic Film Company (which worked on box-office smash Astropia as Kisi Production), now has plans to build Atlantic Studios, a high-tech facility near Keflavik airport, 50km from Reykjavik.
Contact: Icelandic Film Company, (354) 562 4615
Arni Samuelsson and Bjorn Sigurdsson, distributors
The respective heads of Samfilm and Sena, Iceland's leading distributors, with a combined market share of more than 80%. Each company also owns cinemas. Myndform also distributes and runs one cinema, and Green Light is the country's arthouse distributor.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Hronn Marinosdottir, festival director
The founder and director of the popular Reykjavik International Film Festival.
Truenorth, production and services
Provides services for international productions and makes its own film and TV productions. Other major service outfits are Sagafilm (Die Another Day) and Pegasus (The Girl In The Cafe).
Contact: (354) 511 1510, www.truenorth.is
Laufey Gudjonsdottir, director, Icelandic Film Centre
The centre co-ordinates funding for local films and co-productions, and Gudjonsdottir has been its director since 2003.
Contact: (354) 562 3580; www.icelandicfilmcentre.is
Zik Zak Filmworks
Skuli Fr Malmquist and Thor S Sigurjonsson founded Zik Zak in 1995 and their hits include Noi The Albino. They are producing Dagur Kari's The Good Heart, Ragnar Bragason's The Whisperer and Solveig Anspach's Back Soon, and have more than 20 projects in development. Malmquist says: "One of our objectives is to make more films for children and teenagers, a group largely neglected by local productions."
Contact: (354) 511 2019, www.zikzak.is.