Icelandic film industry reports little disruption from last week’s volcanic eruption, with local crews busy assisting foreign news crews; Baltasar Kormakur shoots volcanic footage to potentially use in his new viking epic.

If the global film industry heard the word “Iceland” in the past week, it might have been preceded by an expletive.

The country’s volcanic eruption at Eyjafjallajökull triggered an ash cloud that caused flight chaos across Europe, impacting many in the international film business at home or abroad. But the volcano didn’t actually disrupt most lives in Iceland – and indeed Keflavik airport near Reykjavik remained open during the flight ban (winds were blowing ash the other way).

Screen caught up with the Icelandic film industry this week to discuss the volcano’s impact on business there (or lack thereof) and the potential PR damage to the country as a destination for international film production. The country has previously hosted shoots ranging from Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers to Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, and also has an active local industry.

Iceland‘s Film Commissioner Einar Tomasson tells Screen that only one project (an ad shoot) was cancelled the week of April 19. “We are still expecting projects to be on time since the eruption is slowing down,” he notes. “Ash has fallen in the vicinity of the volcano in southern Iceland, but is not expected to reach the capital area or spread to other parts of the country.”

Leifur B. Dagfinnsson of Icelandic production and services company Truenorth reveals that the company was shooting a Guinness commercial on a glacier nearby when the volcano erupted, and even then the shooting schedule wasn’t disrupted, although transport to Reykjavik was temporarily interrupted. Another project was impacted by flight chaos.

Laufey Gudjonsdottir, director of the Icelandic Film Centre, notes there has been some short-term upside for the local industry. “Many filmmakers are actually busy assisting and servicing foreign crews that are coming into the country from all over,” she tells Screen.

Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur (101 Reykjavik, Jar City) said the volcanic eruption provided a bit of creative inspiration for him – he went to shoot some footage of the eruption to insert into one of his forthcoming projects, a big-budget Viking epic. The film is hoping to finalise its financing soon.

He’s not the only one with that idea — Tómasson says that one US studio was thinking of coming over to shoot the lava to use in a future film.

Kormakur noted that the eruption was “only affecting a very small part of the country” and its something locals are accustomed to: “It is a thing you learn to live with as the Icelandic weather,” he says.  

Another local filmmaker, Olaf de Fleur (Higher Force, The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela) is one of a slim few whose film was directly impacted by the eruption. He is currently shooting a project called City State, and had to postpone some of the more difficult scenes because the Icelandic rescue workers were called to stand-by for volcano needs. He notes that this was a quick postponement and that otherwise filming in Reykjavik wasn’t interrupted.

Hronn Marinosdottir, head of the Reykjavik International Film Festival (held each September) says the volcano shouldn‘t have any impact on this year‘s festival, unless it provides artistic inspiration. She says: “Foreign festivalgoers might have more interest in volcanoes in general so perhaps we will have a special volcano section at RIFF this autumn!”

Gudjonsdottir adds that “it’s “too early to say” if perceptions coming to Iceland to film have been damaged for the future. “The international press exaggerates the scenery; a relatively small area is affected by the volcano, we do not even see its clouds from Reykjavik which is 90-100 km away. The infrastructure is solid, the police closes roads, sends out warnings etc., so people are safe.”

RIFF’s Marinosdottir thinks it could have a long-term beneficial effect by showing international film-makers Icleand’s stunning nature: “Film-makers are looking for raw and/or untouched, magnificent nature and here we have enough. As well it is always being reshaped, always new, this is the magic of Iceland.”

Truenorth sent out a cheeky email early the week of April 19, proclaiming “no worries, business as usual” with a photo of people golfing in Iceland as the volcano erupted in the distance. “95% of the terrain is free of ash and basically unaware of the volcanic activity,” Truenorth’s Dagfinnsson added.