Icelandic Cinema: Women and Youngsters First Now!

in 11th Reykjavík International Film Festival

by Pamela Pianezza

With its astounding landscapes and striking music scene (just listen to the opening scene of Paris of the North by Prins Polo), Iceland is obviously an inspiring territory for artists, and filmmakers more specifically. But, the most striking update is that a new generation of women are forging their way in the film industry, until now dominated by men. News Welcomed by Hrönn Marinósdóttir, director of the Reykjavik Film Festival (RIFF).

Did it all begin when her grand parents, and then her parents, ran a cinema in downtown Reykjavik? Was it when she moved to Spain for a short time and discovered how Almodovar’s films were able to “introduce a new and powerful representation of women and Spain as an exciting territory of cinema”? Or, was it when she attended the Berlinale for the first time and realised “how much the presence of a festival could completely change the atmosphere of the city”? Whatever the motivation, it is no wonder Hrönn Marinósdóttir ended up creating and running a festival in her hometown: the Reykjavik Film Festival.

Despite appearances (Northern countries and their so-called gender equality), becoming the powerful ringmaster we met in the festival’s headquarters was no picnic for Hrönn Marinósdóttir. “Iceland is still a very mannish society, where the people in charge, especially in the business, are usually men. Otherwise, we wouldn’t even need a Party for Women, like the one we’ve got at the Parliament.”

RIFF is doing well, showing its fangs to the sceptics who try to put it down, like the fearsome and fuming puffin displayed on last year’s poster. Despite the loss of some funding, Hrönn Marinósdóttir remains convinced of the legitimacy of “her” festival, in a city that lost all its independent theatres but one (the Bio Paradis, owned by the Association of filmmakers). “I’m absolutely sure that one of the main purposes of a festival should be to observe and analyse the current debates in society, then to take part in the discussion and to offer food for thought through its programming.”


Could RIFF also become a showcase for Icelandic cinema? “I’m generally very optimistic concerning the future of Icelandic cinema, states Hronn. And I’m especially happy and proud to witness that female filmmakers are pretty well represented among the new generation. 50% of the directors in our Icelandic short competition were women.” Pretty good news in a country whose most famous faces abroad during the last decades have mostly been men; from Fridrik Thor Fridriksson to Baltasar Kormakur. “We forget it too often, but there’re strong female filmmakers in the history of Icelandic cinema,” Marinósdóttir reminds us. “Gu?ny Halldórsdóttir or Kristín Jóhannesdóttir, just to name a few”. Among the new generation, Thora Hilmarsdóttir grabbed my attention with her first short film, SUB ROSA, a poetic and sensual variation on the end of innocence, which received a special mention from the jury.


For now the country more or less produces three features (one of our favourites this year being Paris of the North, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s irresistible familial comedy), and one or two TV series each year. But a day spent at Bio Paradis, watching excerpts from upcoming documentaries, suggests that the near future of Icelandic cinema may also rely on non-fiction — films made with short budgets but that show ingenuity and a true sense of freedom, like Yrsa Roca Fannberg’s Salóme, the film that won this year’s prestigious Best Nordic Documentary Award at the Nordisk Panorama Festival.

Edited by Tara Judah