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Icelandic Films in Progress Presented at Stockfish Film Festival

Icelandic filmmakers provide a first look at upcoming Icelandic films at the Stockfish Film Festival in Selfoss, Iceland. Six films are presented in the Work in Progress section of the festival.

Three Fiction Films in the Making

Audiences at the Icelandic Stockfish Film Festival got the first look at six films in the making. Clips from three fiction feature films and three documentaries were presented in the Work in Progress section at the festival, which holds its 8th ceremony from March 24 to April 3 in Reykjavik. The filmmakers each gave a short introduction to their films, which are all in the early stages of shooting, at an event on March 26 in Selfoss.

“Stockfish is an opportunity to get attention for your film and to make connections and network,” says filmmaker Lyður Árnason, who is at Stockfish presenting his feature film The Wreck from which he showed a few scenes. “What it means for me and my film is yet to be seen,” he adds.

Lyður Árnason’s The Wreck is a film about an Icelandic woman who is part of a diving group, who decides to investigate the events surrounding the death of her grandmother, who drowned in a remote fjord in Iceland many years ago. Her body was never discovered and her death remains a mystery.

“She convinces the divers to go with her to Iceland,” explains filmmaker Lyður Árnason about The Wreck. “During this mission, she finds out what really happened to her grandmother.”

The film Loss is about an older gentleman whose wife passes away and leaves him longing for her presence, while he is haunted by memories of everything he has lost. The film is directed by Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon and produced by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. The latter presented a few clips from the film, which reveals that in spite of its serious subject, it also has many humorous moments.

“I don’t think you can make a film that is only about grief,” says Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. “It is kind of a trip into life, and death of course is the only fact in life. So you do find humor in the film.”

Vergo is about a woman, Maria, who passes away on a star-gazing trip and leaves behind her husband Atli and 19-year-old daughter Anna, who are left bereft by the death of their respective wife and mother. They have to find a way to deal with their sorrow and find their way forward in life.

“It is important as a first step to give the audience a feel for the mood of the story and present Vergo to a wider group outside the domestic territory,” says Ásthildur Kjartansdóttir, who is directing the film and showed short clips at Stockfish of the lead actress in the role as Anna. “Filmmaking is a collective process in so many ways, so networking with professionals from various strands in the industry is important.”



Dealing With Reality

Three Icelandic documentary films were presented at Stockfish. The team behind the documentary Johnny King showed scenes from the film directed by Árni Sveinsson, which is a film about an old Icelandic country singer who is trying to make a comeback in spite of his declining health.

 A Deal with Chaos by Anton Máni Svansson is about how the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s turbulent early years affected his creative process throughout his life and, shows how he never seemed to acknowledge his own talent.

“We are going to show his creative process,” says Anton Máni Svansson about the composer. “How this shy teenager, who was part of a rock band in Reykjavik, grew up in this way and went on to become who he became.  It is very interesting and inspiring. He said at some point that he had to work twice as hard because he did not have any real talent and that is how he thought of himself. He just worked like crazy and it is very inspiring, but it is also sad. I think it will be an amazing film because he was an amazing man.”

The Tower by director Isold Uggadottir is about a horrific scandal in the Icelandic Catholic Church, which was kept under wraps for decades.

Producer Kristín Andrea Þórðardóttir, who is part of the research team on the film, points out that The Tower is a familiar story, which is an important piece of a bigger and global picture. It shows how the Catholic Church in Iceland allowed continuous, serious abuse within its walls for decades by two main perpetrators; Father George, a Dutch native and the principal of the Catholic school, and a German schoolteacher named Margrethe Müller.

“The two of them collaborated on the abuse by seeking out and breaking the most vulnerable children, who either came from broken homes or had working-class parents who had to work a lot to make ends meet,” says ProducerKristín Andrea Þórðardóttir. “Their abuse tactics were systematic and the pattern seems to indicate that several victims from each class year were subjected to their violence.”

The perpetrators were active from the mid-fifties until around the late nineties: four different bishops served as heads of the church during that time. According to Kristín Andrea Þórðardóttir, at least two bishops ignored complaints of sexual abuse.

“The harm they have caused to Icelandic society is unfathomable and the effects of this harm may be felt for decades to come,” she stresses. ”Many of the victims have faced severe challenges later in life and the consequences have affected so many around them. Many have suffered from PTSD and struggled with substance abuse, some have lost custody of their children, been sentenced to prison, etc.”


A Small Population but a Big Film Nation

Iceland is a small nation with only around 370,000 inhabitants, but in comparison with its size, it has a rather large film business with around 10 films being released each year.  The reasons for this large number of film productions are related to both tradition and funding opportunities.

“Aside from being a nation of storytellers, the infrastructure for film financing and production are quite strong,” explains filmmaker Anna G Magnúsdóttir, who highlights The State Reimbursement incentive as an important factor. “It has been a huge boost for Icelandic filmmaking and a big step into the international world of filmmaking, opening up for collaboration between Icelandic filmmakers and some of the best creative professionals in the industry.”

Producer Kristín Andrea Þórðardóttir points out that storytelling – whether it be through literature, songwriting, or filmmaking – has been the cornerstone of Icelandic culture for centuries.

“The Icelandic film industry keeps on growing, and is made up of a good talent pool of skilled professionals who work both on Icelandic productions and foreign service projects,” she says. “So I think it may be a mix of an urge for storytelling and evermore people developing a talent for the medium.”

There is also something about the Icelandic mentality that makes them good film producers according to Lyður Árnason.

“We are islanders, and stubborn as such,” he says. “The space is plenty, we are few people and we do what we want to do.  We have a good understanding of culture, which is reflected both in the authorities but also in the common mind. The rest is craziness rarely found elsewhere.”