As 2009 drew to a close, I asked many of Iceland’s leading filmmakers a number of questions about the local film industry as well as their own work. This was for a feature focusing on Icelandic film talent that ran in UK music magazine Clash that you can read online right here.
Your films often blur the boundaries between documentary and fiction. Why is this approach so appealing to you?
Coming from documentaries explains it very clearly. I’d made 4-5 feature docs before going into fiction, so it felt natural go mid-way. It’s not a very conscious choice, it just developed like that. Now however I’m checking something else out, and have little idea how my next approach will be. There is of course no right or wrong, doing is
the most important thing.
Your films are distributed directly through your own Poppoli Pictures website; people can pay to stream the films or can order copies on DVD. Was this system chosen to enable you greater independence as a filmmaker? Or is it simply a case of necessity as there are limited routes that Icelandic directors can take to bring their films to an audience?
We also have a download option now. It’s here to stay so we have our latest film Queen Raquela open for download. It’s just a matter of principle, where you should be able to buy from the filmmaker directly. We have good co-work with our distributors who put our films out there, having it available at our website is just being fancy. The
distribution system is changing so quickly, a part of the power has left the old structure and disappeared into the internet which is still extremely vague. I believe that working with a distributor is essential, but they can’t have all the power they used to have, like getting films for 20-30 years.
You’ve branched out beyond Iceland by collaborating with Stefan Schaefer on Circledrawers, which was also filmed in America with some relatively high profile actors. What has this done to increase your international profile? Was that one of your aims with the series?
That was mainly done out of boredom, we just decided to go for it and see what would happen. I have no idea if it raised any profile, but it has distributed very well over the internet, on various channels it has been seen by 100,000 individuals which is pretty massive. We hope to work on this Circledrawer world again with a proper budget.
Various Icelandic bands have found an audience in the UK (Bjork, Sigur Ros, mum, Minus, Emiliana Torrini and various others), but hardly any Icelandic films have been released here despite there being a healthy appreciation of international cinema. What would you say are the reasons for this?
Not being in the UK I can’t really know. Looking from Iceland to other markets my guess would be that the UK market is simply flooded with titles and perhaps a little closed off. These are very different beasts, film vs. music, distribution wise.
Can Icelandic film offer something new to an international audience? What are the nation’s main strengths and weaknesses in filmmaking?
Of course, but it’s more dependant upon the filmmaker and his vision. It’s important to have a good supporting system like the Film Fund here in proper shape. In terms of weaknesses and strengths I’d say that we’re still in our adolescent years, experience and budget wise with healthy exceptions. We’re mainly doing very low-budget films but with presentable results festival and distribution wise.
Despite Iceland’s recent economic problems, the film industry seems to be flourishing. Why is this? Does such a situation inspire creativity in spite of creating more practical problems?
It’s not. The “flourishing” part is a result of the funding from 2007, when things were still ok. We’ll a horrendous decline in 2010-2013 because the government is backing down from agreement they made with filmmakers and the Film Fund.
The government has recently announced cuts in its financial support of the film industry. Will this kill the Icelandic film industry just as it has the potential to grow into a useful export? What impact will this have upon your own work?
I don’t really know. This cut means that we’ll only do 3-4 films per year instead of 6-8 films. So it’s a dramatic cut. The impact on my own work, I’m not so sure. I’m not really thinking about that at this moment, I’m a workaholic and will always find ways to express that sickness. But I’m extremely disappointed in the budget cuts at the Film Fund because it was in a very good shape until this happened.