Posted by: Ben Hopkins | 05/03/2010

Q&A: Baltasar Kormákur

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.

Today it’s the turn of Baltasar Kormákur. Perhaps best known as the director, producer and writer of 101 Reykjavik and Jar City, Kormákur also returned to acting for his lead role in 2008’s Rotterdam-Reykjavik.

More on his projects can be found here.

Baltasar Kormákur in Reykjavik-Rotterdam

Your films Reykjavik 101 and Jar City are two of the few Icelandic films to be widely available in the UK. What do you think allowed them to both reach a British audience where other Icelandic films haven’t?

Both of those films travelled the world though the British market is one the hardest to crack (more difficult than the US). It is very hard to understand what makes a film travel. I try not to think to much about it when I am making them so it will not affect my choices. I try to stay as authentic and grounded as the project allows me.

Jar City and Rotterdam-Reykjavik are both being remade for an American audience. Is there a sense of frustration that the remakes will be seen by far more people than the originals, or are you simply happy that they should open doors for Icelandic film talent in the longer term?

I think for the original it is a win-win situation. That the film will be remade gives the original more attention and might help it to reach more people. I have never heard anyone say I am not going to see the original, I´ll wait for the remake. It also helps financially the company that produced the original and allow them to make more films in their native country. If the remake does not work then that doesn’t effect the original; Vanilla Sky did help Abre los ojos. If the remake turns out to be good then it helps everyone. The original film that The Departed is based on is seen by far more people than any other film from the filmmakers. I think they can partly thank Martin Scorsese for that.

Your upcoming movie Inhale is your second English language film since A Little Trip To Heaven. What did you learn from …Heaven that has helped with Inhale?

To try to shoot the film where it is supposed to take place or as close to it as possible. There is way too much effort that goes into changing a country so it looks like another one. Trust your instincts and if you feel something might not be going the right way, stop it right away because later that might not be an option. But there are also many things that I am proud of in that film even though it did not live up to my own expectations. Hopefully I will learn from all of my films and improve my work that way.

Can Icelandic film offer something new to an international audience? What are the nation’s main strengths and weaknesses in filmmaking?

I don’t know if we can teach the world anything new but we can try keep up a conversation with it. I am planning on trying to show the Viking world in a new light. I think we are pretty good in making films look more expensive then they are. I am sure someone could learn something from that. It is a very small industry which can be both a strength and a weakness at the same time. We have great writers in Iceland but very few work in the film industry.

A scene from his 2008 film White Night Wedding

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?

We have not seen the effect of the collapse yet as the government just cut 1/3 from the film fund for next year. I think there have always been economic problems in the Icelandic film industry so not much changed last year. Then again we are always adapting ourselves to new challenges.

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 think it will hurt the industry without a doubt. I am working in other countries as well so it will not have the same effect on me personally as it might for some of the younger filmmakers. Although it will slow down the output of my company, we have been producing films for young filmmakers as well as my films.

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