Hot Icelandic Film Festival

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when hearing the word “Iceland”? Is it Björk, northern lights or maybe fishing? Located in the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of about 300,000 people, this icy-land surprised me with a big splash of creativity!

Written by Kaori Nishida

During March 4th to 10th the Bio 06 Icelandic Film Festival 2006 took place in Shibuya’s EUROSPACE. (Bio means “film theater” in Icelandic by the way.)

Most films appeared really different and fresh (due to deep-freeze?): a rare selection of material you don’t usually get to see in Japan! Ranging from footage of 5 to 14 year old Björk performing over to Sigur Ros’s latest music video and a silent film capturing the dynamic landscape of Iceland… impressive works from up and coming Icelandic film directors could be experienced!

so crowded that some people had to stand!

young Björk performing at: Rock in Reykjavik (1982)

“Niceland”(2004)

Besides the films there were loads of fun events during the festival. CINEMA dub MONKS simply took my breath away by combining their sounds and visuals to an intoxicating “film-like” performance.

Then I was also quite touched by an exhibition of the Japan based photographer Becky Yee. Being famous for her VIP photos, she surprised me with the most beautiful landscape photographs of Iceland.

I actually didn’t expect that many people to be into Icelandic stuff, but in fact the festival was packed everyday: simply everyone seemed to be keen on finding out about this distant northern island. Naturally, that made me a little curious and I tried to find out more about the organizers of this festival. Haruka Hama, who organized this Iceland Film Festival for the very first time was happy to answer some of my questions.

Ms. Hama, the festival director

How come you got to choose Icelandic films for a festival? I mean… that is quite a rare topic, isn’t it?

Hama: During the time I worked for the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival I had a chance to view some entries from Iceland – and I was simply fascinated. At that point I already thought: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could feature a whole festival on Icelandic films alone!??” Finding enough material wasn’t difficult. Even though the film business has only been around for 20 years in Iceland and they only produce about 4-5 new movies per year, people in Iceland watch way more films than other Scandinavian countries and it seems like their big interest and awareness of films results in a very high quality of “home-grown” material.

Thanks a lot, Ms. Hama!

I must say, I was very lucky to get to meet quite a lot of the directors and people involved in the actual making of the movies. One of them was Iceland’s emerging star director Dagur Kari! (The cafe shot with the elephant from his film “Dark Horse” was used as the festival main visual.)

So – Mister Kari, what is the creative scene in Iceland like??


dir. Dagur Kari at QA after screening.

“Dark Horse”(2005) NB: no special effects used!

Kari: Well – Iceland is a small country, so the creative community is not so big! For example I also play in a band, but that is not so unusual. In fact, for someone to play in four different bands wouldn’t be considered as strange. I do feel, that people have a really strong passion for whatever projects they are involved in, though! Most start playing in bands or something when at the age of 13 years or so and besides people are used to make things happen without spending money.


“Dark Horse”(2005)

“Dark Horse”(2005)

Sounds like a good place to be in! Where do you get elephants in Iceland, though?

Kari: In the film “Dark Horse”, we used three real elephants and I find that such crazy ideas are usually the easiest to realize. All I had to do is just one phone call and on the next day this guy turned up with three elephants. The difficult part was rather the fact that we shot the film in over 100 different locations in Copenhagen and the weather kept changing all the time…


“101 Reykjavik”(2000)

“Ikingut”(2000)

Let me introduce yet another, Icelandic VIP in the film industry: Ms. Valdis Oskarsdottir, one of the most prominent female film editors. In her list of recent works are many names of renowned directors and projects such as Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004) directed by Michel Gondry which – due to her editing skills – has won the 2005 Orange British Film Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Others include “Julien Donkey-Boy”(1999) directed by Harmony Korine and “Finding Forrester”(2000) directed by Gus Van Sant.

Ms. Valdis Oskarsdottir

We had a little chat with Valdis Oskarsdottir about the little secret of her success and what it’s like to work with the “big boys”!

Valdis Oskarsdottir: Working with Michel Gondry was a really interesting and inspiring experience – for both of us, I believe. It was clear that he has a very consolidated talent for putting his imagination into film and that was a very good base for me to work with. On the other hand, I think that of the things he learnt through working with me was that there are editors who can still say “NO!” – even to people like him. (big smile)


“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”(2004)

“Remote Control”(1992), editor: Ms. Valdis

How did you get into editing in the first place?

Valdis Oskarsdottir: Well, I started off working as a photographer for papers and also worked for the radio industry here and there. I then got into a film school where the big goal of all students was to become either a director or a producer. However, when I edited my first film there, I was shocked how exciting it was and therefor decided to stay with editing for the rest of my life.

So what is the life like, as a female editor?

Valdis Oskarsdottir: In order to work as an editor you really need to be tough! Lots of crying, lots of ups and downs! Editing requires your total dedication. There is no difference between men and women, I find.

How long does it take to edit one movie?

Valdis Oskarsdottir: A normal-long film takes about 9 to 10 months to edit. Long movies might take up to 2 years. During that period all you can think of is the film and nothing but the film. I sometimes wake up saying “Yes! What a cool cut!” and realize, that it was just dream. When ever I finish one film, I feel like I don’t ever want to come close to computers again – or directors! But then – in two or three months time, I feel like there is something – and already find myself editing again.

© becky yee photography, all rights reserved

The walls of the EUROSPACE lobby are covered with huge photographs of Icelandic sceneries captured by Becky Yee. We asked this energetic and cheerful photographer based in Tokyo about her trip to Iceland.

Photographer Becky Yee

Becky Yee: Iceland is great! You have over two hours of twilight, the magical time for photographers. Not only that – the sceneries actually look like these photos: really green, purple, and shocking pink. Absolutely beautiful! I didn’t use any filters to adjust colors. It’s just the way they came. Actually, I believe it’s difficult not to take beautiful photos in Iceland.


© becky yee photography, all rights reserved

© becky yee photography, all rights reserved

Must have been super cold, though!?

Becky Yee: The shooting was tough: two little Asian girls climbing up the mountains in waist high snow with heavy equipment. Even when we managed to get up the mountain, the wind was so strong that the tripots were shaking. Besides, the wind melted the ice surface, so we were slowly sliding down the hill as we were shooting. But throughout this whole incident I was actually touched me by the vastness and power of Iceland’s nature. I wanted to capture this wild and row energy in my photos.

“Skagafjordur”(2004)

During this film festival, a rare collaboration of Icelandic film and Japanese music performance took place. Director Peter Hutton, renowned for his experimental films, showed stunning landscapes of Iceland acting as some kind of silent landscape documentary titled “Skagafjordur”. CINEMA dub MONKS, a musical unit from Okinawa, highly acclaimed internationally for their elegant sound and image works, then added live-sound to the film “Skagafjordur”. A completely packed venue kept totally quiet and paid full attention to this serene performance.

Again we were lucky to find some time to chat to the actual artists.

“Skagafjordur”(2004)

How was it for you, from tropical Okinawa to create sounds for an Icelandic film?

CINEMA dub MONKS: I was in Okinawa when I got this phone call from Tokyo saying “We’re going to organize an Icelandic film festival! Do you think you can come?” I didn’t have a clue about Iceland – so I actually went to the local library in Okinawa to it look up. Knowing that the film consists of vast Icelandic landscapes, we started wondering how it would feels to be and live in Iceland. Then we sort of weaved that it into a story about a day in the life of a man from Iceland. To these amazing sceneries, we added sound samples from my kitchen, me taking a walk outside, etc – to add some every day stuff and then Gandhi plays the contrabass: a wavering masuculine sound for the man’s reminiscence.

CINEMA dub MONKS from right: Gandhi (contrabass), Toru Ishikawa (visuals) and Daiho Soga (ukulele, flute, sampler, etc.)

Daiho at interview, laid-back.

Tapes! sampling sounds from dish-washing, walking, coughing, and busy traffics.

CINEMA dub MONKS: It must be quite something living somewhere where all you see is birds all day and not a single person. For the beautiful sunset imagery we used the sounds of ukulele to express what our fictive character may think at the end of such a beautiful day. On the whole, I think we had about three test sessions in Okinawa – where we watched this film about a country of ice. That was fun!

The air in Iceland is so crystal clear – that perspectives seem to shift. The beauty created at this island sparkled all the way over to Tokyo!

If this makes you hungry for Icelandic films: “Bio 06 Icelandic Film Festival 2006″ visits Kobe on March 18th to 20th at Kobe Art Village Center. Enjoy the fresh inspiration!

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    Hm…. I doubt it, that this will come to NY, but if you are interested, why not trying to organize one over there ;-)

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    And what about South Africa? people here LURRVV films…we often have film festivals but would be exciting to see an Icelandic one.. ? :)

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