Historical overview of Icelandic films

A list of Icelandic films as shown on the Internet Movie Database is here.

A list of Icelandic film directors and their films (1962-2004) can be found here.

The history of Icelandic cinema begins in 1906, when a three-minute documentary was shot in Iceland by Alfred Lind. The first movie theatre opened in Reykjavík in 1906. Initially, most movie production in Iceland was foreign, largely Scandinavian, using the Iceland landscape for filming Icelandic stories and plays. The first and only all-Icelandic fiction film made during the silent film era was the short The Adventures of Jon and Gvendur (Ævintýri Jóns og Gvendar), made in 1923, although several documentaries were made, both foreign and domestic, during that period. The Icelandic documentary film Moving Pictures (Ísland í lifandi myndum) was released in 1925. The first color talkie in Icelandic Between Mountain and Shore (Milli fjalls og fjöru) came out in 1948. All three were made by Loftur Guðmundsson. From a similar period, filmmaker Óskar Gíslason can also be described as a pioneer of the Icelandic cinema. Other key films from the "early period" of Icelandic cinema are for example Girl Gogo (79 af stöðinni) by Erik Balling (1962) and Murder Story (Morðsaga) by Reynir Oddsson (1977), a Chabrolesque thriller and a prologue to things to come. 

1979 marks the beginning of regular film production in Iceland. That same year The Icelandic Film Fund (now The Icelandic Film Centre) started operation and the first film to receive support from the fund, Land and Sons (Land og synir) by Ágúst Guðmundsson, premiered on January 25th 1980. Since then we have produced around 70 feature films, i.e. almost three a year on average, but later years have shown a steady increase.

Since 1979 a considerable amount of production costs has come from abroad, not least from Germany, where producers and TV-stations have shown a lot of interest and goodwill all along. Co-productions with foreign investors have become more and more common. This has, in a way, influenced the content and style of some of the films, as foreign staff and foreign languages have made their mark.

The majority of Icelandic films deal with contemporary stories and subjects, albeit not often in a very political sense. Themes have quite often touched upon the contrasts of urban and rural life, with either nostalgic or bitter feelings. In recent years this has changed and the emphasis has moved to the urban way of life.

Hrafn Gunnlaugsson's "Viking films"; When the Raven Flies (Hrafninn flýgur – 1984), and In the Shadow of the Raven (Í skugga hrafnsins – 1988) enjoyed popularity abroad, but the film that definitely put Iceland on the world cinema map was undoubtedly Children of Nature (Börn náttúrunnar – 1991) by Fridrik Thór Fridriksson, which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Film and screened all over the world.

Today Icelandic features are an established part of world cinema, with regular appearances at all the major film festivals and increasing sales all over the world.

One thing that has characterized the Icelandic film scene lately, as in many other countries, is the steadily growing production of documentaries dealing with contemporary social subjects. Some of these have enjoyed popularity in cinemas. Icelandic shorts are also appearing more frequently and have been collecting awards at international festivals. In 2006 the short The Last Farm (Síðasti bærinn) by Rúnar Rúnarsson was nominated for an Academy Award.

In the new age of Icelandic cinema, many promising buds can be seen. Increased financial support from the Icelandic Film Centre and a greater number of subsidies, more collaborations with overseas parties, increased filming by foreign companies of large projects, and the many young, up and coming, film directors are indications of a bright future for the Icelandic cinema.

%d bloggers like this: