Review by Alana Odegard.
While reading up on the history of the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF), I learned that it was established in 2004. This surprised me for two reasons, the first being that I could have sworn the festival had been going on for longer than seven years.
From an outsider’s point of view, it seems as though the festival is a well-oiled machine—you’d think they had been doing this for decades. I can only imagine the chaos behind the scenes for the organizers and volunteers, but for us festival-goers, I haven’t heard many complaints.
Along with being suprised that the festival is so relatively young, the 2004 inauguration date took me aback because if my calculations are correct, I’ve attended every single RIFF.
And it’s my own personal history with RIFF that allows me to say that each year it keeps getting better.
Iceland is a small country both in size and population, but you’d never know that from it’s film festival. This is one case where thinking big does Iceland some good, rather than harm.
Other festivals around the world may have more glitz, glamour and Hollywood star-gazing, but if you’re looking for good films and good fun, RIFF delivers. There literally is something for everyone.
In only 11 days, 140 films from 29 countries are shown on screens in six different downtown venues. Actually, that’s a lie. If you count the opening night screening of Cyrus at the National Theater and the Swim-In Cinema at Sundhöllin pool, then the number of places in which to see movies just keeps climbing...
Of course I couldn’t make it to all of the films (I’d love to shake the hand of the person who manages to pull that off), but between the ones I did manage to see and those I heard about from friends, this year’s lineup was a hit.
The section I focused on was called Icelandic Panorama, a category which “aims to build bridges between Icelandic cinema and [...] intenational filmmaking”.
The first Icelandic films I saw were a double feature: Stand-up Girls (Uppistandsstelpur) directed by Áslaug Einarsdóttir and Iceland Uganda (Ísland Úganda) directed by Gardar Stefánsson and Rúnar Ingi Einarsson.
The 65-minute Stand-up Girls was a riot. The film “follows an eclectic group of Icelandic women, ranging from bellydancers and anarchists to lesbian academics and suburban housewives, who have grown tired of the male-dominated stand-up [comedy] scene in Iceland.”
The group of women start their own comedy troupe and the film captures them working out the kinks of their acts and their more personal hesitations. The film is entertaining because of its performance aspect (you watch many of the women delivering their acts on stage) but there is also a lot more to the film than comedy.
Stand-up Girls both directly and indirectly explores a wide array of thought provoking issues including ones pertaining to gender, stereotypes, the idea of the public versus private sphere, and much more.
A screenshot from Iceland Uganda
Iceland Uganda was the next film of the night and needless to say, it had a tough act to follow. The film is 33 minutes long and I hate to say it, I was glad it wasn’t any longer. I really wanted to like this film, but I found that its write-up in the program was better than the film itself.
It is described as a comparison between the lives of young people in Uganda and Iceland, two former colonies of European nations that gained independance around the same time.
As promising as it sounds, it felt disjointed and the parallels between the people from the two countries oftentimes felt forced and uninteresting. I think there’s a story to tell between these two countries, but unfortunately this film does not capture it.
The other Icelandic Panorama films that stood out for me were part of the Short Film program. Among my favorites was the 18-minute long Knowledgy directed by Hrefna Hagalín and Bára Kristín.
Knowledgy is about an Icelandic couple who join a celebrity endorsed American cult and the young Canadian filmmaking student who rents a room from the couple and decides to document the events that transpire.
The film is both laugh-out-loud hilarious and includes a shocking twist as well. Well-known Icelandic actor Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson completely steals the show and as the program states, “the comical becomes macabre.”
Another short film that I thoroughly enjoyed was In a Heartbeat (Hjartsláttur) by director Karolina Lewicka.
It amazes me that in only seven mintues, a film with no dialogue can so effectively pull on your heartstrings. The film is about “a nine year old girl who discovers courage and stands up against bullies”. It is beautifully shot with a moving musical score and is truly inspiring.
RIFF hit it out of the park again this year. If the only downside you can think of is there being too much on the agenda, then I think it’s safe to say RIFF is doing something right.
I do have one suggestion, however. I realize that the festival is in Reykjavík (Iceland) and as such, Icelandic is the prominent language.
However, the “I” in RIFF stands for international and I was disappointed that both of the Q&A sessions I attended (where the directors are available to answer questions after the films have been screened) were conducted only in Icelandic.
I managed to get by with my knowledge of Icelandic, but felt sorry for those who may have been in the country only to attend the festival and weren’t able to take anything away from the rare opportunity to learn more from the directors.
To this same point, there were also one or two Icelandic short films that didn’t have English subtitles.
It may be wise to keep in mind that Icelanders aren’t the only ones who come out to see the Icelandic films (which I’m sure we’ll all agree is a great thing).
Other than that, I am one very content (and exhausted) film-lover. Well done, RIFF.
Alana Odegard – [email protected]
Ready and willing to watch anything that comes her way, Alana has an unquenchable thirst for the motion picture art form. Alana studied film as part of her BA degree and as the story so often goes, she is tirelessly trying to find ways to surround herself with the enchanting world of film. She hopes this passion will one day spill over from the realm of pastime to likewise envelop that of fulltime day-job as well.