Iceland’s Unspoiled Nature… Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Dreamland


Iceland’s Unspoiled Nature… Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Dreamland

Review by Alana Odegard.

dreamland-dvd-cover“When travelling around the country or seeing pictures of the landscape, one thinks: ‘Even if I have nothing, I’d still have this, this is ours.’ But now, the message is: ‘No, this is not yours.’”

Dreamland (Draumalandid) is a documentary based on the popular book by Andri Snaer Magnason called Dreamland – A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation, first published in 2006.

In her rave review of the book, Eygló called it a must-read and the film follows in its footsteps because Dreamland is a must-see.

According to the official website, Dreamland, directed by Thorfinnur Gudnason and Andri Snaer Magnason, is a film about a nation standing at a crossroads: how much unspoiled nature should be preserved and what should be sacrificed for clean, renewable energy?

It seems that every day there is a news story here related to the harnessing, development, or selling of geothermal or hydroelectric energy. There is also plenty of talk about aluminum smelters, be it the construction of new ones or proposals to expand existing ones.

When reading these stories, I usually just skim over the names of the places that are affected by the wheeling and dealing taking place between the government and companies, both foreign and domestic.

For me, these locations were just names I had read on a page or heard in passing but Dreamland changed all of that. This film takes you to the sites in question, showing you they aren’t just headlines, but rather real places.

As you see some of the landscape that has been forever destroyed and altered, reality gradually sets it and the film’s tagline takes hold of you: What do you own when you have sold everything?

First and foremost, the film is informative. It provides a history and background of Iceland in the lead-up to the energy frenzy.

There are many interviews accompanied by facts and figures, but what’s nice is that the film pauses after someone rattles off some technical lingo and asks, “But what do all of these words mean? What does it all signify?”

Dreamland also takes the time to put some of the information into perspective.

For example, in addition to providing stats on the total tonnage of a smelter’s output, you’re also told that “the Alcoa aluminum plant in east Iceland uses as much electricity as a city of one million citizens.”

I think the key to this film is that it’s accessible and it doesn’t talk down to you. Actually, what I particularly liked about this film is that it gives the viewer time and space to let the pictures tell the story, without voice-over or narration.

There’s something to be said for seeing the side of a beautiful mountain being blown to smithereens. You really do feel it.

It’s also unsettling to actually see the sterile industrial buildings stuck smack dab in the middle of what was once unspoiled nature. It’s something that cannot be conveyed by reading or hearing about the factories or demolition projects.

Of course where money and profits are concerned, the Icelandic word of the moment is bound to creep up: corruption.

Hearing and seeing even more about corrupt politicians triggered my gag reflex once again. Some of the words that came to mind: disturbing, sad, maddening, disgusting and embarrassing. You truly feel embarrassed for some of the people who got sucked in to pushing through legislation and contracts.

To know that nearly every rule in the book was being broken makes me sick, but I’m not surprised. There’s one scene in particular about a mayor-turned-employee of an aluminum company that will really make your skin crawl.

But regardless of whether you agree with the politics behind the decisions or not, everyone should have to watch this movie.

The incredible footage of the wildlife and scenery also tells a story. When looking at the landscape you can’t help but think, "Will this lava field, waterfall or river be next?”—and I think tugging at your heartstrings is part of the film’s ultimate goal.

There may have been a few scenes where I felt I the message of “Companies are Evil” was being pushed on me a little too forcefully, but for the most part, I was interested in hearing what I felt was the other side of the story.

In her assessment of the book, Eygló states that nothing should be read unquestioned and I think the same applies to the film.

Dreamland certainly has an agenda but it’s not doomsday dramatic, aiming to guilt or bully the viewer into making changes or taking a stand.

No, instead the film manages to make you feel ashamed.

What I mean by this is that it’s all too easy to assume that other people will “take care of it”, but Dreamland puts some of the onus on us, bringing up the moral duty we have to protect the natural resources of the world.

Icelanders especially cannot afford to watch and wait because unfortunately once the damage is done, there’s no way to undo it. You just can’t take back something like the Kárahnúkar dam.

If anything, Dreamland raises many interesting questions and serves up plenty of food for thought.

Dreamland won the award for Best Documentary at the 2009 Eddas (Iceland’s Academy Awards) and let me tell you, it is well deserved.

See the movie or read the book, I don’t care which. The bottom line is get informed because once paradise is paved, so to speak, it will be too late for this tiny little nation.


Dreamland is available on DVD with English subtitles in webstores such as and

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.

More Reviews