Wayward Heroes: A Survey of Modern Icelandic Cinema

JUNE 13-28


6:00 pm - Doors
7:00 pm - Children of Nature with Intro by Steve Gravestock
9:00 pm - Jar City

In May 2015, the usually jaundiced industry audiences at Cannes were surprised and invigorated by Rams, a drama set in a remote rural area of Iceland and directed by the effectively unknown Grímur Hákonarson, which went on to win the top prize in the festival’s prestigious Un Certain Regard section. For many, Rams was a revelation, and one that naturally invited a bewildered question: How is it that a remotely located nation of 300,000 people — a country where sheep outnumber humans three to one, and which in its peak years of film production made only ten fiction features — could produce such a remarkable piece of cinema?

As with many such discoveries, however, this one was hardly unforeseeable, not least because it was only the crest of a wave. In the months and years immediately preceding and following Rams’ Cannes triumph, films by Icelandic directors such as Dagur Kári, Rúnar Rúnarsson, Hlynur Pálmason and Ísold Uggadóttir picked up prizes at major festivals around the world, while Baltasar Kormákur, who had previously established himself as a successful transnational filmmaker by directing films in his native country as well as helming Hollywood fare, scored a major international success with his ten-part television series Trapped, which sold all over the world after debuting at TIFF.

In my new monograph A History of Icelandic Film, to be published this year, I set out to chart the course of Icelandic cinema from the silent era to the present day, as the largely sporadic production from the 1920s to the 1970s gave way to the “Icelandic Spring” of the ’80s, the international inroads made in the ’90s by Fridrik Thór Fridriksson (the modern godfather of Icelandic cinema), the emergence of the scruffy hipster films that culminated in the worldwide success of Kormákur’s 101 Reykjavík, and the remarkable growth and diversity in Icelandic film production that we have seen in the first two decades of the new century. The ten films in this series — ranging from magic-realist fables to bloody Viking epics, sardonic deadpan comedies to hard-boiled Nordic noirs — offer a snapshot survey of that remarkable evolution from the ’80s to today. —Steve Gravestock

Steve Gravestock is Senior Canadian and International Programmer, TIFF, and author of A History of Icelandic Film (Toronto International Film Festival, 2019). He has been programming Nordic films for TIFF since 1999 and Canadian feature films for TIFF since 2003.

Acknowledgements: The Cinematheque is grateful to Steve Gravestock of TIFF for generous assistance in making this Vancouver presentation possible.

Film notes credited to SG/TIFF have been adapted from texts written by Steve Gravestock, edited by Andrew Tracy, and provided by TIFF.





Note on Icelandic names and usage: Icelanders utilize a patronymic/matronymic naming system and, with rare exceptions, do not have family names as such. Our program text follows Icelandic practice and uses an individual’s first name (or full name) in instances where we would ordinarily use a surname only. For instance, Fridrik Thór Fridriksson, in subsequent references, is “Fridrik” (not “Fridriksson”); Ágúst Gudmundsson is “Ágúst” (not “Gudmundsson”); and so on.


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Recent Showings

Geriatric rebels-without-a-cause take a final stab at freedom in leading Icelandic auteur Fridrik Thór Fridriksson’s lyrical, affecting road movie.
Based on the bestseller by Icelandic crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason, Baltasar Kormákur’s Jar City announced the mini-boom of “Nordic noirs.”
Adapted by Gudný Halldórsdóttir from the 1968 novel by her father, this absurdist fable is one of the most daring Icelandic films of the 1980s.
Director Kristín Jóhannesdóttir equalled the visual and narrative daring of her debut Rainbow’s End with this stunning magic-realist fable.
The first film in director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson’s epic Viking trilogy is a starkly violent and enormously entertaining riff on the spirit of the Icelandic sagas.
Dagur Kári’s first feature is one of the best modern Icelandic films and one of the key world-cinema titles of the 2000s.
Ágúst Gudmundsson’s satire chronicles the tumult that results when a group of American soldiers sets up camp near a small town in Iceland’s south.
The debut feature of Róbert I. Douglas is an acerbic portrait of an Icelandic hoser and an engaging parody of the Icelandic (and American) Dream.
Baldvin Zophoníasson transplants the multiple-narrative model popularized by Robert Altman to Reykjavik, with powerful and affecting results.
Winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Grímur Hákonarson’s festival-circuit hit focuses on two sheep farming brothers with a grudge.