2014 was an excellent year for Icelandic film and TV drama’s international recognition and admissions at home were back to a healthy level. In what way does the Icelandic government pay attention to these achievements and what is the current state of public funding to the film & TV sector via the Icelandic Film Centre?
Laufey Guðjónsdóttir: The government is obviously pleased. They gave us a bit of extra money (Isk 50M/around €330,000 on top of our contract) which was a nice gesture. We’re working on a new Film Agreement as the existing one ends this year.
In terms of annual budget, we have around €5 million of which around €3.2 million (65%) is for feature films/shorts, around €900.000 (17%) for documentaries and 900,000 (18%) for TV fiction. Currently we can support 3-4 feature films with a maximum of around €700,000 per project, plus 2-3 minority co-productions, 2-4 short films, 8-10 docs and 2 TV series a year. We also have development and script support for feature film, documentary and TV fiction.
Have you made any recent changes in the way your grants are allocated?
LG: For documentaries, we’ve tried to give more money to fewer projects. Financing docs in Iceland has been a real struggle as TV stations don’t pay much. So we’ve been a bit more generous on development fees and production. We want to improve the documentary environment to increase the quality. As for fiction, we raised support for each project about two years ago, but this has to be under constant re-evaluation. It is a very small community and we have to try to keep a balance between the minimum number of films to keep the industry afloat and the amount needed for individual projects.
Is there any way other industry partners could be involved in the Film Agreement to up your annual budget?
LG: The film fund and our agreements have until now only involved purely state money. However the TV companies and cinemas have always been active partners of the industry and perhaps the major telecommunication companies would like to consider coming on board as well in near future, like in many other countries. But they have not been ready to invest so far.
Do you feel more film producers are moving into TV drama and have you noticed any change in the number of active production companies in Iceland?
LG: Besides Saga Film few film producers have moved into TV drama on a regular basis, but the creation of Baltasar Kormákur’s RVK Studios is a big step in this direction and there are many exciting projects lined up for 2015-2016. TV drama production has grown very fast and we have great scriptwriters Margrét Örnólfsdóttir, Sigurjón Kjartansson, Jóhann Ævar Grímsson, María Reyndal, Ólafur Egilsson and others. Otherwise the number of active film production companies is more or less the same.
What are the trends regarding co-production with Nordic partners? All Nordic countries seem to collaborate with Iceland, except Sweden…
LG: Yes Denmark and Norway are very active co-producers, and last year Iceland was minority co-producer of the Danish films The Shamer’s Daughter and All Things Await, of the Norwegian film Dead Snow as well as the Finnish hit The Grump. But little has happened with Sweden in recent years except for Hemma. We do have Icelandic actors doing well in Sweden though: Sverrir Gudnason and Edda Magnason.
Does Filming in Iceland continue to boost the local production sector?
LG: Yes for the last five years there has been a surge in the number of big budget English language productions. It’s been beneficial for the local economy, technical crews as well as talents. For instance the actor/director Björn Hlynur Haraldsson has had a major part in Sky’s TV drama Fortitude, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson had a role in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty so there is a spill over on the creative side as well. The film sector would like the 20% tax incentives to be increased and is lobbying the government right now.
How is the theatrical market in Iceland?
LG: Admissions dropped a little bit last year and revenues from DVD have mostly disappeared. Times are tough and windows are changing. But many local distributors - Samfilm, Myndform, Sena/Green Light are very supportive of Icelandic films and actively participating in their marketing. Local films did very well in cinemas last year.
What Icelandic films can we look forward to seeing in 2015?
LG: We’re very pleased with the way Dagur Kári’s Virgin Mountain was received in Berlin. The film will open domestically in March. Another of our most celebrated directors, Rúnar Rúnarsson is readying his new coming of age film Sparrows which should be ready for Cannes. RAMS by Grímur Hákonarson should be delivered in the spring or early summer. It’s both typical Icelandic – about sheep farmers - and universal, focusing on the relationship between two brothers. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen who was just awarded a Silver Bear in Berlin is attached to the project.
Back will the first feature co-directed by the actor Gunnar Hansson and David Óskar Ólafsson for Mystery Island. The comedy will be delivered in April. The family film Summerchildren directed by Gudrún Ragnarsdóttir for Ljósband Filmworks is also in postproduction. Meanwhile the romantic comedy In Front of Others by Óskar Jónasson, recently pitched at Berlin’s Co-production Market should start filming in the spring for Truenorth.
On the TV side, the ten hour drama/crime Trapped by Baltasar Kormákur, Baldvin Z, Börkur Sigthórsson and Óskar Thór Axelsson will premiere in the autumn.