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The Cinema of Iceland

Between Tradition and Liquid Modernity


Sebastian Jakub Konefał

The last decade was an exceptional period for the Icelandic cinema. The films produced during this time have won many prestigious awards at international festivals. Cinematic images of Iceland eclectically interlace myths, stereotypes and postmodern means of expression. At first glance, the local films obsessively repeat the same themes which might be incomprehensible for a foreign viewer. However, academic research on the most interesting motion pictures creates an opportunity to study the birth and development of small, but energetic and ambitious cinematography. Such an experience also allows analyzing problems related to the system of film production in this sparsely populated country and helps identify challenges during the process of introducing a local culture abroad. Finally, studying Icelandic cinema gives a chance to go on the audiovisual journey through the fascinating culture and unique landscapes.

The author of the book analyses popular topics and narrative strategies in Icelandic films. The research covers local versions of black comedies, road movies and crime stories as well as different figures connected with the motif of struggle between tradition and modernity.

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9 Cinematic Journeys Around Iceland



In the year 2010, Iceland was visited by over 450,000 tourists. Eight years later, this number has exceeded to 2 million people.311 Tourism is nowadays one of the leading businesses on the northern island. Such a situation may be also linked with the power of the audiovisual media that created the Arctic tourism fashionable in second decade of the 21st century. Moreover, in my opinion, the growth of visitors in Iceland is also connected with local film industry, boosting dynamically after the year 2010.312

What is interesting, the idea to use film as a medium encouraging people to visit Iceland has already appeared in the pioneering productions, such as Loftur Guðmundsson’s Iceland in Living Pictures (Ísland í lifandi myndum, 1925). The theme of the journey to the countryside or wilderness can also be found in some Icelandic comedies of the 1980s, such as Ágúst Guðmundsson’s On Top (Með allt á hreinu, 1982) or Stella on Holiday (Stella í orlofi, 1986) by Þórhildur Þorleifsdóttir. However, movies from this period were constructed around their local character so they do not contain any distinct references to recognizable genre conventions (e.g., American road movies) and rather do not consciously employ any figures related to the tourist gaze.

Probably, it was the Oscar nominee fame of Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s Children of Nature (Börn náttúrunnar, 1991) that convinced the Icelandic moviemakers that the most suitable genre to advertise the attractiveness...

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