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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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Appendix: Tradition and Liquid Modernity in Documentary Cinema



Contemporary Icelandic creators of feature films look for their own methods of expression and need to cope with an unfavorable funding, production and promotion systems. Documentary cinema does not have similar problems. Due to digital recording techniques, it does not require high funding and is able to sensitively look for themes that may attract people who are not familiar with the Icelandic culture and history. What is interesting, many non-fiction productions try to creatively reinterpret some problems and motifs that are characteristic for the Icelandic culture and related to the specific perception of changes taking place in the national identity. The postmodern figures of this identity are often transformed into an intriguing fusion of tradition and modernity358. It is significant that in contrary to the feature movies, often too hermetic in their themes, many documentaries are designed in the form of audiovisual equivalents of cultural-touristic guidebooks, which present the bright and dark sides of Icelandic life to foreign audiences. This chapter is focused on the clashes between the ideologized traditional discourses and modernity, and on the adjustment of the Icelandic cinema to various forms of universalized movie documentalism.

Part 1. Reinterpretation of the Elements of National Discourse

As I mentioned a few times before, the “tourist gaze”359 is an interesting strategy adopted to present the culture of a given country, which is often used by the Icelandic filmmakers. This concept takes the viewers to an “audiovisual trip”, showing them the...

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