You grew up in Iceland in the sixties. How did the domestic film industry look then? There was no film industry at all at that time. Few people were making documentaries; there was no official money for filmmaking, so it was very poor. It all started in the 90s. Also Iceland people saw very few quality films; we had nothing worth to see at that time, so we had to jump far to western American movies broadcasted on TV.
What is the situation now? How do you see young Icelandic filmmakers? It’s rather poor, because the government after the recession cut everything down like ten percent, and the Film Fund was cut by like thirty-five percent. It meant we were able to make only five to six films a year, and now it is only one to three films a year, so the situation is really horrible at the moment, and I think it will not get better in five years’ time…. You have never studied at film school but you were an important part in establishing Icelandic film culture, founding the Reykjavik Film Festival in 1978. You were also the chief editor of the first film critics’ magazine. What was your intention at the beginning? There were only American films showed in Iceland and I wanted to change that and I really did change it for the time. I was running for the film society for many years and we showed lots of good quality films. So my intention just was make my countrymen aware of other accessible cinemas, and I succeeded. People have been quite willing to see better quality films and that made it a lot better. I could see that my nation was getting very fat because of “fast food”, so I wanted to introduce quality “cuisine” from Asia and Europe.
Why did you decide to devote your life to the film industry? It was not a decision; it came slowly, all by itself. It is just like jumping in the river and floating with it.
How did you educate yourself? Did you personally take part in any workshops or seminars? I read a lot of books and I travelled. I actually went to the film museum in Paris, where I saw a lot, and I think the film club was my best education because I was also a projectionist, so I saw every film five, six times. I had time to study what created this feeling that came up off the film. I educated myself by watching films. It is like writing. You can’t become a writer unless you read all the good literature. Do you prefer making documentaries, experimental works or features? I don’t really care. It just depends, because it always came automatically. When you make a feature film, this is a long, long process; it takes maybe three or four years to write a script and then one or two years to finance it. The last documentary I did took only three years. I think it is very a passionate job making documentaries; it is like catching a fish. I love fishing. It’s changed me very well in the sense of making documentaries. I love it because I’m a very passionate fisherman and also I think you learn a lot about how to create atmosphere in a fiction film when you are into documentaries. Which type of documentaries is for you most powerful and why? For me my last movie Sunshine Boy was very powerful, because I thought I was filming a miracle. I liked that very much. When you make a feature film you are sharing yourself. You are masturbating. But then you make a documentary which influences millions of people. The Saga of Burnt Njal is a short experimental movie. After its premiere screening in the largest cinema in Reykjavik, you had to temporally leave the city. What were your feelings at that time? For me it was a joke. But for the nation it was not because Njal’s Saga was written in 300, 400 pages, and people also felt independent because of the legend. So people were flocking because I announced that I was shooting a famous saga. Then I announced that I would have only one screening for the film and I surprised people. What I did was I simply shot the book page by page and I put a fire to a page and the fire destroyed the entire book. And people got really angry at me. But I got money to make my first documentary, The Blacksmith; however, I didn’t get any money from the Film Fund for many years, like ten years. Like I said, it was a bad joke. Your popular movie Children of Nature, made in the 90s, is an elegy on dying, celebrating how beautiful, dignified and painless death can be. Where did you get the inspiration to make such a movie? It’s an autobiographical film from the time I spent every year in the countryside in the four months between May and October, so I got to know a lot of old people, very warm people, so I got the idea from being around these people for so many years. Current events in Iceland have been connected with the volcano incident. Have you considered making a documentary about these events? Not a documentary but fiction. It is beautiful to watch those volcanoes, but it is good to have a story around. How do you see young Icelandic filmmakers? I think they don’t have a bright future because of this budget cut. I used to produce for a lot of young filmmakers in the past, and they are old too now. The only thing left positively is that the digital revolution will help them because working with reels is a really expensive thing to do. Now they can make a documentary for very little money. They just need to have the passion to do it. This gives a chance to interesting up-and-coming filmmakers. Also, the film school has just started to graduate the new talents, but they didn’t all turn out equal; the film school is only ten years old. Things have been very poor, but I suddenly see lots of progress happening there. FRIDRIK THÓR FRIDRIKSSON 11:00 T. Teplice (Kursalón) Press Conference with F.T. Fridriksson Along with guests Jim Stark, Laufey Gudjonsdottir, Peter Nágel, Alexandra Strelková 21:00 Trenčín (ArtKino Metro) Personal introduction of the film Devil’s Island A friendly Norseman without a hammer
Not to tire you with these interviews, but I must turn back to Fridriksson, who has just tried Slovak beer, telling me jokingly that this was the reason he actually came. “Not really," he sniffed, adding that it was substantially worse in Japan. From afar he reminded me of a Norseman, with his chiseled face and Thor-like hair. And for a moment, one might even worry a bit that he might pull out a hammer and make the earth tremble with thunder, but getting to know him couldn’t have been more pleasant, and Fridriksson showed himself to be a likeable companion not only over a beer, but also in discussions of culture, film and life.