A Very Reykjavík Film Festival

Backyard autumn foliage

Backyard autumn foliage

Well, hello there October—it’s so nice to see you. Fall—such as it is in Iceland—definitely seems to have arrived. There’s a deeper sort of chill that seems to be sneaking its way under my scarves and sweaters, and there’s a pleasant wet-leaf smell everywhere you go. The wind has calmed down a little (although it got a little rough there for a bit…see here, if you are in possession of a slightly bawdy sense of humor) and although the days are getting darker, it feels like we’re in a nice sort of calm now, pre-winter. I remember liking October here last year, and I like October again.

One of the highlights of the last week or so has been RIFF, or the Reykjavík International Film Festival. (If you want to get a broader overview of the festival and the films featured, you can see Mark’s very extensive coverage.) Besides being a nice opportunity to see some interesting/funny/unusual/dramatic/vampire films, RIFF has also just felt very Icelandic in its way, which not having been back for very long, is especially enjoyable. I know it sounds strange to say that an International Film Festival can “feel very Icelandic,” so let me share an opening weekend anecdote to give this some context.

A great headline on a review of a festival movie ("We Are the Best") that ran in Vísir earlier this week

A great headline on a review of a festival movie (“We Are the Best!”) which ran in Vísir earlier this week.

The first movie that I went to during the festival screened on Friday night, opening weekend. Since we had gotten our tickets in advance, Mark and I got to the theater—Háskolabíó, at the university—just before the movie was set to start (after 10 PM, I should add), only to run into a huge number of people queued outside. After a bit of investigation—and quick hellos to people we knew in line—we determined that this was the line for people buying tickets, so we headed inside, only to then find ourselves in the middle of a college science fair. Booths and demonstrations and presenting students everywhere, all mixed in with a increasingly confused crowd of foreign film-goers, an equal number of unconcerned Icelandic film goers calmly waiting in line for popcorn and candy, and a very few harried RIFF volunteers who were scampering around and trying to make sure they checked everyone’s tickets.

Of course, I don’t know the circumstances under which a college science fair was booked for the very same space and time as an international film festival, but suffice to say that while this sort of cozy chaos would have felt somewhat unsettling lat year, now it just felt very familiar. Even more so when we finally were allowed to enter the theater and saw that instead of pre-show ads and movie previews, the movie screen had been retracted, there was AV equipment from earlier in the day still set up on stage, and—best as I could tell—the audio track for an Icelandic nature/weather/science-type documentary booming over the speaker system. This narration continued for about five minutes, after which someone came in and cleared away the AV equipment, turned off the audio, and pulled down the screen. And twenty minutes or so later, after all the people who had just bought their tickets were settled in their seats with their popcorn, the movie started.

The bus had stopped running by the time the movie let out, so we started to walk home. We’d made it a good part of the way there when a jeep pulled up slowly next to us on the street. In Arizona, in New York, this would have unsettled me a good deal and I would have assuredly stepped back from the road and prepared to fight or flee, as the situation called for. But again, this being Iceland, I didn’t feel any amount of trepidation leaning toward the car and hearing what the driver wanted. Turns out, he assumed we had just left the theater and wanted to make sure that we a) knew that the bus wouldn’t be coming and b) that we knew where we were/how to get to wherever we were staying.

Get that? A man stopped us on our way home to make sure that we could get home. Gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?

So to review:

-People you know, at least well-enough to say hello to, in pretty much any large crowd of people

-A somewhat haphazard arrangement and a bit of last-minute organizing

-A very…flexible…start time

-Copious candy and snacks

-A nice stranger, being nice

In summation: very Icelandic. But if the above doesn’t seem “authentic” enough for you, I will also add that during a screening which I didn’t make it to, Björk—dressed, I’m told, in full white—stepped over Mark to get to a center seat, before turning around and politely stepping over him again to join a friend a few rows ahead of them.

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