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.

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The Icelandic VIP Movie Experience (in Space!) and Tacos Án Kjöt

We had last week off from our summer jobs and so Mark and got to enjoy all sorts of desert-y things in our free time, culminating in a trip to the movies (nothing more desert-y than avoiding the heat in a movie theater) and a minor league baseball game (Yay, Toros! Padres!). Well, that’s great, Larissa, you say, but what does this have to do with Iceland(ic)? Not a whole lot, really, but both of the above-mentioned outings did give rise to semi-related Icelandic experiences which I will now relate to you.

For one, I have been somewhat remiss in not sharing with you all a delightful experience that we had in Reykjavík just before we left: the VIP movie theater. Perhaps I just take great amounts of delight from small things, but I am going to go ahead and say that going to the VIP theater in Mjödd (to see CUMBERBATCH IN SPACE, no less) was a real treat. What does a VIP Movie Experience in Iceland amount to, you ask? Well, for 2,200ISK (roughly 17.75USD) you get:

  • Entrance to a small theater (40 seats) with elevated seating so that no one’s head is in your face
  • Your very own individual stuffed recliner with a foot rest and cup holder and individual side table. As my friend was very quick to point out when we arrived, you can fully recline in your chair, with your feet up, and people can still walk in front of you. This is important because of the…
  • Unlimited self-serve popcorn and soda (!!!!). At the front of the theater, as you enter, there is a little heated truck ‘o popcorn and a soda dispenser with cups and bags. You just help yourself, as much as you want.
  • Unlimited self-serve popcorn and soda (!!!). This is worth mentioning twice because I love popcorn immensely and always hate how expensive it is in theaters. Popcorn is actually pretty affordable in Iceland, I am pleased to say, but it is served in reasonable portion sizes, and so the unlimited option feels like a particularly decadent treat.

The only thing that wasn’t utterly awesome about this experience was that they skipped the intermission, to which I have grown accustomed, and which would have served as a good time to refill on popcorn and soda. This omission caught everyone by surprise; very few people got up for refills because they too were waiting for the break. Never fear, though, I was emboldened enough by my excitement to get up (I was on the aisle, thankfully), duck my head, and dash to the popcorn for a mid-movie refill.

It is hard to take photos in a darkened VIP movie theater, but I did my best:


As for the baseball anecdote:

Long time readers may remember my Epic Fail at Speaking Icelandic when I first arrived in Iceland. The pervasive irony of this particular experience was that while I could not think of a single Icelandic word outside of “nei,” my long-lost Spanish suddenly thrust itself aggressively forward in my brain. Now, some ten-ish months later, at a minor league baseball game in Tucson, Arizona, I found myself (naturally) standing in front of a taco truck attempting to explain (on behalf of Mark) that I wanted one combo platter without meat. That is, “án kjöt.”

Suffice it to say that the very nice Mexican guys working the truck did not understand what in god’s name I was talking about, but they bore with me, and eventually clarified, that (as is often the case in Iceland) meatless was not so much an option. No problem–takk, I said gratefully, once I had placed my order–I got my platter there and Mark got a bean burrito from another stand. But this did inspire the guys there to give me a makeshift Spanish lesson in how to correctly say things like “gracias” and “muy bueno.”

I spent the rest of the game sitting in the stands and repeating various taco-related phrases in both Spanish and Icelandic:

  • My boyfriend does not eat meat.
    • Mi novio no come carne.
    • Kærastinn minn borðar ekki kjöt.
  • Is it possible to order the tacos without meat?
    • Es posible pedir tacos sín carne?
    • Er hægt að panta tacos án kjöt?
Baseball Night in Tucson.

Baseball Night in Tucson.


Stay Tuned for the Icelandic Sex Education Video Premiere – “Get Some Yes!”

Given the often opaque, often misleading/criminally under-informing, and frequently just plain non-existent sex education classes and resources in the United States, I am quite interested in the forthcoming sexual education video which will be unveiled here in Iceland on Wednesday. This video will be notable for several reasons:

  • It is called “fádu já” which can be translated as “Get Some Yes!” (I’m pretty sure that this is a pun, combining sex positivity with a push for young people to be conscious of needing to obtain sexual consent. See below…)
  • It is directed by Icelandic pop singer and DJ Páll Óskar (written by authors Brynhildur Björnsdóttir and Þórdís Elva Þorvaldsdóttir).
  • As far as I can tell, the purpose of the film is not to convey your basic ‘birds and bees’ information, but rather, (this per The Reykjavík Grapevine): “…to explain the difference between sex and violence, examine the affects that porn has on human sexuality, dispel misconceptions about sex and encourage self-respect in relationships.”
  • The gist that I am getting from this article on mbl.is is that the video was commissioned by both the Welfare Ministry and the Ministry of Education and Culture as part of awareness initiatives related to the sexual abuse of minors and sexual consent. (There is actually a 17 page manual related to the video already on the Ministry of Welfare’s website, here, in Icelandic.) It is also worth noting that this video is being created to complement the efforts of the non-profit group Blátt Áfram, a child sexual abuse (CSA) prevention organization in Iceland, which, in conjunction with the Icelandic Puppet Theater, has developed a puppetry-based program on child sexual abuse awareness, education, and visibility which it performs at schools around rural Iceland. It is also worth pointing out that all of this is happening in the wake of a very high profile child sex abuse case here in Iceland.
  • Fáðu já will be shown in every primary and secondary school in the whole country on January 30. Now, the age breakdown of schools in Iceland is different than in the U.S., but I still think this means that the video will be shown to a pretty wide age group. When they are all adults, every school kid from this generation will probably remember not “The Miracle of Life,” (or whatever the Icelandic equivalent is) but rather, a famous DJ’s sexual violence/consent awareness video.
  • On January 30, to coincide with the screenings in schools, the twenty minute video will also be broadcast in its entirety online, with subtitles available in English, Polish, Spanish, Danish, Tagalog, and Icelandic.

Okay. So I will clearly be watching this on January 30, and reporting back to those of you who do not get the chance/don’t want to watch this yourselves. But should you be interested, I’ll give you the link of the official website right now: http://faduja.is/ There is a preview of the video available on that website now, but word to those who are either at work or take offense at/are squeamish about youthful sexuality: this may not be your cup of tea.

Please note, x2: the preview video makes a pretty abrupt shift from happy teen sexy stuff to pretty serious–albeit brief–representations of violence. So bear that in mind before watching. I think one of the most interesting things about seeing this video on Wednesday will be getting a sense of what kinds of images and subject matter state-sponsored educational programs share and discuss with children here in Iceland. No doubt it will be much different that what is generally shown to/discussed with kids in educational environments in the United States.

No TV in the Summertime

While researching for a piece that he was writing last week, Mark ran across a few fascinating tidbits about Iceland’s national television station, RÚV, in Professor Björn Ægir Norðfjörð’s Ph.D. dissertation, “Icelandic Cinema: A National Practice in a Global Context.” Interesting enough to share, I thought:

  • RÚV came into existence in 1966 as a direct result of the U.S. Army Base in Keflavík. The U.S. wanted to make television signals available to their soldiers stationed at the base, so at first, although television hadn’t made it to Iceland yet, the U.S. soldiers were allowed to have a localized signal provided that it remained very weak, so as not to be available outside of the base. However, the signal wasn’t even working on the base, so it was strengthened, which meant that people in Keflavík and Reykjavík could then receive it as well. (We’re not sure where their TVs came from.) Many Icelanders, including notable nationalists like Halldór Laxness, strongly opposed the idea that Icelanders be watching American broadcasts, especially with no Icelandic alternative. So RÚV came into existence so there would be an Icelandic television channel for Icelanders to watch instead.
  • It wasn’t until the late 80s that RÚV broadcast during the entire month of July, or on Thursdays. Again, this is the *only* Icelandic television station, and was probably the only station that most Icelanders received (I don’t know, but I’m assuming that international broadcasts weren’t readily available). Imagine the hysteria if suddenly all television in the US was simply not available one day a week, and also for an entire month in the summer.

(Re)Viewing from Afar: Sergio Leone and America (Days)

Mark has been diligently lining up all sorts of freelance writing assignments for himself these days, and not only ones about local film festivals and art exhibitions in Reykjavík. Being the well-viewed fellow he is, he’s also keeping up with the critical dialog stateside, starting with his recent piece for Fanzine that discusses Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. It’s a very good piece even if you haven’t seen the movie, which, full disclosure, I haven’t. (I was re-reading an Icelandic novel for a review in the back room while Mark re-watched the movie in the living room for his review–both activities took us about the same amount of time; it is a long movie–and he was nice enough to even watch the last hour and a half or so wearing headphones when all the second-hand sex-and-violence sound effects got to be a little too distracting for me. Because he is just a nice guy that way.)

Anyway, in an unexpected, but totally relevant moment of confluence, Mark brings up Reykjavík’s “America Days” in the course of his discussion (you remember America Days, right?), which I’ll just quote briefly here:

But still, iconography is a funny thing. A grocery store here in Reykjavik recently held its “America Days,” featuring red-white-and-blue bunting and cardboard cutouts of Elvis, John Wayne and Obama surrounding displays of Twizzlers—this sort of mockably transparent enthusiasm to participate in what you and I take for granted is everywhere in Leone. Who but a foreigner would begin a movie called Once Upon a Time in America with Kate Smith?

So if you are interested in such things as film, garbled national iconography, and “dubious depictions of the flesh,” I recommend popping over to Fanzine and checking his piece out.




Mark Asch, Transoceanic Film Critic

If you were to pick up the current print issue of The Reykjavík Grapevine (the English-language bi-weekly of note in Iceland and Reykjavík’s answer to The Stranger, The Village Voice, and yes, The L Magazine), you would see Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, bursting soggily from its front cover. But also–and more interesting on a personal level–you’d find a familiar byline gracing its pages (22 and 23, to be exact). Our very own Mark Asch, former film/book/culture editor at The L Magazine and contributor to venerable film outlets from Lincoln Center to Twitter, is quickly on his way to becoming a household name in Iceland (at least in my household, but also certainly in English-speaking households interested in cinema and art as well). Being a rather low-profile fellow, Mark will probably not declare his newly-minted international credentials to the world at large (maybe via Facebook, but you never know), so I (proud girlfriend) am doing a proud girlfriend thing and taking it upon myself to tell you that he is doing awesome but certainly not unprecedented things here in Reykjavík.

It is only fitting that his first pieces for The Grapevine would be related to the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF), which begins on Thursday this week. His coverage includes an interview with Hrönn Marinósdóttir, the festival chair, as well as five capsule reviews of films and documentaries playing at the festival, including Suspiria by this year’s guest of honor, Dario Argento. And while you may not be able to hop on a plane and attend the festival in person (you can stay with us if you do, though), I encourage you to check out all of the above, via the downloadable .pdf or online version of this issue, since many of the films playing at the festival have shown at recent festivals and will be coming to theaters near you shortly, and also because the interview in particular places the festival–and the Icelandic film scene in general–in a broader context.

Stay tuned for more arts and cinema coverage from Mr. Asch.