Sunday night saw the curtains drawn on the 12th edition of RIFF, the Reykjavík International Film Festival, bringing an end to 11 whirlwind days of film and special events hosted around the city.
The festival, founded by a handful of film professionals and movie enthusiasts back in 2004, has now grown to become a highlight of the year in Iceland and given viewers a chance to break away from monotonous blockbusters to see some of the most exciting film on offer from around the world.
Indeed, this year saw the highest attendance to date and speaking at the opening ceremony, festival director Hrönn Marinósdóttir touched on RIFF’s ever growing appeal. “People enjoy going to the movies and not knowing the movie or the director. They see a strange title of a film, come to the cinema and appreciate the surprise of experiencing something they knew little about beforehand.”
Certainly, there was more than enough to experience. With close to 300 screenings and 33 events crammed into 11 packed days, the quantity on display was immense, and as it turned out, so was the quality.
In the New Visions category, where 12 up-and-coming directors tussle for the festival’s main prize, it was the Iranian Wednesday May 9 which was awarded with the shiny Golden Puffin trophy.
The touching film follows the stories of three characters, each searching for a release from their suffering and hoping to find it through a most unusual act of kindness. Director Valid Jalilvand, not satisfied with both writing and directing the film, also acts a key role in the story and deserves every bit of the acclaim coming his way on all three accounts.
The 11 runners-up in the New Visions category should however not be glossed over and the caliber of the films reflect a group of talented and exciting directors taking their first steps in the field.
The polished, easy-on-the-eye Slow West starring Michael Fassbender as a grizzled bounty hunter guiding a young and lovesick Scottish nobleman across the western plains has already won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
And in the days leading up to its Icelandic premiere Rúnar Rúnarsson’s Sparrows won the prize for best film at the highly respected San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Rúnar’s funny, moving and powerful film was greeted with an exceptionally positive response from the audience at its RIFF opening and the director is quickly forging an impressive reputation.
Another contender was Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha, which may have missed out on this year’s Golden Puffin, but was presented with the distinguished Fipresci prize at RIFF’s award ceremony.
The sheer number of curious and captivating documentaries that descend upon Reykjavík as RIFF rolls into town has the potential to leave one in a frenzied rush against time in an attempt to see them all, albeit one that was worth it.
The films this year were as varied as they were numerous, touching on topics from female racing teams in Palestine in Speed Sisters to bitter battles against sweet-talking food industry representatives in Sugar Coated, from a trailer park full of sex offenders struggling to reintegrate into society in Pervert Park to a herd of 18 cows that are deemed a threat to national security in The Wanted 18.
This year the stand-out documentary, voted for by audiences via an online poll, was Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land. A strikingly powerful film, unlikely to be forgotten by any who come across it, the documentary shares a real and frightening glimpse of the murderous conflict between drug cartels and vigilante citizens in modern-day Mexico.
However, eye-opening experiences were not only restricted to members of the audience. This edition of RIFF saw the introduction of a Young Nordic Talent collaboration where filmmakers from a number of countries were brought together for a week of working with one another. The project ended with a screening of short films they had put together in a swift two days.
This was but one of a whole host of events set up in conjunction with the festival that also included concerts, food & film screenings, swim-in and cave-in cinema events, president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson bestowing David Cronenberg and Margarethe von Trotta with Lifetime Achievement Awards as well as a live hypnosis session to the backdrop of Reykjavík Queer Choir, to name but a few.
So finally as the posters are pulled down and cinemas swept up following the conclusion of another RIFF, it might now be time to take a seat, wipe the sweat of your brow and try to recover in time for next year’s edition.
Aron Már Ingham Grímsson – amg25(at)hi.is
Born in Iceland and partially raised in England, Aron has spent his life divided between the two countries and cultures, combining the best of both. Currently he’s completing his BA thesis at the University of Iceland in English literature.