Laufey Guðjónsdóttir ræðir við vef Norræna kvikmynda- og sjónvarpssjóðsins um stöðuna í íslenskri kvikmyndagerð og fer yfir nýliðið ár.
Creativity is at its highest point in Iceland and the industry is enjoying the boost from TV and streaming services. But there is still a long way to go in gender equality says the managing director of the Icelandic Film Centre.
Are you satisfied with the year gone by and the results of Icelandic films and TV dramas, both on a domestic and international level?
Laufey Guðjónsdóttir: Starting with Ísold Uggadóttir’s prize at Sundance for her debut And Breathe Normally, the entire 2018 was amazing across film and TV drama. Results and acclaim usual vary year on year, but it’s been going up for quite some time which is fantastic. We’ve had great local box office success with four films at the top 20: Let Me Fall (watched by nearly 18% of the Icelandic population), two children’s films (The Falcons and Ploey-You Never Fly Alone) and Woman at War, which won the Nordic Council Film Prize.
The market share is never comparable to other nations as we produce so few films a year, but our track record is exceptional.
How many feature projects and documentaries do you support each year?
LG: We support around four to five Icelandic feature films, then one to three minority co-productions each year. In 2018 we backed Hlynur Pálmason’s A White, White Day, Silja Hauksdóttir’s Agnes Joy, Grímur Hákonarson’s The County, Rúnar Rúnarsson’s Echo and the low budget film Shadowtown by newcomer Jón Gústafsson. Then we supported three minority co-productions: Elfar Adalsteins’ End of Sentence [IE/IS/US], Fenar Ahmad’s Valhalla [DK/IS/NO/SE), and Najwa Najjar’s Son of a Very Important Man [PS/IS/LU/TR].
Regarding documentaries, we support around eight to ten films a year. Documentaries are the weakest link in terms of financing, as it’s harder for producers to get support from local broadcasters and to attract international co-producers, unlike with TV drama. Still, we recently coproduced with Greece Nefertiti, the Lonely Queen by Örn Marinó Arnarson and Thorkell Hardarson, with the Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir’s The Vasulka Effect, and with the US as minority partner The Seer and the Unseen by Sara Dosa. The our minority co-production In Touch by Pawel Ziemilski won a Special Jury mid-length film award at IDFA.
Have average budgets increased in feature film? How is the overall production sector doing?
LG: Yes, budgets have increased, but only marginally. The average is around €2 million. Size-wise, production companies remain small compared to the rest of the Nordics, a problem intrinsically linked to our small community. However, producers do tend to collaborate and keep friendly relationships. They know that one person’s success benefits the entire community.
What is your overall budget for 2019?
LG: Our funding from the government is approximately the same as for 2018, with a slight increase mostly linked to the rate of inflation. For 2019 our total budget is over €7.84 million (ISK1.07 billion), with more than €5 million for feature film [65%], €1.4 million for TV drama [18%] and €1.33 million for documentaries [17%]. Our current Culture Minister [Lilja D. Alfreðsdóttir] is looking into the structure of financing to outline a strategy for the next decade. The Ministry has appointed a working group and hopefully they will work on that very soon. The government can see the impact of film and television production culturally and on the local economy, and streaming services are driving the demand. We need more content that reflects our society; creators are aware of this and the audience is keen to watch those stories. Just look at Trapped season 2; It’s been another huge success on RÚV.
How many TV dramas do you support annually?
LG: We provide script and development support to up to 8-10 projects and top up financing to around three TV dramas a year. In 2018 we supported Flatey Enigma [aired by RÚV in November], and the series in production The Valhalla Murders [RUV/Netflix], and divorce drama Happily Never After [RUV]. We have also signed a few LOCs for 2019 on projects such as The Minister and Black Port.
What do you do to train the next generation of writers/creators, and to make sure the successful ones stay in Iceland?
LG: It’s always essential to keep a balance between experienced and new talents and right now we’re probably at 50/50. We also support three writing seminars organised twice a year.
Having writers’ rooms is also helping newcomers improve their skills. The problem is that we’re still lacking higher education training in film and TV drama and therefore letting talents move to for example to Denmark, Lodz in Poland, the UK or the US for their studies.
What is your mid-term plan to continue to build on Icelandic films and TV dramas’ success both at home and internationally?
LG: For 2019 we have strong films ready to be delivered in the next few months including A White, White Day, The County, Echo. Agnes Joy and Alma will come out a bit later in the year. We’re working on our A festival strategy which is an important gateway to the market and collaborate closely with sales agents, programmers all through the year to find the best platforms for our content.
Do you provide marketing support?
LG: Yes, general marketing/release costs should be included in the budget, and we give extra money based on the selection at a major festival.
How is the situation in Iceland regarding gender equality?
LG: There is a long way to go as the gender split last year was around 70/30 across all sectors when counting women in either script, directing or producing, although it was almost 50/50 when it comes to mixed applications. We monitor closely the gender issue when checking the applications, but get very few applications from women in directing and scriptwriting. For example, out of 24 applications for production support only 4 were to be directed by women and 4 written by women only (3 “mixed”). Although women are much more successful when applying, we are far behind what we would like to see especially in features and TV.
Two years ago, we’ve suggested to the Culture Ministry the introduction of a 20% bonus to projects with an exemplary gender parity, but it hasn’t been processed yet. France approved a similar scheme a few months ago. I believe it’s the best way to stimulate gender parity, much better than a quota system that doesn’t get much support here in Iceland. Producers might then become more aware and look more actively for women in the key creative positions.
In any case, we’re talking more openly about this with producers who are more aware of this issue. We’ve also started to do blind script reading and will see trends from this process.
Filming in Iceland is as popular as ever. Do you feel the new RVK film studios founded by Baltasar Kormákur will bring even more foreign shoots to your shores?
LG: Yes hopefully. It will strengthen the filming and creative environment. We’ve never had fully-fledged studios here. It’s great that Baltasar is behind the project, considering his international reputation. The City of Reykjavik wants to make that a strong new creative hub and some companies have established a base there.
On a Nordic level are you pleased with the collaborations with your Nordic partners?
LG: When you’re out in the big world, you realise even more how successful our Nordic collaboration really is. We have similar structures, working methods, cultures, so it’s easy to support each other at all levels. Through Nordisk Film & TV Fond, we also work very well together. We’re lucky to have such a strong partnership in today’s competitive and changing world.
What are you looking forward to?
LG: Another strong year! The European Film Awards will be held in Iceland in 2020, so we’re starting to develop ideas to make this event as exciting as possible.
You’ve been running the Icelandic Film Centre since its inception in 2003. What are your greatest achievements so far?
LG: Once the Icelandic Film Centre was established, based on a new film law, I worked on adjusting the application system, to make it more flexible for filmmakers, for instance by opening up the application process all year round instead of having just one deadline a year. We also adapted the commissioning model, looking at what had been developed in the other Nordic countries, although being so small and few forced us to adjust. Going through two major cuts in film funding in 2010 and again in 2014 was a challenge for everyone for us at the Film Centre but mostly for the industry. Still, we managed to sail through that. It is certain that the framework we’ve created has worked as the growth both on a creative and structural standpoint has been very strong.