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ICEDOCS 2021

Pioneering filmmakers finally get their dues thanks to Iceland on Film

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- An online compilation of old Icelandic films and clips digs into the country’s past, one click at a time

Pioneering filmmakers finally get their dues thanks to Iceland on Film
Flat-Charlestone by Ruth Hanson

Created with the assistance of the Danish Film Institute, which already boasts its very own Denmark on Film website, Iceland on Film introduces a collection of films dating back to 1906, found in the vaults of the National Film Archive of Iceland and now scanned in for the public to see.

“The head of the archive met some people from the Danish Film Institute at the airport, and they started talking. One thing led to another, and they decided to open up their project to Icelandic films as well,” explains Gunnar Tómas Kristófersson, a film specialist at the archive.

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Showing the shooting locations of all of the available clips on the interactive map, the selection – still available only in Icelandic – has already ventured out into the real world as well, with some of the flicks being shown during the third edition of the Iceland Documentary Film Festival in Akranes. Focusing mostly on daily life and the occasional celebration, they also explore the possibilities of the medium itself, as in the works of Óskar Gíslason and Martinus Simson.

“Film history in Iceland is often overlooked; many consider it to have begun in 1979 with the establishment of the National Film Fund. With our project, we hope to change that point of view,” he adds. While the first feature-length film was made in Iceland in 1949, short documentaries and other smaller films were created by lesser-known, self-taught entrepreneurs. “These first filmmakers had to do their own experiments and improvise, basically. There were more of them than we think, but there is little about them written in the books because few people have researched this, sadly,” explains Kristófersson.

Iceland’s first female filmmaker was forgotten as well, it turns out, now finally dancing her way back into the spotlight with Flat-Charlestone. “Ruth Hanson, who shot this film with her own sister, Rigmor, was a dancer, a gymnast and a swimmer, this whole amazing personality. By 1929, she had disappeared – she got married and moved to Scotland, and we don’t know what happened to her after that. But during these three years in Iceland, she founded a legendary dance school that her sister eventually took over, and she made history with her achievements. It was incredible to discover all these things about her.”

While the initiative is still far from over, with new films being added every year, Kristófersson remains enthusiastic. “The possibilities are endless, and reaching the public in this way is very rewarding. We see possibilities with the project when it comes to showing the past to the children or with the elderly, who like to reminisce. Also, this way, we can share Iceland’s film history with the world. We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s worth it – these are the real film treasures of Iceland.”

The films and clips can be accessed here.

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