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Innovative Thinkers

Icelandic Cinema Online founders (left-right) Sunna Guðnadóttir and Stefanía Thors have opened the vault of Icelandic cinema for a worldwide audience.  Photo: Natsha Nandabhiwat  It’s Saturday night and being an Icelandic descendant, you’re naturally thinking it’s high time you watched another Icelandic film.

You check the newspaper anticipating disappointment and, yep, there are plenty of teen comedies, horror flicks and big budget action films available at the local cineplex, but no Icelandic features.

A quick phone call to the neighborhood video rental store and you discover their newest Icelandic film is Beowulf & Grendel and you are the last person who rented it. Your local Icelandic club has the documentary Dreamland scheduled a month from now, but you want to watch an Icelandic film and you want to watch it NOW.Normally the search would stop, most unsuccessfully, at this point. The evening’s desired Icelandic film showing would be replaced with a few hours of fruitless channel cruising on TV, or finally facing up to the challenge of that unsorted sock drawer.

Thanks to a conversation between two homesick Icelanders over a glass of wine one winter in the Czech Republic, a new option for watching Icelandic film now exists. During Christmas Holiday 2009, Sunna Guðnadóttir was visiting her friend Stefanía Thors in Prague when they both had a craving to watch an Icelandic film. Specifically, they wanted to view the Icelandic comedy Sódóma Reykjavíkur, after remembering some delightful moments in the film.

To their anguished surprise, a quick internet search for the film came up empty. Further on-line searching left them astonished that there was no internet “home” for Icelandic Cinema. With this realization, Sunna and Steffi knew what they had to do: harness the internet to bring Icelandic film to the world.  While the concept sounds simple enough, getting from the idea stage to creating that Icelandic Film portal on the world wide web became an intricate process that took nearly two years to complete.

To help shape the concept, the duo entered their plan into a contest designed to discover promising new business ideas in February 2010. In April, the winners were announced and their concept, which became Icelandic Cinema Online (ICO), did not take top honors but had risen into the top 10 ideas out of 300 entries.

Buoyed by the positive response, they were now convinced this project needed to be completed. During the next year they continued applying for grants and sponsorships as they enlisted the help of friends to create the digital infrastructure to make their dream possible. “I think the difficulties in getting official support were most surprising during the development of this project,” said Sunna Guðnadóttir.”

We still have not received any public funds, except a small grant for this project,” she said, “even though we feel it is a natural for funds that give grants for innovative projects.” One of the biggest obstacles to funding is a basic misunderstanding about the potential for the site to showcase Icelandic film worldwide in a setting that enhances the cinematic experience. “Icelandic films have a wide audience abroad,” Sunna said, and IOC would like to feature those films in the best presentation possible.

She appreciates that the Icelandic government is committed to the growth of small and medium sized enterprises, and cited a government report that the “creative industries” in Iceland have made huge contributions to the economy. However, she said, “governments in general respond slowly, and the film industry in Iceland faces many obstacles.” Sunna said the Icelandic film industry itself “is in a critical state due to the massive downsizing in funds the industry has had to endure in the past three years.”

Despite these economic trends, in May 2011, with limited private funding, a small grant, and an all-volunteer staff, this new outlet for Icelandic art was launched at www.IcelandicCinema.com. Sunna Guðnadóttir is pleased with the results to date. Icelandic Cinema Online (ICO) provides a much needed venue “for introducing the country abroad, and for creating new opportunities for film-makers in Iceland to distribute their films.”

And of course, for fans of Icelandic Cinema, ICO makes the Icelandic film heritage finally available for easy access. When the site first launched, roughly one third of the visitors were from Iceland. As Icelandic film fans across the world continue to find the site that number has dropped to one-quarter of the overall visitors. The bulk of the site guests are from USA, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

There are many visits from Canada, Denmark, Poland, France, Spain, and Norway. In a recent posting on ICO’s Facebook page, they highlight the fact that the site has been accessed by people from 127 different countries. With no promotion budget, ICO has been relying on social media sites like Facebook to reach Icelandic film fans.

The Facebook page features lively conversations about the films available on ICO, with frequent updates on the latest films added to the collection.The offerings are a treasure trove of Icelandic film, with feature films representing a wide range of the most popular titles such as Angels of the Universe and a recent film, Our Own Oslo. The site also has many short features that would typically be seen only once or twice in Iceland. The site has several free films to entice visitors to try out the process of ordering a film.

One of the challenges they face in the quest to acquire additional titles for the site is tracking down the owners of films to gain permission to carry a new title. In an interview in the September 23 issue of The Reykjavik Grapevine, Steffi Thors said getting approval can be very time consuming, because people are busy making their films and tracking down original prints, so permissions are low on their priority list. In searching for films to post on the site, they have also discovered some older films may never be available because the original prints are now lost.

Sunna added that the cost of digitizing an older film for online viewing is also a limiting factor. All of these costs quickly add up for a small arts organization that still needs a source of funding                    if it is to continue showcasing Icelandic film into the foreseeable future.Can an all-volunteer staff, subscriber-funded cultural enterprise save more Icelandic film from disappearing into the past and make these films available for a worldwide audience?

That lofty goal was the dream two friends shared one Christmas season in Prague. With great effort, their dream is now a reality that Icelandic film fans can enjoy and support.

How to view a film on ICO
T
he first step after landing at http://www.icelandiccinema.com/ is to register as a user by clicking the “Register” tab on the top right of the main page. Enter your email address and create a password and you are now able to start accessing the available films. Try one of the short films located under the “Free” tab to test your connection speed and your computer’s sound and video display.

After making a selection, a “Watch Film” box will appear showing the viewing cost is 0 euros. Simply click the box, and a dialog box will state “You are about to rent a film. Film rental is valid for 24 hours. You will be charged €0 from your credit.

If you experience any problems with streaming please try a smaller file size.” Click the “Continue” tab and within a few moments, the film will start playing. If you move your cursor over the “movie screen,” a bar will display at the bottom of the film, showing the running length of the film (timeline) and how much of the film has already played.

If your connection is fast enough, you can choose to play the film in “HD” (High Definition). This is a simple task of clicking on the small white box to the right of the timeline. Doing so will enlarge the film display to fill your entire computer monitor. If the film slows down or the picture and sound begin to “freeze,” try resizing the display back to the smaller size by pressing your “escape” key to close the larger display. If you need “close captioning” look for that icon in the bottom right corner of film screen. Several films offer that option. Simply click the icon to turn close captioning on or off.

IOC has several free short films that you can view in order to get comfortable with the process of selecting and viewing films. Once you are ready to “rent” a film, you will need to pay for the rental on-line and in Euros. Rental costs range from one to five euros. Currently, Mamma Gogo costs 5 Euros, while most of the feature length films are three euros, and short films usually one euro.

What is the current exchange rate between the Euro and Canadian or US currency? Several currency exchange calculators can be found on the web with a quick Google search. Using one of these on-line converters at the time of this writing, three euros were worth $4 US, which is a great bargain to begin a journey through Icelandic cinema.


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