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Iceland Films

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News
Article Date: September 23, 2004 | Publication: - Moneywise | Author: Bryan Oliver

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Chances are most Canadians know very little about the ancient or even modern history of the North Atlantic island called Iceland.

But a Toronto-based, Iceland-born movie director is hoping change all of that next year as he brings an early chapter of Iceland's ancient past to life on the silver screen.

In the first part of a MoneyWise series profiling economic development in Iceland, Bryan Oliver examines the trans-atlantic ties being forged between the film industries of Iceland and Canada.

It is one of the world's most fascinating and breath-taking landscapes. Tucked just below the arctic circle on the mid-atlantic ridge, sit the magnificent mountains, glaciers and volcanic lava fields of Iceland.

More than 11-hundred years after the country's first parliament met here, to many people...Iceland remains an undiscovered, untapped and unspoiled gem. And the perfect backdrop for an Icelandic-Canadian film director, shooting an epic film about an epic tale.

Sturla Gunnarsson/Film Director: "This is such a stunning, other-worldly landscape. The land itself is a character in the film. Everywhere you look, it takes your breath away."

And Gunnarsson is hoping that film will take away the breath of movie-goers in 2005. "Beowulf and Grendel" is the story of a norse warrior who fights off a murderous troll and a dragon in an ancient danish kingdom. The original "Beowulf" poem is believed to have inspired JR. Tolkein's "Lord Of The Rings."

Sturla Gunnarsson/Film Director: "The Beowulf story in a funny kind of way has its home here, because it's sort of a norse yarn that took place in the 5th century and was written down in the 10th century by an anglo-saxon and then lost...and discovered in the 1800s by an Icelander."

Some call "Beowulf" the world's first horror story. The Icelandic-Canadian-British production will star Scottish actor Gerard Butler in the lead role. Canada's Sarah Polley, of "Exotica" and "The Sweet Hereafter" fame will play a lead role as an outcast witch.

Sturla Gunnarsson/Film Director: "Sarah is wonderful. She's a great actor. She's honest. There's never a false moment in her work."

Gunnarsson and his team scouted locations for the medieval adventure more than a year, right across the Iceland countryside. They'll use real glaciers, a viking ship replica...and even a fake sixth-century village...being carved out in the wilderness, some on rugged, weather-worn mountain-tops.

Hjortur Gretarsson/Icelandic Film Centre: "We're looked upon perhaps as being elfish people, which we are, probably. But I think a movie like this will show we are capable of producing major motion pictures and hosting productions of such films."

Bryan Oliver/MoneyWise Reporter: "While many Icelandic films are designed to take advantage of the spectacular landscape around the country, it is not unusual to see many films made right here in the capital city of Reykjavik."

Director Baltazar Kormakur has converted an old factory in Reykjavik into a 1970s-era American high school for part of his upcoming film called "A Little Bit Of Heaven."

Iceland, a country of less than 300-thousand, is generating about four major productions a year.

Petur Oskarsson/Icelandic Trade Commissioner: "The film industry in Iceland is booming. The Icelandic government recently passed tax-incentive laws, which has helped the industry a lot."

So has a co-production treaty, recently signed with Canada.

Sturla Gunnarsson/Film Director: "We really have three different kinds of film-making cultures between Iceland, the UK and Canada. But it's working."

Gunnarsson is very proud of his cinematic homecoming. He says Icelanders have survived more than a millennium through the pride of re-telling of their own story. He says art is not a luxury here...and his hopes for "Beowulf" are high.

Sturla Gunnarsson/Film Director: "I think that this will be the first film made entirely in Iceland to reach a mass market. And I think that will have a huge impact on Iceland, when the people see these phenomenal landscapes, and kind of the spiritual energy that you feel here."


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