Iceland, 12 May 1953.
Attended Icelandic University; self-educated in filmmaking.
Began making 16mm short films while still a student, 1970s; operated the
Icelandic University film club, 1974–1978; founded the Reykjavik
Film Festival, 1978; founded, edited, and wrote for Kvikmyndabladid,
Iceland's first film magazine; founded his own film production
company, The Icelandic Film Corporation, 1984.
Lubeck Nordic Film Days Audience Prize of the "Lubecker
, 1987; Lubeck Nordic Film Days Children's Film Prize of the Nordic
Film Institutes, Rouen Nordic Film Festival Young Audience Award and
A.C.O.R. Award and Audience Award, for
, 1991; Lubeck Nordic Film Days Baltic Film Prize for a Nordic Feature
, 1994; Edinburgh Film Festival Channel 4 Director's Award, Rimini
International Film Festival Grand Prix, for
A koldum klaka
, 1995; Karlovy Vary International Film Festival FIPRESCI Award, Rouen
Nordic Film Festival Young Audience Award, for
c/o The Icelandic Film Corporation, Hverfisgata 46, 101 Reykjavik,
Eldsmiourinn ( The Blacksmith ) (doc) (short)
Rokk in Reykjavik ( Rock in Reykjavik ) (doc)
Kurekar Noroursins ( Icelandic Cowboys ) (doc )
The Circle (doc)
Skytturnar ( White Whales ) (+ co-sc, pr)
Sky without Limits (for TV)
Pretty Angels (for TV)
Born natturunnar ( Children of Nature ) (+ co-sc, pr)
A koldum klaka ( Cold Fever ) (+ co-sc); Biodagar ( Movie Days ) (+ co-sc, pr)
Djoflaeyjan ( Devil's Island ) (+ pr)
Englar alheimsins ( Angels of the Universe )
Stikkfri ( Count Me Out ) (Kristinsson) (pr); Blossi/810551 (Kemp) (pr)
Vildspor ( Wildside ) (Staho) (pr); The Tale of Sweety Barrett (Bradley) (co-pr)
Dancer in the Dark (von Trier) (assoc pr)
"Sank det nordiska viking a skeppet!," in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 1, 1994.
" Cold Fever ," interview with P. Frans, in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), February 1996.
"The Iceman Cometh," interview with Andrew Johnston, in Time Out (New York), 11–18 March 1999.
"Devil's Advocate," interview with Leslie Camhi, in Village Voice (New York), 17–23 March 1999.
Ahlund, J., "Slagolikt kreativ," in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 1, 1994.
* * *
Iceland is the Wyoming of Western European countries. It is sparsely populated, with a stark landscape that might resemble the surface of Mars. With this in mind, perhaps it is no great distinction to be recognized as the foremost Icelandic film director. But that precisely is what Fridrik Thor Fridriksson is. And, even though he hails from a country that is no cinematic mecca, he is a world-class filmmaker.
Fridriksson began his career by directing several documentaries. His first, The Blackmith , is the portrait of an elderly tradesman and inventor who resides by himself in rural Iceland. In two others, Fridriksson began examining the impact of western culture on his homeland, a theme that reverberates throughout his work. Rock in Reykjavik explores the music scene in Iceland's capital city. Icelandic Cowboys offers a portrait of his country's first (and, to date, only) cowboy festival, an event organized by Icelandic country-western singer Hallbjorn Hjartarson.
Fridriksson's narrative films are appealingly quirky and crammed with wry humor, in a manner reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, and the Kaurismaki brothers. They spotlight aspects of Icelandic life and culture; they are cinematic odysseys in which rural Icelanders flee their narrow, sheltered environs and explore what for them are the far reaches of the world (from the nightlife of Reykjavik to the pop culture-dominated United States); or they portray the effect of the country on foreigners who come to Iceland. At their core, they are deadpan comic-dramatic explorations of Iceland in transition, with Fridriksson eliciting a flair for delving beneath the surface of his characters.
Most often, Fridriksson's characters find themselves displaced; they are strangers in strange lands. In White Whales , his narrative debut, the strangers are Grimur and Bubbi, two rootless veteran whalers. The strange land is Reykjavik, where they decide to settle—and where they end up thoroughly disoriented. Children of Nature , Fridriksson's first internationally acclaimed film, is the story of Thorgein Kristmundsson, an aged farmer and widower who has spent his life in Iceland's outer reaches. His strange land also is Reykjavik, where he comes to live with his daughter and her children. Unable to adapt to this alien environment, he eventually sets out in search of his childhood roots; he is accompanied by Stella, a girlfriend from his youth, with whom he has become reacquainted while in a nursing home.
In Cold Fever (which, not surprisingly, was produced by Jim Stark, who is best known for his work with Jim Jarmusch), Fridriksson introduces foreigners to the Icelandic landscape. He charts the adventures of Atsushi (Masatoshi Nagase, who appeared in Jarmusch's Mystery Train ), a Japanese businessman who decides to go to Iceland and trek to the remote site where his parents died, to perform a ceremony so their souls can rest in peace. Upon his arrival, Atsushi is in for quite a bit of culture shock; throughout his journey, as he mixes with an assortment of lighthearted, idiosyncratic natives, he keeps describing Iceland as a "very strange country." The vulgarity of America is personified by Jack and Jill, a pair of loud, violent hitchhikers Atsushi picks up while driving cross-country. Jack is garbed in a New York Yankees cap, and is unable to differentiate between a Chinese and a Japanese. When Jill is hungry, she demands a hot dog and Diet Pepsi.
If much of Cold Fever is set amid Iceland's austere, natural beauty, the landscape Fridriksson spotlights in Devil's Island is a gloomy, junk-littered wasteland that is left over from the American military presence in the country during World War II. Devil's Island , set in the 1950s, is the story of Baddi and Danni, brothers whose mother has married an American pilot and gone off to live in Kansas. They have been raised by their grandparents in the dismal environs of what once was an American military barracks. Baddi visits his mother and returns home thoroughly Americanized. His new black leather jacket, Elvis-inspired hairdo, and sneer mark the trappings that start an epic culture clash, pitting conventional Icelandic values against new-fashioned, rock 'n' roll-inspired attitudes. In Iceland there are no slick, media-created role models for a young person to emulate, so it is inevitable that Baddi becomes transfixed by American pop culture. At the same time, he has not been transformed into a fashionably alienated being who has found his salvation in his discovery of hot cars and rock 'n' roll. Simply put, Baddi is a selfish, egomaniacal moron.
Fridriksson, like Wim Wenders, explores the inexorable impact of America on post-war Europe, yet he does not blindly rail against the Americanization of his homeland; he is not at all offended by the sociological displacement and cultural incursion that has materialized in Iceland during his lifetime. He either is amused by it, or is a curious observer of it. And in Movie Days , perhaps his most personal film, he directly examines how he himself has been affected by American culture. A valentine to Hollywood moviemaking, Fridriksson offers a portrait of a character who might be his alter-ego: Tomas, a young boy growing up in Iceland during the early 1960s, whose world is expanded upon discovering a universe of cowboys, spies, and monsters—all within the confines of a movie theater. As a heartfelt ode to the pop cultural influences of one's youth, Movie Days may be favorably compared to Woody Allen's Radio Days and Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso.