From September 27 to October 7 the Reykjavik International Film Festival held its ninth edition, flouting its recent economic woes to ensure the continuation of a young event that has quickly become a popular favourite on the European film calendar. Its cosy hospitality and quality programming were again in evidence, as of course was what is perhaps an even bigger draw for first-timers — its strikingly alien, dramatic setting of purple mountains and treeless expanses of brown earth, which make Iceland seem at times like a barely colonised moon.
The New Visions main competition, which FIPRESCI also judged, was made up of first features from Europe, the US and Israel. Including one European and three international premieres, it offered a varied selection stylistically, from the frank cinema verite of Bulgarian offering Sofia’s Last Ambulance (Poslednata lineika na Sofia) to the children's animation of French-German-Irish co-production Moon Man (which picked up a main jury special mention), and the near-future fantasy of Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild (the winner of main jury prize The Golden Puffin). The FIPRESCI prize went to Sean Baker's Starlet, an understated and genuinely moving US indie from director Sean Baker set in Los Angeles, which offered a humanising and non-stereotypical depiction of relationships on the trashy fringes of the Hollywood dream.
With Italian maestro Dario Argento in attendance to collect a Lifetime Achievement award from the festival, there were chances to see his stylised cult horrors of hyper-intense colours Suspiria and Inferno on the big screen along with his latest Dracula 3D. Iranian filmmaker and graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi was awarded as an Emerging Master, with her Persepolis and Chicken and Plums (Poulet aux prunes) in the programme, while the honouring of Danish director Susanne Bier with a Creative Excellence Award was marked by screenings of her Love Is All You Need (Den skaldede frisør), After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) and Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt).
A special event highlight saw Damo Suzuki, formerly of highly influential kraut-rock band CAN, performing live soundtrack accompaniment to Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis — especially fitting given the Germany in Focus sidebar of films also offered by the festival. An Icelandic Panorama section meant the best in homegrown cinema did not go unacknowledged. (Carmen Gray)
Reykjavík International Film Festival: www.riff.is