Icelandic cinematography, among the youngest and most original of the European continent, occupies a place of its own even in relation to those of the other Nordic countries. The first, albeit sporadic, signs date back to 1906, when the Iceland it was still under the secular rule of Denmark (completed in 1944), which inevitably had a strong influence on the origins of Icelandic cinema: it was the Danish Alfred Lind who made a three-minute documentary; in the same year in the capital, Reykjavík, the first cinema hall was opened. In 1919 another Dane, Gunnar Sommerfelt, began filming Saga Borgarœttarinnar (1921, The Story of the Borg Family), inspired by the novel by the Icelandic writer G. Gunnarsson and starring local actors. In 1923 Gunnar Robert Hansen and Gudmundur Kamban wrote the sentimental drama with an exotic background Hadda Padda. Until independence, productions were rare and the first sound and color film, Milli fjalls og fjöru (Between the mountain and the beach), dates back only to 1948, in which Loftur Gudmundsson, already in business since the silent era (his Ævintyri Jóns og Gvendur, The Adventures of Jón and Gvendur, is from 1923), reused some of the material from a 1924 documentary to tell a love story set in the 19th century. Between the fifties and the seventies Icelandic cinema experienced a preparatory period for that of real growth, which would take place starting from the eighties. Film between documentary and fiction, such as Nytt hlutverk (1954, New role) by Óskar Gíslason, feature films inspired by medieval sagas or comedies about the petty bourgeoisie (Mordsaga, 1977, Story of a murder, by Reynir Oddsson) made their appearance and began to constitute the reference points of this cinematography. The development of Icelandic production was facilitated, albeit slowly, by the Kvikmyndasjodur Islands (Icelandic Film Fund), established in 1979, together with the presence of independent producers who brought new energy.
Ágúst Gudhmundsson, who made his debut with the feature film Land og synir (1980, The land and his sons), a pastoral western about the ideological tension between a father and son, has continued his production by venturing into other genres as well. Of note is Útlaginn (1981, The Outlaw), inspired by the popular Icelandic saga Gisla saga (The Gisli Saga), followed by: the blockbuster musical comedy Medh allt á hreinu (1982, At the height of success); the political satire Gullsandur (1984, Golden Sand), which takes its cue from the presence of the US military base in Keflavík (of which other directors also speak); and Mávahlátur (2001, known as The seagull’s laughter), set in the 1950s and centered on a young Icelandic widow who, returning from the United States to her small community of origin, it upsets their life with its free ways. Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, also a theater director, staged the family crisis with Ódal fedranna (1980, La cascina paterna) and Okkar á milli (1982, Among us), while he told stories of adventures and revenge in Hrafninn flygur (1984, The Flight of the Crow). The first work of Thorsteinn Jónsson, author of works for television and producer of advertising films, was Punktur punktur komma strik (1981, Punto, punto, comma, dash), followed by Atómstödhin (1984, The nuclear power plant), financially unsuccessful film, based on the novel by Icelandic Nobel laureate H. Laxness. Thráinn Bertelsson, TV producer and journalist, recounted life in the suburbs of Reykjavík in Jón Oddur og Jón Bjarni (1981, Jón Oddur and Jón Bjarni), first part of a trilogy on the farcical adventures of two young men; Bertelsson then tackled the thriller filming Skammdegi in the fjords, (1985, Midwinter), which was followed by the family drama Magnús (1989). A supernatural thriller is Egill Edhvardhsson’s Húsidh (1983, The House). Lárus Yimir Óskarsson mainly carried out his activity in Sweden, where he shot Andra dansen (1982, The second dance), a travel film starring two women, as well as Jón’s Foxtrot (1988) focused on the theme of travel and violence. Tryggvason. Family drama with an experimental structure is instead Á hjara veraldar (1983, At the edge of the world) by director Kristín Jóhannesdóttir, while in the social comedy we find Skilabod til Söndru (1985, Message to Sandra) by Kristín Pálsdóttir, written by the famous screenwriter Gudny Halldórsdóttir. Anxiety torments a writer who returns to his childhood home in Hilmar Oddsson’s Eins og skepnan deyr (1986, How the Beast Dies).
The best-known director of Icelandic cinema, Fridhrik Thór Fridhriksson, also made his debut in the 1980s. His first works – including the musical portrait Rokk í Reykjavík (1982, Rock in Reykjavík) – are placed in the sign of documentary and experimentation and anticipate his first feature film, Skytturnar (1987, known as White whales), permeated with desires repressed that end in tragedy in the story of two fishermen returned to land after a whale hunt. Fridhriksson’s cinema reveals itself to be in constant motion and at the same time anchored to the earth, as Börn náttúrunnar (1991, Children of Nature) also testifies, an elderly couple escaping from a hospice who want to regain contact with nature; Á köldum klaka (1995, Cold fever), journey to icy places by a Japanese who arrived in Iceland; Englar alheimsins (2000, known as Angels of the universe), which combines two recurring elements in Icelandic life: the hostility towards the US base and the madness of the residents of the country. Ninety Icelandic cinema has increased its annual production (which ranks between five and eight titles), while in order to favor its development, a 2001 law provided for 12% reimbursement for those who go to shoot in Iceland (Die another day, 2002, Death Can Wait, by Lee Tamahori, was among the first to be awarded the grant). Representing the new generation of Icelandic filmmakers, capable of occupying a prominent place not only on the national market, are: Baltasar Kormákur, author of the generational portrait 101 Reykjavík (2000) and of the family tragedy Hafidh (2002, The Sea); Jóhann Sigmarsson, who wrote the insane comedy set between Iceland and Holland Óskabörn thjódarinnar (2000, known internationally as Plan B-report); Dagur Kári Pétursson, whose first feature was Nói albínói (2002, Nói the albino), a dazed comedy that suddenly turns towards death and that presents the most typical signs of this cinematography, the humor and despair caused by isolation. A separate place is occupied by Sólveig Anspach, who has made his numerous works, which can be placed between documentary and fiction, with filming in France (Haut les cœurs !, 1999), United States (Made in the USA, 2001) and Iceland.