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Activities - 03/02/2014


Interview with Hrönn Sveinsdóttir, Director of Bíó Paradís, Reykjavik (Iceland)



Hrönn Sveinsdóttir is member of the Europa Cinemas Label Jury at the upcoming Berlinale. She describes here the different activities of the only art-house cinema in Iceland: cinema education, festivals and tour of the villages.

1. Could you describe shortly Bio Paradis, its profile and development?

Bíó Paradís was founded in 2010 by the Icelandic Filmmakers Association, the Film Directors Guild of Iceland and the Association of Icelandic Film Producers. It is a nonprofit organization which aims at enhancing film culture in Iceland and supporting film education for younger audiences.

Bíó Paradís is the first art-house cinema in Iceland. It’s the only cinema remaining in the downtown area and the only one that shows Icelandic documentaries and shorts. The repertoire consists mostly of European, Icelandic and American independent films; occasional retrospectives of classic films; and an educational film program for children and young audiences.

We also host many annual events that we are very proud of: the Reykjavik Film Festival, the Reykjavík International Children’s Film Festival, Reykjavik Short Film Days, Reykjavík Shorts & Docs, German Film Days, Polish Film Days, the Indian Film Festival and the European Film Festival Iceland.

2. What does Bio Paradis propose to people in Reykjavik?

The largest service that Bíó Paradís provides to the community is our school program, which runs for nine weeks each semester, for elementary, high school and junior college students. These are free film literacy classes that include a film screening, reading material and projects for students, and these classes take place at the cinema. We host around 8,000 students annually in our school program. Bíó Paradís is also the only cinema that hosts a variety of cultural and ethnic programs, including Cuban film, Romanian film et al.; these events did not have a venue before Bíó Paradís came along. Our regular program focuses on films that are not screened in other cinemas. With the arrival of Bíó Paradís, the number of non-American films screened in Iceland has tripled, and these films now account for 27% percent of the total films screened in the country. Bíó Paradís is however not a threat to the large Icelandic distributors and multiplexes with only 2.9% market shares of all cinema tickets sold in Iceland.

3. How would you define the situation in Iceland with regards to films distribution and the access to European films?

Bíó Paradís is facing a difficult situation with regards to access to European films and films in general since the only distributors here are exhibitors as well. Distributors in Iceland import films for their own cinemas and don't have particular interest in European films, unless the films are very well known and internationally successful. As a result, we have to act as our own distributor too, and buy the films we screen in Bíó Paradís. This is very expensive, especially considering P&A costs for a release in only one cinema. Also, we rarely have access to the really popular European titles since these rights are usually in the hands of another distributor, which has bought the film to screen in its cinemas. We hope this situation will get better with time. 

4. In which manners your cinema participates in the promotion of European cinema?

Well, we promote European cinema all year round with our films. Bíó Paradís released 16 European films last year, and for each of them we try to rely on creative marketing campaigns instead of expensive advertisements. We have been able to get a lot of people to see a lot more European films in the last three years with social media buzz, special events and occasionally by having European directors. The largest promotion we do for European film is our European Film Festival Iceland, which is a ten-day celebration of the best and most interesting European films of the year. Last year, Agnieszka Holland was the guest of honor for our European festival. Our international children’s festival also has a European focus.

5. Would you say it is difficult for you as an independent art-house cinema to get copies of film?

It can be. The most difficult thing is probably explaining to sales agents that you are going to release their film in only one cinema and that you are expecting anywhere from 100 to 600 guests as a total turnout. For instance, the famous European title LA GRANDE BELLEZZA got only 340 guests during its theatrical run in Iceland. Often the turnout doesn't come close to covering the P&A. I would like to work more with small distributors elsewhere in sharing costs of artwork and materials because these costs are often prohibitively high for us.

6. What the digitization changed for you in terms of programming and access to films?

Before that we were not receiving prints but instead Blu-rays or Beta copies that were screened in our HD projectors. Now we have a much better picture quality, but unfortunately the copies are more expensive and having them subtitled is four times more expensive than Blu-rays.

7. You are this year a jury member for the Europa Cinemas Label at the 2014 Berlinale: what do you expect from the festival and films from Panorama? 

The Berlinale is my favorite festival and I always see great films and have a fantastic time there. I expect nothing less this year, especially since I get to see all the European films in the Panorama section, which is the best section. I think most of our general programming for the upcoming year will be formed during these ten days, or at least I hope so. Then we usually wrap it up in Cannes to find the missing pieces for our programs.  

8. Are you in general a regular film festival attendee?

I have been going a lot lately, but what I am trying to do more of is to go to smaller events for fun, instead of only going to the biggest festivals for work. I want to do more of that, and go with family and friends.

9. What kind of films do you like to watch and screen?

I am a fan of cult films, and we have a great cult and classics program at Bíó Paradís called Black Sundays, which takes place every Sunday night. There were a lot of films that came out this year that I liked, and most of them we were lucky to screen at Bíó Paradís – Borgman, Oh Boy, La Grande Bellezza, Child’s Pose and many more. I like it when films have craftsmanship, a clear tone and a confidence in telling a story visually. If the filmmaking is brave then that is the extra oompf that we are always looking for, which makes us love a film. We like to be surprised at the cinema! 

10. What were your specific problems in 2013, if any and what do you feel about 2014?

Our challenges in 2013 were about financing the cinema and the equipment a. I think this year we will face similar challenges but this time in regards to our very ambitious programs. Our festivals are growing, and we are developing new projects all the time. This summer, for example, we are planning to take one of our portable DCP projectors around the country and screen European and Icelandic films in small villages that don't have cinemas - that is most small places around the country, especially those in the remotest fjords. We will be on the road for a long time, going crazy with each other, like a rock 'n' roll band. Then in the fall we will be presenting our own international film festival for the first time. This will be a huge event which we are both nervous and excited about, but it's a great honor to be selected by the city of Reykjavík to organize the city’s international film festival.

Interview by Alizée Dallemagne and Laëtitia Kulyk (January 2014)