Setningarfundur Eurimages, evrópska kvikmyndasjóðsins - ræða

Ávarp við upphaf fundar Eurimages í Reykjavík, 24. júní 1996.
Address at the opening of a meeting of the Board of Management of Eurimages, 24 June 1996.

It is my privilege to welcome you all to Iceland and I sincerely hope that your meeting here will be both successful and rewarding. Moreover, I hope that you will have an opportunity to discover some of Iceland’s main attractions, that you will enjoy our hospitality and get better acquainted with our national film industry.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with a visitor from abroad, who called upon me specifically to convey the necessity of increased financial support to the Icelandic film industry. He personally wanted to bring my attention to the fact that by any standards something extraordinary appeared to be occurring here. In Iceland a population of only 260 thousand is able to sustain a film industry and almost annually make a widely recognised contribution to the world of international film production. The visitor in question argued that it should be one of my first duties as the Minister of Culture to guarantee the continuation of this development by creating feasible conditions for further growth of the industry.

This request is truly a considerable challenge as here in Iceland it might be maintained, that film producers are paradoxically in the danger of falling victims to their own success. Last year, seven new Icelandic feature films had their première. The growth has been so enormous and so rapid that our small society might in the end prove to be incapable of coping with the situation.

Let me hasten to add, that this welcome development has not taken place without international co-operation and transnational support. In that context, Eurimages has played a vital role. Since 1990, you have financially supported the realisation of twelve Icelandic films, which have been co-productions of Icelandic and other European producers.

I want to assure you that the name of the Eurimages fund is well known here and on more than one occasion I have been reminded of how much we have in reality gained from our participation. I have also met with the view that Iceland should be contributing more to the programme.

The year 1979 represents a major turning point in the history of Icelandic film production. Against the backdrop of a loose association of amateurs with only sporadic output, there suddenly emerged a new generation of trained cinematographers and directors. In the same year, the newly created Icelandic Film Fund awarded its first grants to Icelandic film makers. The establishment of the fund was a confirmation of the Icelandic state's perception that it had a purpose and a role in supporting this particular industry and art form. The Film Fund is, however, primarily a cultural institution and, in my wiew, it is unreasonable to expect that it can unilaterally provide full financial support to a dynamic Icelandic film industry. I, therefore, welcome the recent exploration of new approaches to financing under the auspices of the Icelandic Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Those who are faced with the task of making decisions about public financial support to film productions are often confronted with difficult choices, as I am sure you know much better than I do. Should the primary concern of the decision maker be an artistic optimisation, which often weighs heavily with the director — or should one focus more on the commercial viability of the film? I am inclined to attach more importance to the latter. Those deciding on the question of support should be reasonably convinced that the product has at least a fair chance of a broad appeal. In this context, one should never forget the crucial role of a good script, which is often a sound prediction of the film’s general reception.

Returning to the local scene and Icelandic history, television has also played a major role in the development of Icelandic film production. The Icelandic National Broadcasting Company began television transmissions in 1966 and has from its inception provided a vital opportunity for many of the country’s first cinematographers to acquire experience and training in their field. Another qualitative change occurred 20 years later, in 1986, when the state’s monopoly of television and radio broadcasting was finally abandoned. Simultaneously the first private television corporation, Stöð 2 (Channel 2), came into being. As a result of this versatility and accompanying competition, there was an immediate increase in nearly all categories of programmes — in documentaries, entertainment programmes, news, commercials et cetera. This in turn, stimulated a burst of activity within the film industry, enhancing the level of technical expertise and allowing many young and aspiring film makers to harness their talents while awaiting an opportunity to make a full-length feature.

At the present, we, the politicians, are faced with growing demands to radically change the broadcasting law, both to adapt the National Broadcasting Company to a changing market environment and to enhance the chances of private stations to co-exist and flourish alongside a state medium. It would be presumptuous of me to attempt to predict the outcome of this work, but in Iceland, as elsewhere, we have to realise that television, radio and the film industry will inevitably have to adapt to the new multi-media technology. These now dissimilar technologies are quite likely to merge in the near future.

The other day, a friend who is well advanced in the use of the Internet, confessed to me that he had hardly slept a wink the night before. However, it turned out that this insomnia was self-inflicted. On the Net, he had discovered a new programme from Microsoft which enabled him to establish a voice contact and to converse with people in America and Australia. In addition to discussing and computer communicating they were also able to draw pictures for each other and exchange family photographs to name but a few examples. My friend admitted that although he thought he had acquired considerable knowledge about the information technology, and believe me we have here in Iceland people who are really knowledgeable in this field, this new Microsoft programme was more advanced and more powerful than he had expected of such a new concept.

This incident reminded me of the predictions of Bill Gates, the founder and owner of Microsoft, in his book The Road Ahead , where he claims that no broadcast medium is comparable with what the information highway will soon evolve into. Before long, we will have a long list of available programmes and by a simple request for a specific movie or television programme it will be routed to us over the network and onto our television and computer screens.

Investments in the search for technical solutions, relevant to various aspects of the information highway are so enormous, that local and even common European film production funds pale in comparison. On the other hand, the triumph of this new medium over traditional ones appears to be inevitable. Hence, we Icelanders, as wells as others, have to be prepared to take advantage of this new technology and use it for the preservation and further cultivation of our national heritage. If we do not preserve it ourselves, it will surely wither away.

I consider it an important task of the Icelandic Government to ensure that Icelandic material can be accessed on the information highway. To do that it is not only necessary to support film making, but also to adapt public institutions in the fields of TV, radio, art and education to this new medium. I would also like to see a fund like Eurimages looking purposely ahead in order to keep Europe prepared for what is just around the corner.

Let me once again revert your attention back to 1979, as that particular year was the one in which the first fully professional full-length feature film, titled Land og synir ("Land and Sons"), was made in Iceland. The film was directed by Ágúst Gudmundsson and based on the eponymous novel by Indridi G. Thorsteinsson. Land og synir depicts the gradual decline and collapse of Icelandic traditional, social and cultural values during the Second World War — a period in which Iceland rapidly changed from a rural to an urban society, leaving the countryside to a great extent depopulated.

In early stages of the war, Iceland was occupied by the British Army which sought to prevent the Germans from taking Iceland as they did Denmark and Norway. In 1941, an American military force replaced the British command and in 1949 we came a founding member of NATO, making a bilateral defence agreement with the United States in 1951. An agreement that is still in force and in pristine condition despite the end of the Cold War.

I want to draw your attention to this fact to explain two important things. First, why our social and cultural values changed dramatically during the Second World War and in the post-war period. Secondly, to remind you that for 45 years we have managed to preserve and enrich our own distinctive culture, despite having relatively large and strong — but friendly — foreign cultural element in our small society. Finally, I wish to stress that although we Icelanders are solid Europeans, we are very much westward looking as islanders in the North Atlantic, realising that our security and other vital interests depend on close Atlantic ties to the west as well as to the east.

We still speak the same language as the first settlers did in Iceland over 1100 years ago. The average Icelander, including children, can still read our ancient books, which together constitute one of the marvels of western civilisation. The vitality of the Icelandic film industry reflects our traditional inclination to use every opportunity and technical means to tell a story. By supporting the production of Icelandic films you have confirmed our belief that we still have something to contribute to the European and international culture. I sincerely hope you will continue to show interest for Icelandic film productions.

Let me conclude by stressing that from our point of view there is no doubt that Eurimages will within the next years become increasingly important in sustaining the diversity of European cultural life. This diversity is one of the foundations for peace and,peaceful development in our region, and a hallmark of the Council of Europe.

On behalf of the Icelandic Government I welcome you again and wish you all the best in your deliberations here in Reykjavik.