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The Icelandic genius

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Dagur Kàri • Director

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- Aged just 29, this native of Iceland scored a huge hit with his directorial feature debut, Nói Albinói, an inward-looking work that won numerous awards at European film festivals.

Dagur Kàri • Director

A persistent rumour did the rounds at the last Cannes Film Festival and its source was the Marché. "You simply can’t afford to miss Nói Albinói", the stunning directorial feature debut that had already won the MovieZone Award in Rotterdam, two prizes at Sweden’s Goteborg event, the Grand Prix at both Premiers Plans in Angers and Rouen’s Nordic Film Festival. Who’s behind this existentialist comedy about a child prodigy wandering around his isolated and snowbound village? Dagur Kàri, a talented artist of just 29 who represents the considerable filmmaking talent concentrated in what is known as the New Icelandic Wave. Cineuropa met him for you in Paris at the French premiere of his film.

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When did you decide to become a film director?
Dagur Kàri : "At 17. I was already into music and had done photography and writing. I had to choose one profession where I could excel and it was difficult. Then I saw the films of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki for the first time during a festival in Iceland and realised that film directing was what I wanted to do. I began by writing scripts, then I worked at a TV station for two years prior to finishing my education at the Danish National Film School in 1995. My graduation film, Lost Weekend got off to a good start. Although the Danish press didn’t really like it, this film was an amazing surprise for me because it won lots (11) of awards at a variety of international festival."

How did you create Nói Albinói?
"I developed the story over a period of about twelve years. I invented the character before really knowing whether I would direct films. I gathered together some ideas, that were meant to become a cartoon rather than a novel. Then I graduated from film school and realised that I had enough material for a film. This is a work of fiction that is not at all autobiographical. 25 per cent of the total budget of Euros1.2m was covered by the Icelandic government. I had an Icelandic producer then the Franco-German film exporter, The Coproduction Office, boarded the co-production, followed by the Danes. It was fast and easy."

What inspired you?
"Good sitcoms influenced me a lot because going to the cinema has lost its innocence for me. In addition, there are no heroes in sitcoms; the characters have a wealth of problems to solve and I love the way the situations play out. I also appreciate the comic aspects of sitcoms and the closed settings, like that of the house in the Cosby Show or the little town where the Simpsons live. The fact is that I don’t feel very Icelandic. It is really difficult to make films there because the country is so small. I love deforming reality and it’s easier to do that abroad. That is why I really want to make my next two films outside of Iceland."

And what is your next project?
"I need to make a Dogma film because Nói Albinói was a difficult film to complete. It was my first film, I made it in the winter and had money problems that slowed down the post-production. I want to make a film that is fast, full of adrenalin and altogether wilder, perhaps in the summer. And Dogma allows me to do just that: artificial lighting and proper sets and stages are banned, all you have are the actors and the camera. I welcome non-professional actors because, in a similar way to the music business, if someone has talent, it doesn’t really matter that they have never studied. From a global point of view, the Dogma movement has seen its glory days. The first three films were interesting before it all became just another marketing phenomenon. From the personal point of view, I think Dogma is still valid. My next film will also be about a young man and will be produced by Nimbus Film (Festen and Mifune)."

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