Hlín Jóhannesdóttir • Zik Zak Filmworks
01/05/2011 - What is it with those Icelanders? With a population of 320,000 – the size of a Paris banlieu – they produced 14 full-length films last year, and went to cinemas 4.9 times per capita, or three times as much as the Finnish.
“Could be the long winters, and the nasty and unpredictable weather,” says Icelandic producer Hlín Jóhannesdóttir, of Zik Zak Filmworks, who is in Cannes as Iceland’s representative in the Producers on the Move programme, organised by European Film Promotion.
A graduate in anthropology and practical media studies from the University of Iceland, Jóhannesdóttir got a job at Reykjavik’s Zik Zak Filmworks early 2000 – 50% office work, since she was the only employee – but she was shortly 150% involved in the whole business.
Zik Zak was instigated by Icelandic producers Skúli F Malmquist and Thor S Sigurjónsson in 1995. Jóhannesdóttir gradually went from bookkeeping to the production side, to finally solely producing, and in 2006 she became a co-owner of the company.
“It was learning-by-doing. I was allowed to create my own working methods, and they trusted me completely. I will always thank them for what they did. Also their production profile suited me fine, they always sought out new impressive talent,” she recalled.
Over the years Jóhannesdóttir has been credited on over 20 film productions, including Rúnar Rúnarsson’s Oscar-nominated short The Last Farm and four features by Icelandic top directors Dagur Kári and Fridrik Thór Fridriksson.
“Kári and Fridriksson were already collaborating with Zik Zak when I joined, and it was a real pleasure to work with them – they are good guys, obviously extremely talented, they have a great sense of humour, and they even used to play soccer together,” she said.
At this year’s Cannes Jóhannesdóttir is represented in the Directors' Fortnight by Rúnarsson’s feature debut Volcano [trailer], starring Theódór Júlíusson, Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir, Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir and Thorsteinn Bachmann, and co-produced with Denmark’s Fine & Mellow Productions.
Also scripted by Rúnarsson, the film follows Hannes, a janitor who has just retired from his job. Estranged from his family, with hardly any friends, he realises he has to change his life, deal with choices of the past and the difficulties of the present, to embrace the future.
“Rúnarsson had developed the story in his mind for a long time – after all, it is his first feature – and we always planned to make it together. I was not involved till financing and packaging started last year, but since then it has been full speed ahead,” Jóhannesdóttir concluded.
After Cannes will return to Iceland to immediately shoot Oskar Thor Axelsson’s Black Curse, a fictional account of how a gang of pushers tool control of Iceland’s underworld in the late 1990s, starring Þorvaldur D Kristjánsson, Jóhannes H Jóhannesson, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Damon Younger.
It will be followed by Home Away from Home, by a newcomer, Katrin Olafsdóttir – an Icelandic, German, and Spanish co-production – as well as a joint project with Fridriksson and Gudrun Thórhannestóttir’s company Spellbound Films – about Pedro, a recluse living in the Canary Islands, and Pálína, an impulsive Icelander.
They meet on the Internet, and Pálína spends the only money she has on a plane ticket. Alex Brendemühl and Sunneva Weisshappel will play the leads in the film, which will go into production this autumn or early next year. Moreover, Jóhannesdóttir is preparing two documentaries, a children’s film and looking into a television series.