1980 film is credited with signalling the Icelandic motion picture industry’s rebirth.
The establishment of the Icelandic Film Fund in 1978 represented an important step in developing a self sustaining film production culture. Previously, despite the presence of a domestic filmmaking community a lack of available funds and limited opportunities for exhibition restricted the number of Icelandic films produced. The early period of Icelandic cinema history included a notable documentary tradition and saw the release of several significant feature films including Between Mountain and Shore (1949), The Last Farm in the Valley (1950), and Girl Gogo (1962).
Prior to the setting up of the Icelandic Film Fund a lack of funding and limited export opportunities resulted in a lost decade during which no domestic films were produced.
Following the first Reykjavik Film Festival in 1978 the Icelandic Film Fund was set up with an initial production budget of 300,000 Kronur. Insufficient to fully subsidise the making of a motion picture, the available funds enabled producers and directors to commence pre-production while seeking additional sources of finance from investors. A significant proclamation of the government’s embracing of film’s importance, news of the fund’s establishment galvanized the domestic film industry. Initially committed to supporting three productions, the first to reach cinema screens was Ágúst Gudmundsson’s Land and Sons.
Released in 1980 Land and Sons exceeded all expectations at the domestic box office. Seen by 110,000 people in a country with a total population of 230.000 it demonstrated that people were eager for home grown content and would pay to see it. To cover production costs ticket prices were roughly 250% higher than competing international films, The inflated cost of admission did not deter cinemagoers enthusiasm for a domestically produced film that addressed national concerns.
Recognised today as the first sign that an Icelandic Film Spring was about to occur, Land and Sons can also lay claim to birthing modern Icelandic film culture.
An early example of the Icelandic heritage film, it documented the loss of rural traditions, and fragmenting of communities. Adapted from Indriði G. Þorsteinsson’s novel, Land and Sons is set in a remote farming community in the north of Iceland during the 1930s. A transitional moment in Icelandic history, still under colonial rule the era of mass migration to Reykjavik was beginning.
In the years leading up to World War Two the majority of Icelanders lived on farms and smallholdings, within a generation Reykjavik’s population would double.
Alienated and restless Einar (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) yearns to escape from a lifetime of agricultural labour. His father Olaf has tended the land since he inherited it from Einar’s grandfather. A prominent member of the local community Olaf is wedded to a specific lifestyle and is immune to the winds of change. Already heavily indebted to the local cooperative his financial situation worsens when a disease ravages the sheep herd. Bound together by blood and tradition father and son struggle to battle against a worsening financial situation and an unforgiving environment. The lure of city living proves too great for Einar in the period immediately after Olaf’s death .Unaware that forces are brewing in Europe that will plunge the world into global conflict within two years Einar contemplates selling his birthright and ending customs that have been handed down through several generations.
Melancholic and fatalistic, Land and Sons‘ treatment of history and the elevation of environment to supporting character recalls the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and John Ford. A cross-generational study of conflicting ambitions, that pays homage to the New German Cinema with cine-literate references to classic Westerns (Shane and The Searchers).
An elegy to a way of life now vanished. Ágúst Gudmundsson’s film invites the viewer to consider if the embracing of urbanization has eroded specific characteristics of Icelandic national identity.
Deserving of its place in film history, Land and Sons is the foundation upon which the modern Icelandic film industry was built.
A subtitled DVD is available to order from nammi.is: