Icelandic Handicraft Association Recognized by UNESCO

Þjóðbúningur Icelandic national costume

The Icelandic Handicraft Association was recognized at the recent UNESCO congress in Paris with a place on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The association is the first such Icelandic association to be recognized in such a way. RÚV reports.

“A great honour”

“This is a great honor for the Handicraft Association and for all of us,” stated Kristín Vala Breiðfjörð, chairperson of the association. “This is the first association in Iceland to receive this recognition from UNESCO,” she continued. Kristín is currently attending the General Assembly of UNESCO in Paris along with representatives from the Ministry of Culture and the Icelandic UNESCO delegation.

“The future is bright”

Kristín also stated that “the Handicraft Association, in its 110-year history, has worked to preserve Icelandic cultural heritage in craftsmanship. This includes our national costumes, textile work, embroidery, and all the crafts that are found in museums. While museums’ role is to preserve these national treasures, it is our role to preserve the working knowledge behind them, and the craftsmanship.”

In addition to the Icelandic Handicraft Association, around fifty other organizations worldwide will be added to the list today, including the Swedish Handcraft Association.

“I would say the future is bright,” Kristín stated to RÚV. “We see a significant increase in participation in our courses and interest in the association, as well as a general interest in crafts in society.”



Bill Would Require Streaming Companies to Invest in Icelandic Culture

lilja dögg alfreðsdóttir

Streaming companies operating in Iceland would be required to invest in Icelandic TV and film production if a new bill proposed by the Minister of Culture is passed. Both Icelandic and foreign streaming companies that service the Icelandic public would be required to do so. The goal of the bill is to strengthen Icelandic culture and language and encourage investment in local production. RÚV reported first.

5% of income back into Icelandic production

In recent years, international streaming services and social media have negatively impacted the competitiveness of domestic media in Iceland. The draft bill states that it is one part of measures intended to improve domestic media’s competitive position in regards to foreign streaming platforms.

If the bill passes, streaming providers would have to choose between two payment options. Either they would pay 5% of the subscription income from their activities in Iceland to the Icelandic Film Fund on an annual basis, of they would invest the same percentage in the production of domestic audio-visual content.

Public broadcaster exempt

The content produced under the requirements would have to include Icelandic cultural and social content. Half of the production costs would need to be incurred in Iceland or half of the shooting to take place in Iceland.

Streaming platforms with low turnover or few users would be exempt from the requirements, as would national broadcaster RÚV and similar public service media. Streaming services that do not offer films, fictional TV series, or documentaries would also be exempt.

Iceland’s Minister of Culture has previously taken on international streaming platforms in defence of Icelandic language dubbing and subbing.

Warm Cannes Reception for ‘When the Light Breaks’

A still from When the Light Breaks, a film by Rúnar Rúnarsson

Director Rúnar Rúnarsson’s latest film Ljósbrot, or When the Light Breaks, received a standing ovation and favourable reviews after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday. Actress Elín Hall told Rás 2 radio that her time at the festival had been like a dream.

“I can’t say that I’m shocked by the reception, because everything Rúnar makes is incredible,” she said. “But I still didn’t expect this.”

A spring day story

The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard category of the festival. It tells the story of Una, a young art student, during an eventful spring day in her life. Elín stars alongside Katla Njálsdóttir, Mikael Kaaber, Gunnar Hrafn Kristjánsson, Baldur Einarsson, and Ágúst Wium.

“It’s about all kinds of secrets and emotions,” Elín said. “I don’t want to say too much, but this film is very “less is more”, in how it’s beautiful visually. It’s incredibly well written, in my opinion, and the whole team behind it is great.”

Red carpet game

Elín walked the red carpet in a Chanel dress and said that fifteen people had to agree to what clothes and jewellery she wore. “It’s like a game,” she said. “I had to go to fittings and fly to London to try on dresses. It was a much bigger deal than anything I’ve done, borrowing these things.”

Iceland’s Most Popular Musical Ends its Run

Musical Níu líf at Borgarleikhúsið

The 250th show of Níu líf, a musical based on the life of singer Bubbi Morthens, will be its last. The musical has been running at Reykjavík City Theatre since early 2020 when its run was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic after only three shows.

The show follows the many public personas of Bubbi during his colourful musical career, hence the title which in English translates to Nine Lives. Director and playwright Ólafur Egill Egilsson and actor Esther Talía Casey, a married couple and collaborators in the show, were interviewed by Vísir on the occasion of the show ending.

Unexpected success

“It will be an emotional moment, that’s for sure,” Esther said. “We’ll likely cry our eyes out and shake. We’re a closely knit theatre family and we’ve faced many challenges during this time, so it will have been a rollercoaster ride.”

They say they never expected the show to be as successful as it’s been and for it to break attendance records and still be running four years after its premiere – albeit with a pandemic delaying part of its run. “We always knew that Bubbi had a special place in the nation’s heart, so we knew that his fans would show up,” Ólafur said. But we couldn’t foresee the show getting such a warm reception.”

Perfect attendance

Esther said that she’s the only cast member, including the live band, who has been at every show. She plays a number of roles, including Bubbi’s mother and Hrafnhildur, his wife. “I was lucky that every time I was sick, it was in between shows,” she said. “This show will alway have a special place in my heart.”

“It’s a story of time periods and social upheaval, of a person’s freedom to be whoever they want, finding the courage to face their destiny and stand tall in the face of challenging life experiences,” Ólafur said. “We’re very happy to have been able to cover Bubbi’s career, life, and values, while telling a story that most people can identify with.”

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Iceland Places Last in Eurovision Song Contest

A screenshot from RÚV. Hera Björk during the Söngvakeppnin final, March 2, 2024

The final result of the Eurovision Song Contest revealed that Iceland’s entry received the fewest points of all participating songs. Singer Hera Björk performed the song Scared of Heights at the first semi-final on 7 May and did not advance, as she received only three points, RÚV reports.

This was Hera Björk’s second time competing for Iceland. In 2010, she finished 19th with her song Je ne sais quoi.

Controversy in Iceland and abroad

Switzerland won the contest last night with Nemo’s entry The Code. Croatia placed second and Ukraine third. The event took place in Sweden this year.

The contest was mired in controversy, both within Iceland and abroad. In the Iceland preliminary competition, Söngvakeppnin, glitches in the voting app triggered an inquiry into the results.

Hera Björk’s songwriter, Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir, withdrew from the competition, citing uncertainty about the results and Israel’s ongoing military action in Gaza. The Icelandic Association of Composers and Lyricists asked its members not to participate in the show unless Israel was banned.

Protests at the contest

Israel’s participation was criticised by multiple performers in the finals and by protestors outside the Malmö venue. Many have cited the precedent when Russia was excluded from the competition two years ago following their invasion of Ukraine.

The Dutch competitor, Joost Klein, was disqualified for alleged inappropriate behaviour towards a Eurovision staffer.

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Iceland’s Eurovision Hopes Dashed As Controversy Swirls

Eurovision Söngvakeppnin 2020 Daði Freyr Dimma

Iceland’s Eurovision entry did not advance from the semi-finals yesterday, amidst controversies linked to the Gaza conflict. Meanwhile, a solidarity concert in Reykjavík raised funds for Gaza through UNICEF and the Red Cross.

Slim chances

Iceland’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, Scared of Heights performed by Hera Björk Þórhallsdóttir, did not advance from the first semi-final round held last night in Malmö, Sweden. Prior to the semi-finals, it had become evident that Hera’s chances of advancing were slim, having decreased from 19% to 10% with the bookies.

Yesterday, ten countries advanced to the Eurovision finals, which will take place on Saturday night.


Protests, controversy

Iceland’s participation in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has not been without controversy. In January, RÚV announced that it would postpone its decision on Iceland’s participation in Eurovision until after the national Song Contest concluded and in consultation with its winner. The decision followed protests relating to Israel’s participation in Eurovision amid the Gaza conflict.

As noted by, many find Israel’s participation jarring due to their actions in Gaza and given that Russia was excluded from the competition two years ago following their invasion of Ukraine.

During yesterday’s semi-final, a solidarity concert for Gaza took place at Háskólabíó in Reykjavík. President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was in attendance. As noted by Vísir, all proceeds from the concert will go towards humanitarian aid for Gaza through UNICEF and the Red Cross. Performers included Ásgeir Trausti, GDRN, Emmsjé Gauti, Una Torfa, Ellen Kristjánsdóttir, Eyþór Gunnarsson, Systur, Sigríður Thorlacius, Pálmi Gunnarsson, TÁR, Svala Björgvins, and Friðrik Dór.

Bessastaðir Excavation Unearths Mother and Daughter

bessastaðir archaeology 2024

Archaeological excavations at Bessastaðir, the residence of the President of Iceland, have turned up two skeletons. Archaeologists believe the remains belong to a mother and daughter, said to have died of “heartbreak.” Vísir reports.

Unmarked grave

The recent discovery was made in an old grave site which abuts the Bessastaðir church.

bessastaðir archaeology 2024
Art Bicnick

The two skeletons still need to be tested in order to confirm their age and gender, but Hermann Jakob Hjartarson, an archaeologist overseeing the project, believes the remains may belong to the mother and daughter Anna Helena and Anna Vilhelmína, who may have died a tragic death in the 18th century.

Hermann stated to Vísir: “The mother was [likely] married to the viceroy of Iceland in the 18th century, Lauritz Thodal. He had this grave dug with his own money, but it’s not written anywhere as to who was buried here.”

Testing of the bones in question will hopefully resolve the mystery soon.

Died of “heartbreak”

“According to the sources, she [the daughter] died of a broken heart, whatever that may mean,” Hermann continued to Vísir. “She became involved with a merchant from Hafnarfjörður, and her step-father did not approve of this relationship and forbade her from being with him. The story goes that she languished and died shortly after.”

The daughter is believed to have been 18 years old when she died.

bessastaðir archaeology 2024
Art Bicnick

Other findings

In addition to the potentially tragic remains, several other notable findings were made during the most recent excavations at Bessastaðir, including a church floor, likely from the sixteenth century, leading to the old church underneath the new one, and four musket balls.

“It’s not clear what that tells us, except that at some point in time, a bullet was shot here,” said Hermann.

He continued: “We may actually be onto some sort of layer here underneath this. It remains to be seen, but there are indications that there is something slightly older beneath this layer.”

Archaeology at Bessastaðir

In the course of its history, Bessastaðir has numbered among the largest and most significant farmsteads in Iceland. A former residence of Snorri Sturluson, it later became a residence for representatives of the Danish king. It has also been a school and the residence of notable Icelandic poet Grímur Thomsen, before it was given to the Icelandic state in the first half of the 20th century, subsequently serving as the residence of the President of Iceland.

bessastaðir archaeology 2024
Art Bicnick

Archaeological excavations have been continuing on and off at the presidential residence for some time. Some of the most significant excavations took place between 1987 and 1996, which discovered a 3.5 m [11.4 ft]-thick layer of human habitation dating back to the 10th-11th centuries. Among the many interesting discoveries made at Bessastaðir include some of the best-preserved insect remains in Iceland, which have given archaeologists insight into the conditions at the time of settlement.

Composer Atli Örvarsson Receives BAFTA Award

Composer Atli Örvarsson

Composer Atli Örvarsson was granted a BAFTA award Sunday night for his music for the television programme Silo. This was Atli’s first BAFTA nomination, RÚV reports.

A “dream job”

The show stars Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, known for her roles in the Dune and Mission:Impossible franchises of films. Silo is streaming on AppleTV+.

In his acceptance speech, Atli called his work on the project a “dream job”. He thanked director Morten Tyldum, who approached him for the collaboration. Atli added that Tyldum had realised that the project needed someone who had grown up with the dark and claustrophobic winters of Northwest Iceland.

From Iceland to Hollywood

Atli worked on the project in London and recorded it in the U.K. and in Akureyri in the north of Iceland. Atli lives and works in Akureyri. He was a member of pop band Sálin hans Jóns míns before moving into the film and television industry. He’s composed and orchestrated music for films such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Angels & Demons and the Superman instalment Man of Steel.

Other nominees in the category of “Best Original Music Fiction” were Adiescar Chase for Heartstopper, Blair Mowat for Nolly and Natalie Holt for Loki.

Ljósbrot to Open Cannes Film Festival Category

Cannes Film Festival

Ljósbrot, the forthcoming film from director Rúnar Rúnarsson, will be the opening film of the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

This will be the sixth festival in a row that an Icelandic film is part of official selection at Cannes, Klapptré reports.

Festival success

Ljósbrot is Rúnar’s fourth feature film. His first feature, Eldfjall (Volcano), was released in 2011 and was presented in the Director’s Fortnight category at Cannes. The film received 17 international awards at film festivals. His second feature, Þrestir (Sparrows), came out in 2015 and won the main prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival. His third feature from 2019, Bergmál (Echo), was selected for the Cannes Atelier screenwriting workshop and was premiered at the Locarno Film Festival. Rúnar has also had success with short films.

Ljósbrot takes place on a lovely spring day and follows Una, whose live changes in a moment, kicking off an emotional rollercoaster ride. It stars Elín Hall, Mikael Kaaber, Katla Njálsdóttir, Gunnar Hrafn Kristjánsson, Ágúst Wigum and Baldur Einarsson. Rúnar directs, writes the screenplay, and produces along with Heather Millard.

Iceland at Cannes

Several Icelandic films have been selected for the Cannes Film Festival before, both feature films and shorts, and for the festival’s independent sections, such as Director’s Fortnight and Critic’s Week.

1954: Hálendi Íslands / Magnús Jóhannsson (In Competition)
1984: Atómstöðin / Þorsteinn Jónsson (Director’s Fortnight)
1992: Ingaló / Ásdís Thoroddsen (Critics’ Week)
1992: Ævintýri á okkar tímum / Inga Lísa Middleton (Short Films)
1993: Sódóma Reykjavík / Óskar Jónasson (Un Certain Regard)
2003: Stormviðri / Sólveig Anspach (Un Certain Regard)
2005: Voksne mennesker / Dagur Kári (Un Certain Regard)
2008: Smáfuglar / Rúnar Rúnarsson (Short Films)
2009: Anna / Rúnar Rúnarsson (Director’s Fortnight)
2011: Eldfjall / Rúnar Rúnarsson (Director’s Fortnight)
2013: Hvalfjörður / Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson (Short Films)
2015: Hrútar / Grímur Hákonarson (Un Certain Regard)
2016: Sundáhrifin / Sólveig Anspach (Director’s Fortnight)
2018: Kona fer í stríð / Benedikt Erlingsson (Critics’ Week)
2019: Hvítur, hvítur dagur / Hlynur Pálmason (Critics’ Week)
2021: Dýrið / Valdimar Jóhannsson (Un Certain Regard)
2022: Volaða land / Hlynur Pálmason (Un Certain Regard)
2023: Fár / Gunnur Martinsdóttir Schlüter (Short Films)
2024: Ljósbrot / Rúnar Rúnarsson (Director’s Fortnight)

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Icelandic Women’s Strike of 1975 Revisited in New Documentary

The Women’s Day Off protest in 2016 at Austurvöllur square.

The documentary The Day Iceland Stood Still, exploring the 1975 “Woman’s Day Off” strike in Iceland, will premiere at the Canadian Hot Docs Festival in late April. A trailer for the documentary was recently released online.

Country brought to an effective standstill

Earlier this week, the trailer for the documentary The Day Iceland Stood Still was released. As noted by Variety, the documentary delves into the famous “Woman’s Day Off” strike in Iceland on October 24, 1975, “when some 90% of Iceland’s women refused to work, cook, or take care of the children.” The country was brought to an effective standstill.

The documentary revisits the event, interviewing Icelandic women about its significance: “We loved our male chauvinist pigs,” one of the activists recalls in the trailer, Variety notes. “We just wanted to change them a little!”

It also includes an exclusive interview with Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as a head of state, who assumed her role just five years post-strike, alongside current president Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who shares an anecdote about his father’s ill-fated effort to prepare dinner during the strike.

The Day Iceland Stood Still will premiere at the Canadian Hot Docs documentary festival on April 29 and is directed by Emmy award-winning U.S. filmmaker Pamela Hogan in collaboration with Icelandic producer Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir.

Read More: Iceland Review looks back on Woman’s Day Off in 1975