Poor Iceland

When the Icelandic banks collapsed in the autum of 2008, taking most of the economy down with them, Ari Alexander took his camera and started to film what was happening in this tiny but relatively stable and affluent society. He filmed the ever-larger protests that in the end led to the downfall of the government. He took interviews with people shocked and confused by what was going on around them. He went to conferences and seminars where scholars tired to work out what had happened and what should happen next. He followed the endless debates and negotiations around the Icesave-accounts set up by Icelandic banks abroad. Every day brought fresh news of the complicated and often illegal deals made by financiers and bankers in the years leading up to the collapse. The amounts involved and the amounts lost were so large that regular people couldn’t really fathom them. The seemed to be no way to untangle the mess, even with the help of the International Monetary Fund. The Icelanders, used to severe winter weather, were being buffeted by a financial storm without precedent. Gone were the optimism and hubris of the boom times before the fall when people spoke of a New Iceland being built through international finance. The New Iceland had proved to be at best an illusion, at worst an enormous scam.

Little by little, Ari Alexander began to glimpse another story behind these overwhelming events. There might be a greater story there about Iceland and the Icelanders. With his long-time collaborator Jón Proppé, he mined a documentary that Ari’s father, Magnús Jónsson, had made to canvass the opinions and concerns of Icelanders in 1974, the year when they celebrated the 1100 anniversary of the settlement of the country. With the assistance of actor and director Benedikt Erlingsson they looked even further back, to the events of the thirteenth century when disputes among the wealthiest clans led to a civil war and the eventual loss of Iceland’s independence. Was it possible that this was all one story when the financial jargon and the deception had been cleared away. Had we really learned nothing from our more than 1100 years living in this inhospitable, arctic country?

Poor Iceland is different from other films and news programs that have been made about the financial collapse in Iceland. The film does not attempt to chart all the details that have filled out newspapers and broadcasts for the last eight years. Instead, Ari Alexander and his collaborators attempt to sift away the dross and find something that might possibly point the way to a better understanding of ourselves and to a fairer and more stable society of the future.

About the film

  • Type
  • National Premiere Date
    November 10, 2016, Bíó Paradís
  • Length
    80 min.
  • Language
  • Original Title
    Aumingja Ísland: Sturlungaöld um aldir alda
  • International Title
    Poor Iceland
  • Production Year
  • Production Countries
  • Website
  • Icelandic Film Centre Grant
  • Production Format
    Canon Digital
  • Aspect Ratio
  • Color
  • Sound
    Dolby Digital
  • Screening format and subtitles
    DCP, English subtitles.