Devil's Advocate

It's my Birth of a Nation," filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson says about Devil's Island, which is set in Reykjavík in the early '50s, at the dawn of Iceland's independence. Invited by the Icelandic Film Fund, I traveled to the land of geysers and sagas to speak with the 45-year-old former gravestone maker who is now Iceland's preeminent director, with five features to his credit. Iceland's otherworldly beauty appears only sparingly in Devil's Island. "Our landscapes can overwhelm our stories," Fridriksson says, "so we have to use them very carefully."

Fridriksson began his career with an experimental version of The Burning House Saga, the most revered Icelandic epic. "Everyone wanted to film it," he says, "but no one had the money. I arranged for a single screening and tripled the price of admission. It sold out— all the old experts on the sagas bought tickets. Well, my film showed the pages of the book being turned by hand. When the family's farm goes up in flames, the book catches fire. The audience went crazy. But that was how I raised the money for my first documentary."

Fridriksson is producing all seven Icelandic films that are being made this year. As a director, he's planning two films (about Chopin and schizophrenia), but his pet project is a collaboration with Hal Hartley about a mutual obsession— monsters. "We're shooting this August. Monster season," he explains, inscrutably.

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