Two years ago Reykjavík filmgoers were famished. ‘Inception’ was just about the only half-decent Hollywood blockbuster around and the cinema owners of Reykjavík were becoming less ambitious with each passing week. Regnboginn, the only downtown cinema still standing, was about to close. Of course they blamed their shortcomings on the public—a public they had raised on increasingly bad films. But that summer a change finally occurred and out of a random Facebook movement the long-discussed idea of a Reykjavík art cinema was finally realised: Regnboginn stayed in business, albeit with a different name and as a non-profit art cinema.
Many of us had doubts about the name: Cinema Paradise promised too much. But while it’s far from perfect, it’s still a sanctuary for those of us who believe that watching movies should be about more than just buying popcorn. And now, in the middle of summer we can choose between three French films and there’s not even a festival going on. But the French have always had some presence, with a French film fest every January for more than a decade. And while I always dreamed of festivals focusing on more countries, I never imagined that dream would come true so often the same winter, with a German, Polish and Bollywood festival. For the second summer running, you can also see a selection of Icelandic classics with English subtitles.
Bíó Paradís manager Hrönn Sveinsdóttir tells me they showed some 400 films from 40 countries last year and she stresses they’re not only interested in art films, as demonstrated by festivals for reggae films, biker films and mountain films. “We want everybody to come, older and younger crowds too. There’s room for everything and everyone,” she says. “The only rule is the films shouldn’t be boring.”
When it first opened you might find yourself in a lonely, scarcely populated cinema hall, but that has gradually changed, the attendances rising by some 30% between years, showing that given time we’ll learn to appreciate the variety that world cinema has to offer. While most cinemas are located in shopping malls, this one is in a cosy place of its own where you can also get beer or coffee and hang out and play games with friends. Note that the eclectic couches, tables and chairs have been graciously donated from households from all over town, adding a quirky touch to the place.
We could write another 500 words about the things we like about Bíó Paradís and yet another 500 about the things that could be improved, but it’s here and we are damn grateful for it, even when it’s sunny outside.
Bíó Paradís is Grapevine’s 2012 winner of Best place on a rainy day. It is located at Hverfisgata 54, 101 Reykjavík.
Ásgeir H Ingólfsson
Photo: Alysa Kalyanova
Originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine on July 25th 2012.