Pingdom Check
09/27/2021 | 5:00 PM

RIFF 2021: Reykjavík International Film Festival

Since it began in 2004, Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) has grown from a humble event for local film lovers to a fully-fledged 11-day cinema extravaganza.

This year, RIFF runs from September 30 to October 10, highlighting young talent, Icelandic filmmaking and ambitious documentaries, but with a focus that expands far beyond the homegrown. Films of various genres from over 40 countries are screened during the festival, along with a multitude of shorts. 

Many of the films come to Iceland directly from the big film festivals that have taken place this summer. In addition to the regular categories, this year there's a special category for music films ('Cinema Beats'), plus animation, a children's program, and loads more. Cinema from the Netherlands will be in focus, with a selection of brand-new Dutch films.

The majority of the screenings will take place in Bío Paradís and The Nordic House.

Full details, including the festival program, can be found online at the RIFF website

As part of its commitment to bring the spirit of Iceland to the world, Icelandair is a proud sponsor of RIFF, along with other celebrations of Icelandic music and culture.

Riff International Film Festival poster for 2021 featuring a group of puffins facing all different directions with copy that reads '30th Sep-10th Oct 2021'

Program preview

Due to popular demand, documentaries now make up 40% of RIFF’s program. However, the festival’s flagship is the New Visions category, where up-and-coming directors compete for the Golden Puffin.

Every year, esteemed filmmakers from around the world participate in Q&As, symposiums and workshops as part of the Industry Days section of the festival. RIFF also serves an educational role, such as through the sought-after Reykjavík Talent Lab, where participants’ short films compete for the Golden Egg. 

In 2021, Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier and French director Mia Hansen-Løve will be honored with the festival's Creative Excellence Award. Previous recipients of this award include Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, Danish director Susanne Bier, and American director Jim Jarmusch. 

Honorary guests this year are Danish actress Trine Dyrholm and US singer-songwriter Debbie Harry.

Special events

Back in the early days of development, when determining RIFF’s emphasis, festival founder and director Hrönn Marinósdóttir and her team of experts discussed what kind of festival would suit Reykjavík. “It couldn’t be red-carpet style like Cannes or Berlin, but something more intimate, fresh and exciting, raw and provocative,” she says, adding: “We have created a niche with strange and fun events.” RIFF hosts various events and pop-ups in Reykjavík and around Iceland. Venues range from kindergartens, nursing homes and homes of local celebrities, to caves and swimming pools. 

A group of people bathing in a public pool with a screen overhead that is playing a film as part of Riff International Film Festival

The swim-in cinema has become a favorite feature. This year’s event sees Wes Anderson’s cult classic The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou shown at Sundhöllin downtown swimming pool at 7:30pm on October 1. 

You can also enjoy drive-in cinema screenings, an only-in-Iceland 'cave-in' screening of cult movie Labyrinth inside Raufarhólshellir cave, and a new festival category called RIFF XR, shining a spotlight on virtual reality and augmented reality movies.

The movie Joker will be screened at Harpa concert hall, accompanied by SinfoniaNord. The Oscar-winning score composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir will be performed by SinfoniaNord and conducted by Hildur's father, Guðni Franzson.

If you can't make it to Reykjavík for the event, you can still participate: the RIFF@HOME initiative allows families and film lovers to watch high-quality, curated films from the comfort of home.

A Riff International Film Festival poster with a puffin that is wearing glasses and holding popcorn and a drink, ready to watch a film