When offshore directors make a breakthrough film and start getting those big Hollywood studio offers, too often they lose the perspective that made their early films so worth discovering. That’s not going to happen to Baltasar Kormakur, the Icelandic helmer who continues to split time between making Hollywood fare and mining Iceland for homegrown stories. Kormakur’s latest film, The Deep, was just selected by Iceland as its entry for 2013 Best Foreign Language film. A harrowing fact-based adventure tale about an Icelandic man who was the sole survivor of a fishing boat crew that sank in the dead of winter off the south coast of Iceland in 1984, the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month.
While many came to that festival to see Oscar-bait films including Argo, The Master and Silver Linings Playbook, there was quite a lineup of films that played Toronto and went on to become Foreign Film nominees including the Norwegian film Kon-Tiki by directors Espen Sandberg-Joachim Ronning, and the Danish film A Royal Affair by Nikolaj Arcel. And of course Michael Haneke’s Amour, Austria’s selection and what has to be considered the Foreign Film frontrunner.
The directors of Kon-Tiki and A Royal Affair will get their Hollywood shots, while Haneke just flat-out disdains what he feels are predictable and formulaic Hollywood films and will stay where he is. Kormakur is going at it in his own way: While he made his Hollywood debut directing Contraband (essentially an English-language remake of his film Reykjavik-Rotterdam) for Universal and Working Title with Mark Wahlberg, and just wrapped 2 Guns with Wahlberg and Denzel Washington and is producing a remake of his 2006 film Jar City with David Linde’s Lava Bear, he continues to focus just as hard to continue finding homegrown stories to tell. He tells me that while he continues to develop a feature version of the Everest climbing disaster story that was told in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (but his isn’t based on that book), Kormakur is also pressing hard on Vikings, the film he wrote and Karl Gadjusek rewrote, an Iceland-set big-budget movie about the vikings who brought Irish slaves to Iceland. He’s back with Working Title for that one.
At the same time, he said he has just gotten rights to Independent People, which he said “brought Halldor Laxness the 1955 Nobel and is considered since then Iceland’s most important literature.” The book tells of the struggle of poor farmers in Iceland in the early 20th century who can barely survive in harsh climates with the burden of debt bondage, as seen through the eyes of a sheep farmer.
Kormakur’s decision to keep making Icelandic tales comes with its own rewards: The Deep just opened in Iceland last weekend, and the film was responsible for 51% of all ticket sales in the country’s theaters. Kormakur’s repped by WME and Management 360.