As the last embers of Eyjafjallajökull’s volcanic ash faded from the sky last April, European and international flights were finally resumed. Iceland had never been on the tongues of so many international citizens before those few weeks. I had just made my flight to Toronto for Hot Docs, after others had suffered countless delays and cancellations. As I sat in the cinema one evening, waiting for a film to start, I noticed a peculiar ad on the screen: “Cheap Flights from Toronto to Iceland, Only $200!” How strange. I barely escaped a volcanic ash cloud and now I’m being encouraged to visit a physically erupting and economically collapsing country. But I suppose Iceland has always been the distant star of ecological beauty, and despite the risk, it might still be worth the cheap airfare. Then I saw Dreamland, and my casual dismissal shifted to a clearer perspective: Iceland faces an imminent catastrophe that stretches well beyond an erupting volcano.
The documentary Dreamland, is made by director Þorfinnur Guðnason and writer Andri Snær Magnason, who penned the original book upon which the film is based, Dreamland – A Self-Help Book For a Frightened Nation. They looked at capitalist ecology in Iceland, as large portions of the nation’s highly condensed natural resources and majestically diverse habitat are being exploited for the benefit of corporate gain. When the book was originally published in 2006, it became an instant bestseller and won the Icelandic Literary Award. It seemed that Magnason’s book was the first of its kind to speak to Icelanders philosophically about who they are as a nation and how they want their future to look.
The documentary, however, tells a more pragmatic story by finding a dominant antagonist in Alcoa, the world’s leading producer of aluminum, which has been building smelters in Iceland’s hydroelectric and geothermal areas. Alcoa is just one company out of many that operate in a similar way – moving in and taking over, one region at a time. “And they don’t stop, they always want more,” says Dreamland producer Hanna Björk Valsdóttir to DOX. “When they finish in the east they go to the next place. And that is what people in Iceland were not realizing. They thought it was just one investment. With Dreamland, we were trying to tell them – no, these companies are not going to stop!” Ironically, as the world cries out for a shift to renewable energy, we fail to recognize that the planet has a threshold, and tapping its pores for deeper investments can backfire. To some, wrath may come in the form of a revolt by Mother Nature, as exemplified by the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano. But to others, the plague may be the evitable economic collapse that occurs when a nation produces beyond its national product.
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