The unusual link to Northern Ireland in this year’s Oscar nominations

The recent release of the 2016 Oscar nominations hides an fascinating twist for local film fans.

The local connection comes by way of “Northern Irish/ Icelandic” director Robert Ingi Douglas who gave 2016 Best Original Score nominee Johann Johannsson his first feature movie opportunity following a chance meeting in a Reykjavik bar just over 15 years ago.

The Icelandic musician, nominated this year for for his powerful Sicario score, is well known for his work on Prisoners and Theory of Everything (an Oscar-nominated score in 2015) but has The Icelandic Dream as his first feature movie composer credit.

That 2000 cult Icelandic movie, described by director Robert Ingi Douglas as an “Icelandic Withnail and I”, went on to become a best-selling movie in Iceland that year, beating Gladiator locally at the box office and gaining four Icelandic Film and Television Academy award nominations including Best Picture. The film has a high rating of 7.1/10 and follows the fortunes of a struggling “businessman and weekend dad” in Iceland. It boasts a raw documentary style and notable comedy performances from actors including co-star Jon Gnarr who went out to be Mayor of Reykjavik and Haftis Huld, who is now a popular singer in her home country.

Film-maker Robert Ingi Douglas, whose father is from Northern Ireland and mother is from Iceland, lived in Coleraine in his 20s and took a Media Studies National Diploma course in what was then known by most as ‘Ballymoney Tech’ (AKA Northern Regional College), learning VHS editing and basic production skills using equipment belonging to the Media Studies Department. The college would loan cameras to students for filming as well as give access to a VHS editing suite in the department.

Robert explained that he had given the job of the Icelandic Dream score to Johann following a chance meeting: “I didn’t know the guy sitting at the bar however he said he could write music and I told him he could do so for my first movie as long as he didn’t mind not being paid. He said yes and that was the start the movie business for him”.

The director now lives in Iceland following a number of years in Bejing. After The Icelandic Dream (or Islenski draumurinn, if you really want to show off your knowledge of Icelandic cinema) he went on to make A Man Like Me in 2002 (about subtle racism in Iceland, also featuring a Johann Johannsson score) and Eleven Men Out in 2005. The latter movie about an all-gay soccer team went on to be Robert’s most successful film outside Iceland. Both films are in Icelandic. His only English language film so far, This is Sanlitun, is set a TV comedy ‘mockumentary’ set Bejing and released in 2013 following a premier at the Toronto International Film Festival.

He now has plans to make a further feature film, alongside an experimental YouTube series project, and has not ruled out coming back to Northern Ireland to make a film in the future.

The Icelandic Dream (with subtitles) can be seen using the Icelandic Cinema Online streaming service <>.

Conor Johnston – @CJohnstonNI – writes about subjects including culture (especially film/ cinemas), identity and media. He also blogs at