For the first time, Midnight Sun Film Festival director, Finnish film historian and directorPeter von Bagh walked along his own street from the festival centre (at Sodankylä Municipal School) to the Lapinsuu Cinema for last week’s opening of the 29th edition of the festival: the village with 8,809 inhabitants and 35,000 reindeer, 129 km north of the Arctic Circle, had honoured him by renaming it Peter von Bagh Street.
Also, US director Samantha Fuller took Samuel Fuller Street from the Sodankylä Hotel to the theatre – the latter, who was the festival’s first special guest in 1986, has also been rewarded with his own road. His daughter screened A Fuller Life, the documentary about her late father, in which friends and fans read excerpts from his 2002 autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking, with cuts from his films and footage from his private archive.
For once, the guest list was more extensive than the turnout: UK director Peter Greenaway had a shoot in Finland postponed and cancelled his Sodankylä visit; Russian director Gleb Panfilov’s fiancée Inna Churikova suffered a stroke two days before the festival, so their participation was called off; and Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun was also missing.
But the no-shows did not temper the enthusiasm of those present under the Midnight Sun – by the end of the five-day festival (15 June), von Bagh and programme director Timo Malmi had recorded more than 25,000 admissions to the screenings and discussions at the cinema, the school and the two festival tents – 2,000 fewer than last year’s record attendance.
Two contenders for the Palme d’Or at the recent Cannes Festival, Italian director Alice Rohrwacher’s Grand Prix winner The Wonders[+] and French director Olivier Assayas’Clouds of Sils Maria[+], were introduced by their respective directors, who also showed other works and were interviewed on stage by von Bagh (Assayas also delivered a lecture on Swedish director Ingmar Bergman).
“I love this festival: it is a great place for films, and there are not that many festivals where you feel you are surrounded by real film lovers, who sit through two-hour discussions and still look interested,” he observed. Furthermore, Rohrwacher was impressed by the audience reception of her second feature, shown in Sodankylä for the first time since Cannes.
The programme of more than 80 films – recent and classics – was supplemented by discussions, lectures, master classes, sauna visits, bathing in the lake (somewhat reduced, though, because of the rather low temperatures), the traditional karaoke screening (US director John Landis’ The Blues Brothers) and the football match between Sodankylä and “The Rest of the Universe”.
Films were unspooled in their original, long versions (Assayas’ Carlos[+] [5 hours 34 mins] and German director Edgar Reitz’s Home from Home – Chronicle of a Vision[+] [5 hours 45 mins]), and there were also silent-cum-orchestra screenings, such as Chaplin shorts accompanied by Cleaning Women, and Swedish director Victor Sjöström’s The Outlaw and His Wife, accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble. Two local features were world-premiered in the New Finnish Films programme – Midnight Sun co-founder Anssi Mänttäri’s Will the Blues Ever Sleep? and Juha Wuolijoki’s Zarra’s Law – and the documentaries included von Bagh’s own Socialism.
Eighty journalists were reporting from Midnight Sun, and Japanese reporter Erina Ito, of Japan’s leading paper Asahi Shimbun, had come the longest way. “The spirit of this festival is outstanding; the atmosphere is unique. In Japan, many festivals are in danger of closing because of a lack of funding, so it is a pleasure to write about a genuine success,” she concluded.