(Photo: Jonne Sippola)
The 31st Midnight Sun Film Festival (June 15-19) attracted an almost record-breaking number of visitors to wonder and bask at the magic of cinema during Lapland’s nightless summer nights. The festival hosted almost 140 screenings non-stop during five days, attracting approximately 28 000 festival visitors according to Sunday morning’s estimate.
Jiri Menzel, one of the best-known filmmakers of “Czechoslovakia’s miracle of cinema” charmed the festival audience with his sense of humor and anecdotes about filmmaking behind Europe’s Iron Curtain. Academy Award winner Fernando Trueba came to represent the voice of Spain’s post Franco generation at this year’s festival, bringing his 35-year-old director son Jonas Trueba along with him.
Among the festival’s international guests were also Scotland’s Bill Forsyth, who retired from filmmaking at the age of 50, Iceland’s Dagur Kari whose work represents the Scandinavian school of black humor, the Italian documentary filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi whose Fire at Sea won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival, as well as Britain’s David Barr who came to the festival with his debut feature The Ones Below and Sweden’s Malin Buska, the titular star of Mika Kaurismäki’s The Girl King.
The Midnight Sun Film Festival’s matinee tradition continued this year with two matinees. Mika Kaurismäki, Anssi Tikanmäki and Neil Brand hosted Wednesday’s film music matinee, while on Saturday professors Esa Turunen and Timo Vesala discussed science and cinema along with researchers Sini Merikallio and Aino-Kaisa Koistinen. In keeping with the themes of the matinees, the festival screened a multifaceted selection of science fiction films, as well as films featuring some of cinema’s most beloved musical scores.
As in past editions of the festival, the special screenings at the Big Tent again attracted the largest audiences. Singer Ismo Alanko whipped the audience of the karaoke screening of The Saimaa Gesture to a fever pitch, while the sing-along version of Abba – The Movie was a perfect fit for a summer Saturday evening. The karaoke screening of the hugely popular Ricky Rapper at the Small Tent was also sold out.
Iiro Rantala’s reinterpretation of the score of Aki Kaurismäki’s Juha was specially commissioned for the festival and attracted a full house at the Big Tent. The magnificent silent films accompanied by Neil Brand and The Dodge Brothers were similar hits during this year’s festival.
Two of the festival’s Finnish guests, Laura Birn and Tommi Korpela, came to the festival to present their brand new international productions: Birn stars in the British thriller The Ones Below, while Korpela makes a powerful impression portraying a sea captain in the German film Deadweight. Finnish veteran actors Pirkka-Pekka Petelius and Kirsti Wallasvaara also received ferocious accolades at the festival.
As a favourite rerun, this year’s audience voted Katja Gauriloff’s brand new Sami documentary Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest, which charmed festival-goers at the Big Tent on the festival’s first day.
(Photo: Jonne Sippola)
Documantary filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi got interested in cinema at a fairly late stage in his life. He saw Antonioni’s The Lady Without Camelias as a teenager and was greatly inspired by it. In his twenties he switched from studying medicine to cinema studies at New York’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.
As a student Rosi’s identity as a filmmaker strenghtened and developed. His first film, Boatman (1993), was also his Master’s thesis for school. It was inspired by Rosi’s travels in India and taught him a lot about the importance of such aspects of cinema as point of view. Rosi also travelled extensively in India without a camera – a method he has since applied in his later films. The filming process itself works as an emotional reconstruction of feelings experienced during the trip.
Shooting on film taught the director about the “weight” of images and about carefully choosing the right moment to switch on the camera. Although his latest film Fire at Sea (2016) is shot digitally, Rosi ascertains that it is imbued with the same philosophy and manner of fimmaking. During the editing process Rosi picks up moments from the filmed material relying on his memory. “Editing is a process of the memory”, he says.
For Rosi, human encounters are essential to filmmaking, because without them there is no story. “It is like falling in love. I love the people I film.” Rosi says that the people he has filmed are still with him in his thoughts. However, some of his human relations have suffered due tofilmmaking – each of his films has caused a separation in his private life. “It is impossible to combine filmmaking and a relationship.”
Rosi knew at a very early stage that he wanted to be a strongly independent filmmaker, director, editor and producer. “Ross McElwee’s film Sherman’s March proved that it was possible to make a film as a one-man project.” Working with an external producer on the film Sacro GRA (2013) caused Rosi great suffering. The idea for the film did not come from Rosi and differing from his usual method of working, the producer demanded to see material from the film while the filming was still in process.
Rosi compares screening intimate raw material to standing naked in the middle of a market place. Rosi’s attitude towards screenplays is illustrative of his working methods: ”If you write a script for a documentary, you start with a lie.”
While making Sacro GRA was painful for Rosi, the production of Fire at Sea was in his own words “virginal”: magical things occurred in front of the camera and everything flowed smoothly. The director had no qualms about the film. “I did not particularly direct the scenes, apart from one.”
Rosi works on all his films as if they were his first and last one. Reality speaks to him differently in each case and as a director he wants to convey this without prejudices. In Rosi’s view, the true challenge for a documentary filmmaker comes from the relation to reality, because realism does not mean the same as observation anymore. ”The reality itself is not interesting at all. A filmmaker has to film the reality to make it stronger, to transform it into something else.”
However, to a desert island Rosi would not take a documentary film – he would pick Buñuel’s Los Olvidados (1950) instead.
(Photo: Juho Liukkonen)
Icelandic director Dagur Kári was born in France’s Provence, where his parents were studying. The family moved back to Iceland when Kári was three years old. He describes his childhood as normal and middle class. “At times I have even felt jealous of my director colleagues who have been able to take inspiration from their childhood traumas.”
Although Kári saw a lot of, for example, Chaplin films in his childhood, the film that made a real impression on him was Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975), which he saw with his father. Icelandic films were a rare treat at the cinemas and half the nation went to see them when such films were screened. The young Kári was interested in drawing, writing, photography and music, but felt that he should concentrate on just one thing. At an Icelandic film festival he got the chance to see films by directors such as Wenders, Kaurismäki and Jarmusch. ”It was like a revolution for me. I discovered a tone that resonated heavenly in me.”
Cinema enabled Kári to combine his various fields of interest. He studied film in Copenhagen – the two-year course was a kind of introduction to the world of cinema for him. For a film student ”a film school can set up frames and give guidance, but the road to becoming an artist is unique for each individual”.
Kári’s debut feature Nói Albiino (2003) was shot in Iceland. He had amassed a lot of material concerning the main character even before he started studying film. ”He was like an alter ego to me and I wanted to cut the ties with him. But not in order to forget about him.” Kári’s relationship to Nói, and all his other characters, is very humanistic – he does not look down on them. His films are often born from characters, not from stories.
While the script for Nói Albiino was developed in detail before filming began, Dark Horse (2005) was more improvised. ”I combined something that is very fixed with something very loose.” Virgin Mountain got its start from a character once more, but it was also based around a certain actor. Already 20 years before, Gunnar Jónsson had made an impression on Kári with his strong presence in a supporting role on a television series.
Kári had almost given up on filmmaking after his experience with shooting The Good Heart (2009) in The United States. The American system with its agents and other middlemen caused a down period of several years in the director’s career. His first daughter was born and turned four years old before Kári finally began filming again. He had returned to school to study composition, but returned to directing with Virgin Mountain (2015).
Icelandic cinema is flourishing at the moment, but Kári finds it hard to give just one reason for this. On a small island populated by few people, filmmaking, as well as maintaining a symphony orchestra, may seem insane: ”we are fighting with the impossible but at the same time everything seems to be possible”. There is a sense of creativity in the air.
In addition to cinema, Kári names soccer as another passion of his. To a desert island he would take with him Woody Allen’s film Play It again Sam (1975).
(Photo: Juho Liukkonen)
Born in 1955, the Spanish director Fernando Trueba grew up in Franco's Spain among a flock of siblings. "Our home was like the Spanish Civil War", Trueba joked at Saturday's morning discussion, where he was interviewed by Mika Kaurismäki. Trueba's father was a devout Franco supporter while Fernando and his brothers were reform-minded. This led to family feuds and discord.
The family, which encouraged Trueba to study, lived in a Madrid neighbourhood scattered with movie theatres, and it was in these small cinemas that Trueba received his introduction into the world of cinema. The films they screened were mostly westerns, comedies and war movies. "A movie theatre was a perfect place to hide when you skipped school, because it was dark inside." Trueba realized early on that there is a certain order to cinematic expression. "I was watching the map of the movie on the screen. I had the feeling that there is someone there."
The young film enthusiast was drawn to study film at the university. According to Trueba, he was a typical cinephile, spending his days at the library and nights at the film archive. Trueba ended up quitting his studies, which were too theoretical for him. Instead, he began making short films and writing film critiques.
The last three years of Franco's regime were chaotic. "There was no freedom, but we were taking our liberties." When Franco died in 1975, everything changed. With his debut film Ópera prima (1980), Trueba wanted to express the voice of a new era and did not allow anyone from his father's generation in the film.
Trueba won the Academy Award in 1994 with Belle Époque, thanking Billy Wilder in his famous acceptance speech: "I would like to believe in God in order to thank him. But I just believe in Billy Wilder. So, thank you Mr. Wilder." Afterwards Wilder called Trueba and told him that passersby had been making the sign of the cross to him
.The award forwarded Trueba's career, but Hollywood did not entice him. "You have to spend so much time talking to people and listening to so much bullshit", he snapped. Trueba directed a Hollywood production with a Spanish cast, but he was not entirely satisfied with the film. He thinks Europe offers much more freedom to a filmmaker.
Trueba sees himself akin to the filmmakers of Golden Age Hollywood, in the sense that he makes films for the audiences. For him, cinema is a perfect artform, but modern Hollywood suffocates it under marketing and commercialism. "A festival like this respects cinema" he said, aiming his words to the Midnight Sun audience.
An early taster of Trueba's current production The Queen of Spain was also shown during the morning interview. The film is a sequel to his earlier film The Girl of Your Dreams (1998) and continues Trueba's collaboration with Penélope Cruz. As a desert island film the director picks Jean Renoir's Partie de campagne (1936), but he says that he would sneak in his pocket also Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960) and Robert Bresson's Pickpocket (1959).
(Kuva: Ella Karttunen)
The interviewee of Friday’s traditional morning discussion at the Kitisenranta school was Jiří Menzel, one the most renowned directors of Czech New Wave. Interviewer Timo Malmi’s first question concerned the 1938 born director’s childhood, which was plagued first by the Nazi occupation and later by the rigid rules of the communist state. “I had no idea we were living in an occupied country - there were just certain things that people were not allowed to say”, the director reminisced and said that his mother was afraid that he would blurt out something forbidden in public.
The son of an intellectual father, Menzel did not enjoy school and received low grades to the dismay of his father. The young man got involved with theatre, not as an actor but as a director, because “if you are not good at anything, you can still direct others.” Menzel received additional schooling while directing news films for the army in order to avoid conscription, as well as in Prague’s famous film school where the period’s highly-qualified professionals worked as teachers for additional income.
Menzel was also asked how come the communist Czechoslovakia came to give rise to an entire new wave of cinema, although western films were not readily available in the country during that time. The director explained that the rules regulating filmmaking during the period were not unequivocally a bad thing, since the government controlled film industry was never short of funds. Also, according to him, “unlimited freedom gives you the ability to do anything you want, and that is when you do not have to do anything at all”. In other words, finding ways to bypass the censorship stimulated the directors’ creativity. Menzel does not long for times past, although he does admit that he considers free love as a golden age for himself. “As well as for some ladies”, he joked.
Menzel won the best foreign film Academy Award for Closely Observed Trains (1966), but got in trouble after the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia. Larks on a String (1969) criticized the increasingly tight communist regime in a more radical manner and was completely banned, leading to Menzel becoming a nonperson in his own country for a period of several years. However, characterizing himself as a lazy worker, this did not hamper him. Still, he described the state of the country as “Orwellian”.
The director also reminisced on his contemporaries, such as Věra Chytilová, to whom men were very attracted to, according to Menzel. He described Chytilová’s films as “real art”, in contrast to his own “ordinary” films. As for Miloš Forman, whose good looks Menzel was jealous of, the director was asked where the particularly Czech brand of humour so characteristic of both directors’ films stems from. Menzel described his philosophy: “if a person is not capable of laughter, he is not capable of thought”. His answer to the traditional question of a desert island film is exemplary of this philosophy: “I would rather bring a girl with me!”
(Kuva: Santeri Happonen)
Glaswegian director Bill Forsyth stated straight away that as a child he was not particularly interested in cinema. Forsyth’s father took him to his first movie when he was five years old. ”I don’t remember the movie at all. It was some ridiculous slapstick, black and white. I thought that that is not for me.”
Forsyth planned a career as a journalist, but as a student he discovered that he was not an academic person. He tried out all sorts of jobs, such as selling cleaning supplies to housewives door-to-door, and first entered the film industry as a production assistant by chance via a job advertisement in a newspaper. The idea of making his own movies festered in his mind for a long time. At one point Forsyth had a job photographing soccer matches and he noticed that he was saving all the unused film. ”It became like an obsession to me, gathering that film. It was a treasure.”
From the very beginning of his professional career, Forsyth has always been interested in the language of cinema - in how all the various elements come together to form something that can be called a film. His debut, The Language, combining sound and mostly black images, concentrated on this very problem of cinematic expression.
What fascinates the Scottish director most in filmmaking is the writing process, because at that stage everything is still possible. What he enjoys least is the actual filming. ”The camera limits everything. When you shoot the scene that you have written, you are killing it. Up until that point it could have been anything, but everything that an actor does is there and it can not be anything else.”
Forsyth has worked with world-famous stars such as Robin Williams (Being Human, 1994) and Burt Reynolds (Breaking In, 1989). As a shy person himself, Forsyth thinks that directing requires most of all understanding the actors’ craft and being on the same wavelength with them. ”Burt Reynolds was very aware that he had to be convincing as a character actor and demanded all the help he could get. He did not want to be Burt Reynolds, he wanted to be an actor.” Forsyth reveals that he has some regrets concerning Being Human, the film he made with Robin Williams. The project turned into a bloated Hollywood production that the director had trouble keeping up with.
Forsyth’s last film - at least for now - is Gregory’s Two Girls from 1999. ”I was actually fairly happy and I had lots of ideas. But the film business kind of changed under my feet. I do not know where my movies would be shown except in Britain - people would not go to a mall to see them. I hate to say it, but the feature movie is fading away, and I do not feel attracted to making movies for television.” However, the director says that during the last ten years new ideas have come up and he has had several projects in development.
As his desert island film Forsyth picks - perhaps somewhat surprisingly - Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou. What attracts him in Godard’s film is the airiness of the narrative. Also, he saw it for the first time during a turning point in his life: ”Pierrot le fou kind of opened my eyes. It was a part of my education, and I started to work in the film business two or three months later.”
(Photo: Venni Ahlberg)
The topic of Saturday's matinee Space and Climate in Film at the Sodankylä council hall was the relationship between space and climate research and cinema. Three experts presented themes on the topic with illustrative examples. The matinee was opened by coordinator Kaisa Kortekallio according to whom the goal of the matinee was to combine the worlds of humanistic art and the natural sciences. Both fields are ultimately concerned with creative thinking and inspire each other towards new discoveries.
Director of the Sodankylä geophysical observatory Esa Turunen began the matinee by talking about Jakov Protazanov's Aelita (1924), which has also been screened at the Midnight Sun Film Festival. At its time, the film inspired The Soviet Union's space programme. Fact and fiction were also merged in the aurora borealis research of Finland's Karl Selim Lemström and in American Percival Lowell's fictional maps of Mars's canals. Both researchers were active in the 19th century.
Sini Merikallio, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, also talked about visions concerning the conquest of Mars. She presented technology with which the issues of vacuum and great distances involved with space travel have already been resolved, but which can not be utilized yet for a long time because of its great costs. At the end of her presentation, Merikallio called for more realism to films such as The Martian (2011), provoking interesting conversation regarding the relationship between fact and fiction.
Timo Vesala, professor of meteorology at the University of Helsinki, illustrated scientific facts concerning climate change with a variety of film clips ranging from Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces (1970) to Béla Tarr. The presentation was characterized by fascinating and idiosyncratic thought processes. For example, Vesala connected the 1815 volcano eruption in Indonesia to Europe's cold summer of 1816 and the Frankenstein monster. The professor finished his speech by showing the ending of Stanley Kubrick's Doctor Strangelove, which depicts an irreversible cataclysm.
Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, who has researched science fiction tv series in her doctoral thesis, got to talk at the panel discussion that ended the matinee. She compared science fiction to a mirror that reflects a distorted version of reality. It was concluded that the most interesting topic of research is after all the human mind. To finish up the event, Esa Turunen poignantly summed up that unlike Tarkovski's philosophical Solaris, a film such as The Martian, which handles space travel in a mainly entertaining fashion, is not likely to stand the test of time - unlike the topic itself.
Photo: Juho Liukkonen
The 2016 Midnight Sun Film Festival began with a matinee focusing on film music. During the first half of the matinee, British expert Neil Brand led the audience into the history of film music all the way from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the work of modern composers. Brand’s speciality is silent film screenings and he has created a three part BBC series focusing on film music. He was interviewed by Otto Kylmälä and the festival director Timo Malmi.
With the aid of illustrative film excerpts, the matinee focused on topics ranging from the collaborative effort of director and composer to the use of pop songs in cinema since the sixties. There were also examples of films which do not use actual music at all - the most well-known of them being Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1961). Most of all Brand called for the creative use of film music over oversaturation and cliches, and saw possibilities for such creativity with the introduction of new technology and the new rise of independent cinema.
The second half of the matinee consisted of director Mika Kaurismäki and his main composer Anssi Tikanmäki revealing some of the secrets behind their collaboration, which they described as a two-way process; the composer arranges the music to completed film scenes, but on the other hand the composed music may affect the director’s visual storytelling. To illustrate, the duo showed making-of clips from their latest collaboration, the 17th century spectacle The Girl King, which is also part of the festival programme.
To finish the matinee, Kaurismäki and Tikanmäki reminisced on the importance of the Midnight Sun Film Festival’s silent film screenings - those very screenings inspired them to come up with their own silent film Juha (1999) - directed by Aki Kaurismäki -, which is screened in the festival’s Big Tent on saturday with accompanying music by Iiro Rantala.
(Picture: Polar Music International.)
The works of Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar are the main subject of the Master Class lecture of FRÉDÉRIC STRAUSS (b. 1964), the former editor in-chief of Cahiers du cinema magazine, currently writing for cultural weekly Télérama.
Strauss is the leading Almodóvar expert in the world. His interview book Almodóvar on Almodóvar is generally known as the best Almodóvar book available. Even director himself has authorized the book and considers it as his official film companion.
Strauss is coming to Sodankylä to introduce Almodóvar’s latest work, Cannes Palme d’Or contenstant Julieta (2016). Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, Julieta is a drama about women, love and broken hearts, about mother’s struggle against uncertainty as well as a tale about fate, guilt and the meaning of lost love.
Lasse Hallström’s early cult favorite Abba the Movie is one of the karaoke screenings of Midnight Sun Film Festival 2016 alongside Finnish films The Saimaa Gesture and Ricky the Rapper.
Eighteen of ABBA’s greatest hits are heard in the film and seen in grainy 16mm concert footage shot in March 1977 – not to forget corney lurex capes and bell bottom trousers galore!
Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Sam Shepard star in Jeff Nichols’s road movie about a father and his eight-year old son who possesses mysterious powers.
Jeff Nichols, one of the most interesting present day American directors, combines ingredients from science fiction and fantasy with small town America paranoia in this Berlinale sleeper.
TAANILA GOES AVANTGARDE
Mika Taanila, a true pioneer of Finnish video art, has programmed a 66-minute avant-garde short film screening When the heavens fall, including international avant-garde greats such as Anouk De Clerq, Ivan Galeta and Peter Tscherkassky.
MASTERS OF ANIMATION
Works of Émile Cohl, Chuck Jones, Norman McLaren, Rein Raamat, Ub “The Father of Mickey Mouse” Iwerks and Lucian Dembinski will be screened in MSFF’s Small Tent in Masters of Animation screenings.
(Chevalier by Athina Rachel Tsangari. Picture: Haos Film.)
Some of the most remarkable new international films of present day will be screened among the annual “Gems of new cinema” assemblage of Midnight Sun Film Festival. Films by directors from countries such as Italy, Greece, Russia, China and Thailand are included.
Nanni Moretti’s Mia madre, voted as the best film of 2015 by legendary French language film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, tells a story of a middle-aged female director in the middle of an existential crisis.
Lost and Beautiful, a wiry, beautiful vision of contemporary Italy in the spirit of neorealism and Pasolini, is the newest film by Pietro Marcello, another Italian film director and former Midnight Sun Film Festival guest.
An essential name of Greek new wave, Athina Rachel Tshangari – former Midnight Sun Film Festival guest as well – is represented with Chevalier, an absurdly humorous study of male gestures, habits and inclinations on a sailing trip. All of A Sudden, an elegant thriller drama by German Turkish Asli Özge, has been compared to Chabrol’s portrayals of the bourgeoisie.
Andrei Konchalovsky, one of the international guests of MSFF 2008, paints a picture of rural Russia in the midst of turmoil in The Postman’s White Nights. Belgian Guillaume Senez tells a gentle story of two teens in the wake of an unexpected pregnancy.
Greta Gerwich stars in Mistress America, the new college comedy by Noach Baumbach. Gerwich accompanies Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore in Rebecca Miller’s cunning love triangle drama Maggie’s Plan.
Michael Fassbender takes centre stage in Slow West, a strange, surrealistic comedy western by British John Maclean. Haiti’s number one director, Raoul Peck, portrays his homeland in post-earthquake times in political film Murder in Pacot. Hedi by Tunisian Mohamed Ben Attia, winner of the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin Film Festival, is one of the most remarkable films about Arab Spring.
A drama film Mountains May Depart by Jia Zhangke, the leading director of China, tells an ambitious story about friendship in three parts, from the dawn of Chinese capitalism until near future. Cemetery of Splendour, the most personal film by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, combines fantasy and the surreal in the experiences of hospitalized soldiers.