We Visited the Eternal Sunshine of the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Lapland
The 32nd Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), that took place in Sodankylä from June 14 to 18, attracted about 28,000 visitors to its silver screens in the realm of endless sunlight. We were inspired by the creative minds attending the festival, and after returning to Helsinki, we came up with a crossword to illustrate what we experienced in that small city that seemed to never sleep.
TIMELESS: From old to new movies, the festival honors all. When the sun never sets during the summer in Sodankylä, who cares about “go home before it is dark” advice? The four venues screen movies 24/7. The 2:00 atmosphere in the morning is as exciting as the 14:00 one in the afternoon.
UNIQUE: Needless to say, no other film festival can compete with Sodankylä in the setting of Lapland’s white nights and Sami villages.
AUDIENCE: Cinema lovers make the soul of every film festival. This is truer with MSFF because Sodankylä inhabits less than 9,000 people, but this year there were about 28,000 people joining the festival.
TENTS: 2/4 of the venues are tents. The Big Tent can host 900 people, and the Small Tent has 200 seats. Furthermore, most MSFF visitors choose to camp nearby the site. So, basically, they watch movies in tents and sleep in them, too.
FAITHFUL: Most film festivals must be envious of the attendees’ faithfulness. Many people travel hundreds of kilometers to work as a volunteer, or simply to watch movies at the festival. Visitors who have joined MSFF for five to ten years in a row are not rare. The atmosphere is so addictive that the audience just keeps coming back.
GEMS: With hundreds of movies on the screen, MSFF ensures they are the most watchable films. New or old, latest debut or classic masterpiece, each work is a world cinema gem.
JALLUKAHVI: It is the drink of the festival. As a mixture of coffee and brandy, it helps to set the right mood for movie schedule. You can add milk and sugar to your choice.
VARIETY: It is difficult to list all categories, topics or styles of movies screened. From Finnish and international 1930s to 2017 movies, from documentaries to fiction, from silent movies with live orchestra performance to film karaoke . . . the festival satisfies every cinema lover.
DISCUSSION: Morning discussion has been a tradition of the festival since the beginning. At 10:00 every morning, the director of MSFF, Timo Malmi, hosts a deep talk with one of the special guests, who are famous film makers at Cannes or Oscar Awards. Besides, the audience may bump into their favorite directors at the festival pub, which leads to friendly and unexpected conversations. Of course, most talks among visitors at the festival and the camping sites are about movies, too.
PURE: MSFF disregards gala evenings and red carpets in order to focus on the pure love of cinema. This spirit is something Cannes or Hollywood had lost a long time ago.
SODANKYLÄFOREVER: Not only a slogan, this is MSFF’s magic. Participating once, and you will never forget it.
This Year’s Success Story in Detail
This year’s main guests were both true icons of European cinema: Carol Saura has been considered among the most important Spanish directors for over half a century, while Hanna Schygulla is among the central actors of New German Cinema and was the go-to actress of Fassbinder. The festival’s international atmosphere was heightened by the presence of Bertrand Bonello, one of new French cinema’s most significant directors, Danish director Per Fly who is known for his “class trilogy,” and Kai Wessel, who came to the festival with his acclaimed film Nebel im August.
This year’s Finnish guests included singer Sinikka Sokka, who charmed in Peter von Bagh’s farewell film Songs from Utopia, and actress Eija Pokkinen whose fateful presence could be seen in the films The Green Widow and Onnenpeli. Director Selma Vilhunen and actress Paula Vesala were also at the festival to present their popular film, Little Wing.
Juho Kuosmanen and Oona Airola drove the audience wild at Thursday’s sold out silent film screening of Moonshiners / Romu-Mattila and a Beautiful Lady, which was accompanied by Kino Orchestra Ykspihlaja and effects guru Heikki Kossi. In addition to Songs from Utopia, the Finnish premieres at the festival included Thomas Laine’s acclaimed debut feature Virality.
Naturally The Midnight Sun Film Festival also celebrated Finland’s 100th anniversary. The celebration started on Wednesday with a matinee on Finnish cinema and history, while on Thursday the Sodankylä Municipal House hosted a celebration of 100 years of science-making in Sodankylä to a full crowd. Professor Esko Valtaoja spoke at the Municipal House and also began a new Carte Blanche tradition at the festival with screenings of his favorite films La Chinoise and The Mirror.
Finland’s centennial was also celebrated in the “Finland 100” series of screenings and scholar Lauri Piispa’s Master Class on the lost treasures of Finnish cinema.
As usual, the special screenings at the Big Tent attracted the most amount of audience. On Saturday night, the Big Tent was busting at the seams with an ecstatic audience as Chamber Orchestra Avanti!, conductor Gabriel Thibaudeau and soprano Reetta Haavisto accompanied the screening of The Phantom of the Opera. Director Neil Hardwick introduced the karaoke screening of his film If You Love on late Saturday night. Olavi Uusivirta did a magnificent job as the pre-singer of the screening, which united different generations via evergreen classics. The screening of the Cannes winner The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki at the Big Tent was also sold out.
The most popular Master Class at this year’s festival was Fukushima I, a series of nuclear short films curated by Olaf Möller and Mika Taanila. The annual Sodankylä Prize was awarded to the doctor of film art, Eeva Kurki. The audience voted to rescreen Carlos Saura’s Cría cuervos and the film will be shown as the final film on Sunday.
Picture on the front page: Antti Yrjönen/MSFF