A Cinema Celebration in Lapland with Peter Greenaway

Agnese Čivle


Midnight Sun Film Festival
Sodankylä, Finland
June 11 – 15, 2014

British director Peter Greenaway, Russian director Gleb Panfilov and his frequent leading actress (and wife) Inna Churikova, and the French director Olivier Assayas are among the guests at a showcase that will take place 120 kilometers above the Arctic Circle – in Sodankylä, the very heart of Finnish Lapland. This is the place where the sun doesn't set at all in the summertime. And it is exactly the nature of Lapland and the night-less nights that provide the Midnight Sun Film Festival a setting with which no other festival can compete!

The atmosphere of the Midnight Sun Film Festival is one of the most unique in the whole world: the most fascinating film directors around the world, up-and-coming talents, an international audience and the inhabitants of Sodankylä all meet under the midnight sun in the relaxed and informal "spirit of Sodankylä". 

Films are screened in four venues continually – 24 hours a day – and the actual time is easily forgotten: the sun shines as brightly at 4 a.m. as at 4 p.m.

We decided to look closer at this unique event and asked Timo Malmi, programme director of the Midnight Sun Film Festival, to answer some essential questions about this cinematic celebration.

The Midnight Sun Film Festival was founded in 1986. What does it take to maintain the festival at a constant quality for so many years? What changes has the festival experienced?

Basically, the festival is on the same base as it was in the beginning. Why change the principles if they have proven to be the right ones for our aims and success? Of course, there have been "superficial" changes as the festival has grown little by little: now there are four venues instead of two, 25 000 attendees instead of 5 000, 130 screenings of 90 films instead of 40 screenings of 30 films, etc.

Aki Kaurismäki. Publicity photo

The Midnight Sun Film Festival was founded by Aki and Mika Kaurismäki and Peter von Bagh. As it is well known, Aki Kaurismäki is one of those European directors whose films have earned both international acclaim and cult film status, and his films fit perfectly within an “auteur” cinema concept – a theory that French cinema theorists came up with. What is Kaurismäki’s influence on contemporary Finnish cinema? Is it possible to observe this influence at this festival?

Aki is a unique personality in Finnish cinema who has his own style and way of thinking. Some have tried to imitate him - but with modest results. As a result, that influence has been seen only in his own films, which we have screened a lot during these 30 years. But otherwise, his contribution has been essential because as a member of the Artistic Committee, he has done so much – for example, getting famous directors from all over the world to come be our guests.

The White Reindeer (Valkoinen peura), a 1952 Finnish horror drama film directed by Erik Blomberg

The festival programme is an enticing combination of old and new. Timeless masterpieces of veteran filmmakers will be presented side by side with the most engrossing contemporary films. Are there any films that have already inherited this “timeless” status from 1986, and have come back for subsequent festivals already as one of the “old” ones?

The first festival was started by a Finnish classic called “The White Reindeer”, which was filmed in Lapland. Over the years we have shown this film several times for the always-thankful audience. The master of ceremonies for the first festival was a Hollywood veteran, Samuel Fuller. This year his daughter, Samantha Fuller, will come and present a documentary about her father, “A Fuller Life”. And there's also a Samuel Fuller Street in Sodankylä...

To crown the cinematic celebration, every year since the very first festival the director Peter von Bagh has held morning discussions with the main guests. Who will be this year’s special guests? And what will be the main discussion topics?

The morning discussions will take place with the directors Gleb Panfilov (Russia), Peter Greenaway (Britain), Olivier Assayas (France), Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad) and the film critic Alain Bergala (France). The topics range from the life of the director to his films, career and general opinions.

What are the main highlights of each program section?

To mention just one, I would like to praise our screenings of silent classics accompanied by live music. This year we will show Victor Sjöström's Swedish film “The Outlaw and His Wife”, and G.W. Pabst's German film “The Joyless Street” – both accompanied by the “Matti Bye Ensemble” from Sweden. And Chaplin shorts with music by the Finnish band “Cleaning Women”. The screenings take place in a big circus tent with 600 people watching the show.