Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Midnight Sun Film Festival Diaries
Day One: "Lonesome" and "Unknown"

by Liza Bear

HELSINKI, June 10 - Cobblestones. In my neighborhood Little Italy, they spell pockets of trouble for the wheels of a bike, which just a few minutes ago, it seems, I was pedalling furiously down Prince Street being hailed by New York author Gary Indiana as he headed for Pravda (the bar). Now, here on Helsinki's Mannerheimvagen, after 8 imperceptible hours of Finnair, cobblestones form a neat ridge down the center of the road, with green trams slinking by on either side because, yes, in some cities, even this close to St Petersburg, roads are actually repaved. And bicycles are left on the street unlocked. Still too close to home timewise not to think about it. As other reminders, graffiti abound, and the same pecking order exists among city birds (pigeons get bumped).

Helsinki is a one-night lay-over en route to the notorious Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankyla, Lapland. Founded in 1986 by filmmaker brothers Mika and Aki Kaurismaki (La Vie de Boheme, the Match Factory Girl) and directed by Peter von Bragh, this festival unspools non-stop over 5 days and nights. A whole section is devoted to new Finnish films, the program says, including Mika's "Klaani", as well as to new cinema, silent films and to special tributes.

Barely time to unpack and it's down to the jigsaw puzzle zigzag of wharves and walkways on Market Square, searching for a ferry called the Tuulikki among a bewildering array of yachts, launches and ferry boats with no Finnish to speak of - or with. A helpful harborite points to an unnamed small dark brown vessel and a clump of people on the dock. Fortunately, among them is Caleb Sampson, a musician met on the plane, who, as a member of the Alloy Orchestra from Cambridge Mass., with Ken Winokur and Terry Donahue, will be playing keyboards and percussion for the silent films "Lonesome" and "Unknown" at the festival.

Speeding across the dimpled, sparkling water to diva Aino Akte's 19th century Villa for the opening night reception, I'm seated next to Daniel Sherman, Hollywood director Vincent Sherman's 15-year-old grandson, who says he goes to boarding school in Oregon, is writing a script with his 19-year-old brother, and has just started an acting career.

It's past 2 am. The sun did set, but the sky never got darker than dusk, and now it's perceptibly lightening. The traffic drone is punctuated by wails from the sea gulls. In a few hours, it'll be time to board the plane to Sodankyla.

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