Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Midnight Sun Film Festival Diaries
Day Two: Lapland: Battle Fatigues, On Screen and Off

by Liza Bear

SODANKYLA, Wednesday June 11 - Off the chartered propeller plane from Helsinki under overcast skies, a bare sprinkle of rain and smack into a battery of camera lenses. Photographers with canary yellow press tags, hailing from *le tout* Finland, are spattered across the landing strip awaiting deplaning of this year's first arrivals - participants, organizers and guests. The press swivel in place and sweep over the tarmac in one almost choreographed motion to keep abreast of former Warner Bros. veteran Vincent Sherman, trim and fit, still stepping lively at age 90.

It's a day of vertiginous, eyeblink rate first impressions. Of clicking into gear.

At the pint-sized terminal - baggage claim is in an open field - a pale, softspoken attaché from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hovers at a discreet distance, inquiring concernedly about the trip so far. This festival prides itself on fluid logisitics that minimize fuss-and-bother. For instance, room keys are cleverly handed out in an envelope to everyone on the bus to preempt a logjam at the reception desk.

Inside and out Sodankyla, all kinds of nifty devices abound. Inventive technology at the service of Finnish frugality. A tiny red button makes the water hotter in the shower stall. Safety too. Cars drive with their headlights on at all hours, and at every street corner, pushing a button sets off the green walk sign, punctuating the streets with high pitched electronic beeps.

It's drinks with Jonathan Romney from the Guardian, Elaine Tusca from Variety, who claims ominously that it's impossible to get on line from Sodankyla, then lunch opposite Poland's Jerry Skolimowski, now resident in Malibu and Hungary's Istvan Szabo. Both are having retrospetives here and catching up with each other on eastern European anecdotes. it's time for the Mayor's welcome speech: here, 130 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, Sodankyla's population swells from 10 to 15 thousand.

To sustain round-the-clock alertness on top of jet lag might be a tall order: being constantly active or receptive without succumbing to waves of fatigue. Will perpetual daylight mean perpetual ennervation? I'm already missing the velvety pitch dark of a perfect night. Ironically, the closest thing to it here are the movies. At Sodankyla darkness is now a matter of choice, the screen the locus (or substitute) for one's dreams.

The movies are being shown in 3 places - at the Lapinsuu, the town's one official movie theatre, an L-shaped school house, and a huge dark blue and red circus tent adjacent to it. Not only the giant blue and red circus tent but other large white tents studded with stars, and smaller orange ones dotted in the vicinity, as places to hang out, drink, and eat, give the town a relaxed carnival atmosphere. Prices are amazingly reasonable. Unlike many festivals which require lengthy shuttle rides to screenings, here everywhere seems within short walking distance.

Like magic, a bike's been procured for me almost immediately. It has a lock like a handcuff. I head for the first film of the day, a 4'oclock screening of "The Minister of State", a Lapland WWII comedy by Paul-Anders Simma.

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