Peter von Bagh is dead. Long live Peter von Bagh! Investigating his legacy at this year’s Midnight Sun Film Festival

It’s back and so am I! It’s Sodankyle’s Midnight Sun Film Festival! It’s two years since I discovered this cinematic gem. How will it be two years later? Sadly, we lost Peter von Bagh, the tireless guardian of this remarkable diamond in the woods. Will the magic of Midnight Sun survive his death? I’m worried but hopeful and, one way or another, I mean to find out.

I fell in love with this festival two years ago but then somehow we drifted apart. It was nobody’s fault. Life just gets in the way sometimes. Then, just recently, finally, something snapped inside me and I just took off. I hit the road for Finland, you know, like they do in a proper road movie, determined to be reunited with my one true love, deep in the darkest – I mean lightest – forests of Northern Finland.

So now I wonder with some trepidation: Will that spark still be there between us? Or will we both have changed too much?

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since my first cinematic pilgrimage to the place where the sun do shine. The great Peter von Bagh, the heart and soul of the festival, has died, I grew still a little older, and the world became an even darker place with no apparent prospect of ever returning to the light – if we can even remember what we thought that was. None of these developments seemed at all likely two years ago, but I can regretfully confirm that they have nevertheless all come to pass.

Still, I am comforted by the thought that some things never change; there will be plenty of mosquitos, plenty of booze to ward them off, and plenty of booze enthusiasts with at least a passing interest in the movies. These will continue to roll pretty much around the clock, in various locations, but never too far from the beer tent; the lilting staccato of the Finnish language will echo around me in a reassuring swathe of unintelligibility.

Foto: Ella Karttunen
Foto: Ella Karttunen

I’ve checked through the programme with customary haste. Its been assembled in the same way – and pretty last minute – which suits my own approach perfectly. There is plenty to look forward to.

Finnish director Tapio Piirainen already put together a filmic tribute to von Bagh. There’s also another, by Yves Montmayeur, celebrating that quintessential offbeat filmmaker, Guy Maddin, who, I am happy to say, is still alive and kicking in his native Canada. It’s called, intriguingly, The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin.

Aki Kaurismäki will present a brand new silent film and there will be, as always, plenty of interesting guests ready to talk about their craft. Some of the best film directors and critics will be here. I’m particularly excited about the prospect of talking to Bill Forsyth, the brilliant architect of such understated gems as Local Hero (1983) and Gregory’s Girl (1981).

So let’s check it out! What is happening these days with this uniquely strange and wonderful celebration of film? To quote the surrealistic TV series The Mighty Boosh: ‘Come with us now on a journey through time and space.’

I hope you will join me in the next day or two in a curious little Arctic town of the name of Sodankyle. It might seem a modest sort of place but I can promise you it’s one worth visiting, especially in midsummer. In any case, I’ll put in the legwork. All you have to do is watch this space…


«Gregory'g Girl»
«Gregory’s Girl»
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