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By Sari Väyrynen. Translated by Richard Foley. Photos by Santeri Happonen, Laura Junka-Aikio and Anniina Mannila.

Every June thousands of film fanatics journey north of the Arctic Circle to the little village of Sodankylä, and its film festival. Last summer we joined them to see what it is all about.

We find the thoroughly ’50s lobby of Kitisenranta School – the festival’s nerve centre – mobbed with film aficionados. And Johanna Saarinen, operations manager, has her hands full.

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Johanna Saarinen. Photo by Laura Junka-Aikio.

“This is a small village hosting a big festival, one whose focus has been the same for the last 25 years: five days and four nights of films, no red carpets, no commercial sideshows.”

The Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä is known for its relaxed atmosphere and lack of pretentiousness. On the main drag, you might have the chance to stop for a chat with a famous director or actor. Encounters like these are the heart of the event to Johanna, who has visited the festival since its inception and for the last 13 years has kept the organisation humming. She expresses her thanks to the 250 volunteers who come back to Sodankylä year after year.

“We also hear from a lot of people abroad who would like to come here as volunteers, but we can only take ten. Much of the work is customer service, so the volunteers have to speak Finnish.”


As we step out into the yard of the school, we run into Mina Minov (2.), from Bulgaria. He has one goal in mind for this, his first Midnight Sun Film Festival, which he has included in his summer tour of Finland.

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Mina Minov (left). Anna Uttula and Ville Vuorelma (right). Photos by Laura Junka-Aikio.

“I heard that Aki Kaurismäki, a director I really admire, might be here. I have a little gift for him.” Mina points to his bag but won’t reveal what’s inside.

Kaurismäki, a founding member of the festival, has not been seen at this year’s festival yet.

“Maybe I’ll have to try my luck again next year.”


Right beside us in the main tent the crowd is waiting for one of the festival’s signature events and high points: a silent film with live orchestral accompaniment and the introduction of the featured guests at the beginning of the showing. Two cheery volunteers – Anna Uttula and Ville Vuorelma – are in charge of making sure that every­thing runs smoothly.

“This is the best job at the festival: you get to watch films around the clock”, Anna exclaims. This is the sixth summer she has come here all the way from Turku – 1000 kilometres to the south.


In the nostalgic Lapinsuu theatre, we find the driver for the main guests, Pasi Mähönen, whose job includes seeing to it that his charges stay on schedule and enjoy themselves. The Midnight Sun and an opportunity to meet interesting people have brought Pasi here from the south of Finland every year for 13 years. There are plenty of stories he could tell, but he has one absolute principle:

“Whatever I hear, I keep to myself. And is there any greater show of confidence than having a world-famous director ask me, a non-smoker, to join him for a smoke with the words ‘When I’m with you, I don’t have to talk all the time.’?”


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Finally, as the wee hours approach, the festival namesake puts in an appearance: the clouds part and let the Midnight Sun dazzle us. This is what it’s all about!
Spotted in Sodankylä
• Jonathan Demme (1986)
 
• Krzysztof Kieślowski (1989)
 
• Francis Ford Coppola (2002)
 
• Milos Forman (2008)
 
• More information at
www.msfilmfestival.fi