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Timo Malmi and Milja Mikkola • Artistic director and programme manager, Midnight Sun Film Festival

“We want to create a community, just like the one we know from our festival”


- We talked to Timo Malmi and Milja Mikkola, the team behind Finland’s legendary Midnight Sun Film Festival, which pledges to remain forever 35 – at least for now

Timo Malmi and Milja Mikkola  • Artistic director and programme manager, Midnight Sun Film Festival
(© Liisa Huima/Sodankylän elokuvajuhlat)

Co-founded in 1986 by the Kaurismäki brothers in the Lappish village of Sodankylä, the Midnight Sun Film Festival will be the first Finnish festival to move its edition online due to the pandemic. Cineuropa met up with artistic director Timo Malmi and programme manager Milja Mikkola in Helsinki to find out more. The online edition of the gathering, dubbed Midnight Sun Forever and set to present more than 50 films, will take place from 10-14 June.

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Cineuropa: When it was announced that you would be going online, it was a surprise – you don’t even like to use digital copies when showing the films. Doesn’t it go against everything this festival is about?
Timo Malmi:
At first, it was a shock. The idea of going online was quite strange to us, and yes, it felt contrary to our principles. But once we realised that people are watching films at home anyway, we decided to give them something better than all this lousy content out there. We want them to get an idea of our programme and find new ways of introducing our festival, also through some of the never-before-seen treasures we have, like our morning discussions [with famous guests], held from 1987. I remember that Ettore Scola was stuck in limbo with a new project, and it was during the discussion with [late co-founder of the festival] Peter von Bagh that he got the idea how to solve it! People just get inspired in Sodankylä – Francis Ford Coppola also had some kind of epiphany while watching our Friday-night silent films. Everywhere in Finland, many would want to come but never do. Now, they will have a chance to see what is going on. And maybe they will be there next year.

Someone said recently that there is no point in showing old films at online festivals, as the whole idea is to finally experience them on the big screen. But you will be including titles by Miloš Forman, as well as Slovak gems from the 1960s.
We are hoping for our audience to support us and watch all films, old and new, just to get some of this festival atmosphere back. The thing is, you never know. But we want to try everything! I always think that it’s better to show something than nothing at all.

Milja Mikkola: Everything about this new programme, also considering the fact that we are the least digitally savvy team in the world, has started small. Then it evolved, based on what we could come up with, and the Slovak films are a good example of that. This selection [including A Pact With the Devil or Birds, Orphans and Fools] was created especially for us, with brand-new subtitled prints. It’s a continuation of what we have done before. Actually, many of the things we are presenting now are telling the story of the festival – for the first time, to a much bigger audience. It’s more of a tribute to Midnight Sun than a new edition. Before the pandemic, we were already preparing our 35th anniversary, so it’s a good excuse to look back at who has visited and what we have done.

Most festivals moving online also add some additional events to their line-up. Are you considering it, too, given that, as you admitted, you are not exactly technically savvy?
We are planning some master classes, which will probably be pre-recorded: with Jennifer Barker about animation and Mika Taanila about experimental, avant-garde filmmaking, while Olaf Möller will present Slovak films. We will also have a master class about the lost Finnish classics. But most of all, we want to create a community, just like the one we know from our festival. Something that brings people together, so they don’t feel like they are watching these films alone. That is why we are going to have a festival bar [more information here].

Festival bar? How is it going to work?
We’ll have to see! We just want the viewers to be able to talk about the films they have seen and everything else, and we will have our team on hand to conduct these discussions. The idea is for everyone to join in.

What’s your take on online festivals anyway? The jury is still out, even though some seem adamant that it may be the future for smaller events like yours.
If festivals don’t go back to being live events, it will be very difficult to stand out, especially as arthouse cinemas are surely going to have their own platforms as well. You certainly need some creative curating in order to have a successful online festival. We will try to show some of these films on the big screen as well, as we would like to organise some special events in the cinemas over the summer. But now, it just felt like the right thing to do, also to make sure that special films don’t get lost in the middle of all this. What we are not going to do, however, is that we are not going to age. We will stick to being 35 years old and celebrate our anniversary in 2021.

TM: Nobody knows anything about the future. Will the cinemas even survive? Will people still stand in line at Midnight Sun to see some unknown movies? It has been an adventure, but the idea of going online permanently is not something I want to entertain right now. Let’s hope next time we will meet somewhere in the wilderness instead.

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