WHAT: I have not seen this film, so let me quote from a short piece by Jonathan Rosenbaum:
a lovely city symphony which is also a history of Helsinki (and incidentally, Finland, Finnish cinema, and Finnish pop music) recounted with film clips and paintingsSounds great, and perhaps not so dissimilar from Thom Andersen's amazing 2003 visual essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, which argues a history of that city through clips from fiction films shot there. And it turns out this comparison has been made before by writers who have seen both works.
WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screening this afternoon at 3:00 at the Kabuki.
WHY: First of all, the subject of the film sounds just up my alley and makes me think I'll be trying to track down a copy of World Film Locations: Helsinki soon after the screening. Which reminds me to mention that the volume in that series of books that I contributed an essay to, World Film Locations: San Francisco, is now available for pre-order.
But the occasion of the screening would make me want to attend even if the film didn't sound as interesting to me as it does. Director Von Bagh will be on hand for the show, as he is receiving the Mel Novikoff Award for work that has "has enhanced the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema"- an award that has gone to critics like Manny Farber and Roger Ebert, archivists like Kevin Brownlow and Serge Bromberg, and programmers like Bruce Goldstein and Anita Monga. Von Bagh is not only a filmmaker but a historian and the director of the Midnight Sun Film Festival held in Sodankylä, Lapland at the time of summer each year when night never falls above the arctic circle, making the inside of a cinema the darkest place around 24 hours a day.
I don't know when I first heard rumor of this festival, but read more about it in Kenneth Turan's book Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made, which immediately shot it to the top tier of my list of festivals I dream of attending one day. Looking at a partial list of filmmaker guests over the years make it clear that Von Bagh and his programming team have terrific taste, and my understanding is that Von Bagh is something of a film-on-film purist, insisting on film screenings even in the waning days of its viability as a mass-market medium.
The other day, I happened to be at a screening sitting next to another award recipient at this year's SFIFF: Philip Kaufman, who will be at the Castro Theatre tomorrow evening for an on-stage conversation before a screening of his great 1978 shot-in-San Francisco remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We got to talking, and he told me he'll be at the Midnight Sun festival for the first time this summer, and that he's currently trying to track down good prints of films he hopes to show there. Invasion of the Body Snatchers will be shown tomorrow digitally, however.
But as film purist Carl Martin notes in his latest SFIFF round-up, last night's screening of Marketa Lazarová began with an announcement that another Castro screening of a 1970s film tomorrow will be screened on 35mm instead of previously-expected DCP. The film is The Mattei Affair, a political thriller by Francesco Rosi, a filmmaker who, like Kaufman, received an award from the SFIFF (in 1981) and later went on to attend the Midnight Sun festival (in 1999). Why is it being shown in 35mm even though the Film Foundation has helped prepare a new DCP they're trying to show off? The answer lies in Frako Loden's latest SFIFF round-up article, in which she reports on last weekend's Pacific Film Archive screening via its new digital projector, in which subtitles froze on screen and essentially ruined the experience for non-Italian speakers in the audience. Rather than risk a repeat of such a snafu at the Castro, the festival has opted to use a trusty 35mm print for the 1:30 PM matinee.
HOW: Helsinki, Forever screens in 35mm.